That time of year is here again. May and June are key months to celebrate this milestone event in the lives of young people. Whether it’s high school or college graduation, now’s the time to rejoice. To celebrate real world, material accomplishment. Next month, my husband and I will travel to Vancouver to celebrate and take great pride in our son’s graduation from Simon Fraser University. As an individual, he has grown under the weight of many challenges, learned more about who he is as a man, and he’s ready to launch himself into the real world (fingers crossed- I’m a parent).


And as it would happen, I just saw a segment on the Colbert Report about a new book by a professor at Syracuse University, George Saunders. In 2013, he was asked to give the commencement address. It turned out to be a popular video on YouTube because, I think, it’s a little unusual. That speech has been turned into a book called Congratulations- by the way. Saunders took a risk. A lot of commencement talks center around the accomplishments of the individual and challenge graduates to go out into the larger world to contribute their unique gifts. Essentially, they reinforce the ego. Saunders looks back on his life to realize what he regrets most are those times when he failed to be kind. He challenges graduates to begin now to overcome selfishness, the idea of separateness and permanence. To become kinder, now. It’s a simple and powerful message.

The speech on YouTube:


Filed under Book Review, Books


  1. I love George Saunders and was so happy to discover this commencement speech through your blog. Normally, I’m not a big fan of commencement speeches (Saunders hits it on the head there too), but this one comes close to giving Kurt Vonnegut’s a run for the money.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and good luck with your journey. Have you read David Mitchell’s novel The Bone Clocks? In it, he imagines an alternative history of the Cathars. A mesmerizing read. Perhaps Visionary Fiction?


  2. I watched the video, its pretty awesome, I’m currently an english major student so this really helped me. Thank you


  3. My nephew is graduating from high school next month. Thank for this post and link. It will be passed on.


  4. Congrats and best wishes to your son! He is more than lucky to have you as his mother! Give him a copy of Leaves of Grass please, so that he may learn deeply. 😉

    “And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud.” — Walt Whitman


  5. cardamone5

    Congratulations to you and your son.

    This is such a wonderful speech. Now I have another reason to visit Syracuse U., which is only 3 hours from me. Mary Karr is the first, and now, Dr. Saunders. Thank you for making me aware of this.



  6. we should all look back and get those kinds of lessons… wonderful


  7. The world needs kind and compassionate young people. Congratulations on your grandson. All good wishes to him on his journey!


  8. Learning kindness, to give it and accept it, is a lifelong journey.


  9. Many congratulations to your son and have a wonderful day. Must check out the speech when I get to my computer.


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