Below is an audio recording of the late David Foster Wallace, a renowned American essayist, novelist and philosophical thinker, presenting the commencement speech at Kenyon college to the class of 2005. Here he discusses the value of liberal arts, deciphers cryptic and off-putting cliches about the course, and explains why taking the course may be the difference between life and death as an adult.

His main premise is that liberal arts isn’t a wishy-washy, useless, dead-end subject, and it certainly isn’t beneath other degrees in importance; liberal arts teach you how to CONTROL the way you think.

Wallace uses anecdotes and didactic analogies to convey his point concisely and humorously, far removed from the usual formal, uninteresting jargon employed by the aged, monotone professors.

The way he perfectly described my own picture of the human mind astonished me. Having recently come out of a very tumultuous period of wildly depressing thoughts and philosophical pondering, I came to the conclusion that the human mind is very powerful and overwhelming, and therefore must be contained and directed in order for a person to function. This, as Wallace explains, is the purpose of liberal arts.

I won’t explain too much because I don’t want to spoil all his enlightening perspectives by conveying them in my inferior, uninteresting manner (editor’s note: the words of this line actually took me 5 minutes to think of).

Personally, this has helped me incredibly in deciding what studies I would like to pursue at university. Despite the opinions of others that you must choose a subject that brings in a great salary, most of the time doing what you love is more important. A salary isn’t able to quantify the amount of enjoyment you receive from your learning, or the unseen benefits such as a positive mental attitude, or the boredom and depression caused by being stuck in a job you hate.

In my opinion, being enriched in your mind is far more important than having physical wealth.


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