Listening to a good speech by a wise person is one of life's great pleasures. They don't come along very often, but when they do I am invariably transfixed and the memory of the experience is hard, if not impossible, to shake.
Louis Menand's address at my sister's college graduation was the first truly good speech that I recall. I confess that today I remember little of the content, but I do remember that I found it to be original and authentic...an especially difficult feat for graduation speakers I think, as most of the available ground has been covered by countless others.
And he opened with a joke that still brings a smile to my face: there's a knock on a man's door, he opens it. There's a snail sitting on his doorstep. The man picks it up and throws it away from his house. Four years later he hears another knock, and there is the snail again. The snail looks at him and says "what was that all about"? This is essentially a liberal arts education.
I've since seen a few other compelling speeches...the eminent David Gergen's talk on leadership at a graduate school conference comes to mind, as does Sally Krawchek's talk about her experiences in business, also in graduate school. But in the normal course (i.e. outside of an academic setting) these sorts of experiences are hard to come by.
But, as is so often the case these days, it turns out that the internet can fill yet another void in our lives. TED, a website that my dear friend (and devoted reader of and commenter on this blog) Rob turned me onto over bulgogi at Don's Bogam last week, compiles videos of noteworthy speeches to be viewed at your leisure.
Rob absolutely insisted that I look at Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech.
His advice was certainly sound: your time is short, don't spend it living someone else's life. A wise sentiment indeed.
However, it was the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden's speech that I was truly drawn to.
His advice is I suppose somewhat basic, but in the context of our self-centered society it feels a little revolutionary. He counsels that you must believe that things will work out as they ought to assuming you do your best and act in the way that you ought to. This does not necessarily mean that you will be the best or the most successful, as not everyone can be the best or the most successful, but if you do the best that you can do you must be happy with that.
How fabulous to be able to find these little nuggets while trawling the web on an inclimate winter's night!