The commencement speaker looked at the audience, and in his best doomsday voice uttered: “You are all going to die!”
It prompted a massive wave of laughter.
That’s because the speaker was renown SciFi/fantasy guru Joss Whedon, who gave a hilarious and frank commencement speech using his witty and somewhat sarcastic sense of humor to entertain and inspire the grads at his alma mater.
Whedon is the famed creative mind behind the cult hit television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly; the director behind the third-highest grossing movie of all time, The Avengers; and a man who was on the short list to direct the upcoming Star Wars franchise installment VII (should have been him, went to J.J. Abrams instead).
Whedon launched his speech with a cliché: “Two roads diverged in a wood and …” then quickly joked: “No, I’m not that lazy.”
He recalled how when he was a grad at Wesleyan University back in 1987, his commencement speaker was Bill Cosby, who had admonished the audience that: “You’re not gonna change the world, so don’t try.”
Whedon said he knew he could be more inspiring, which is when he launched his “you’re all gonna die” bit.
“Because I’m figuring…it’s got to go up from here, right? It can only get better. This is good. It can’t get more depressing. You have, in fact, already begun to die.”
But he comes full circle eventually:
Let’s just say that, hypothetically, two roads diverged in a wood and you took the path less traveled. Part of you is going, “Look at that path over there! It’s much better! Everybody’s traveling on it and it’s…it’s paved and there’s like a Starbucks every 50 yards… This is wrong. This path’s got nettles and Robert Frost’s body and… somebody should have moved that, right? It feels weird. …
You have, which is a rare thing, the ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself. To at least give it the floor. Because it is the key, not only to consciousness, but to real growth.
To accept duality is to earn identity, and identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just “who you are,” it is a process that you must be active in.
And it’s not parroting your parents or even the thoughts of your learned teachers, it is, now more than ever, about understanding yourself so you can become yourself.
Of course, he’s a Hollywood guy – so the gratuitous leftist slant was in there, too.
The only way, really, to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite. That doesn’t mean the crazy guy on the radio who’s spewing hate, it means the decent human truths of all the people who feel the need to listen to that guy. You are connected to those people. They’re connected to him. You can’t get away from it.
This connection is part of contradiction. It is the tension I was talking about. Because tension isn’t about two opposite points, it’s about the line being stretched in between them. And we need to acknowledge and honor that tension and the connection that that tension is a part of. Our connection, not just to the people we love, but to everybody, including people we can’t stand and wish weren’t around.
The connection we have is part of what defines us on such a basic level. Freedom is not freedom from connection. Serial killing is freedom from connection. Certain large investment firms have established freedom from connection….
But we as people never do, and we’re not supposed to. We are individuals, obviously, but we are more than that.
So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world because that is actually what the world is.
IMAGE: Online Screenshot