I am sucker for good speeches. Couple years ago, I came across a very good commencement speech by Toni Morrison. This is an address to the 2011 graduates of Rutgers University. There are three main points that are worth discussing:
- “You are your own stories. Although you don’t have complete control of the story of your life, you can create that story.”
- Pursuit of “meaningful” life instead of “happy” life
- “Every true heroine breaks free from his or her class”
First point was very powerful, particularly when this was delivered by one of the best storytellers of our time. The approach is similar to “backward induction” in decision theory. What do you want your story to be? How do you like your obituary to be written? We should think about the desired end point and find the best route to get there. Every life is a story and you are the author of your own story.
She then moved from individuality to social justice. Morrison believed that “pursuit of happiness” as outlined by the founding fathers of the United States should be changed to “pursuit of meaningfulness” because happiness was not good enough. Human progress was made by sacrifices of generations before us. We should carry the baton and improve humanity by living a meaningful life. This does not mean we cannot work for a for-profit company. There is a positive role of capitalism in human progress but we should not forget to instill meaning into our daily work life. Work is just a means to an end.
Finally, the master storyteller told the audience the winning plot of many stories. Readers like underdogs. Audience generally likes the story ended by a surprise victory of the und6erdog. If you are the underdog, you can find comfort that the audience is already rooting for you. Help the underdog to win if you can. They are good stories. Write your own story! You won’t be disappointed.