Read Joan Didion’s entire “lost” university commencement address from 1975
In 1975, the late New Journalism pioneer and author Joan Didion delivered a commencement address at the University of California, Riverside. While the ending has been frequently quoted and a few excepts published, the complete text has been “lost” in the bowels of the UCR library for almost 50 years. On the occasion of Didion’s death last month, the university archivists dug up a copy and posted it online for posterity. You can read the whole thing here. From the speech:
I’ve had to struggle all my life against my own misapprehensions, my own false ideas, my own distorted perceptions. I’ve had to work very hard, make myself unhappy, give up ideas that made me comfortable, trying to apprehend social reality. I’ve spent my entire adult life, it seems to me, in a state of profound culture shock. I wish I were unique in this, but I’m not. You may not be afflicted with my misapprehensions, and I may not be afflicted with yours, but none of this starts “tabula rasa.” We all distort what we see. We all have to struggle to see what’s really going on.
That’s the human condition, providing the human is awake and living in the world which, by the way, is not as automatic as you might think, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Some of you are going to spend the whole rest of your life in culture shock, and what I’m saying today is that I think all of you should.
I’m talking about trying not to be crippled by ideas; I’m talking about looking out, about looking out at the world and trying to see it straight, about making that effort to look out for the whole rest of your life.
I doubt very much if you want to hear about the rest of your life today. And you must be very tired; all I could think about when I was making notes for this talk was how tired you must be[…]
I’d like to talk soothingly to you, I’d like to make you feel that for this one day that somebody is taking care of you, someone knows how tired you are. But I’m obliged, not only by the convention of the Commencement address but by my own rather harsh Protestant ethics, to try to make you think instead about the rest of your lives. I’m not going to give you the usual Commencement line about how you stand on the brink of something. I don’t know what that means. We all stand on the brink of something every day we get out of bed, and it usually turns out to be a precipice.
And I’m not going to tell you that today you begin to live in the world because, as I said before, I don’t think that happens automatically. Some of you live in the world already and some of you never will. It takes an act of will to live in the world, which is what I’m talking about today. By living in the world, I mean really trying to see it, look at it, trying to make connections.
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January 12, 2022 at 10:39AM