More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of existence which could easily be misinterpreted as pessimism.

The New York Times: “My Speech To the Graduates” by Woody Allen, August 10, 1979, page A25 (restricted access).

Woody Allen fictional “speech to the graduates” can be access at a variety of online sites (here, PDF). It was also reproduced in a collection of comic writing titled The Insanity Defense. The Complete Prose (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2007, pp. 261-265): Random House, Google books (no preview), Amazon.com.
I was reminded of this “speech to the graduates” when a couple of commencement addresses “made the headlines” lately (meaning they were widely re-blogged all over the Internet):

  • The New York Times: “Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts” by Jonathan Franzen, May 28, 2001 (the essay is adapted from a commencement address Franzen delivered on May 21 at Kenyon College). The speech is about the quality of relationships we maintain with people and technological artifacts. Franzen comments the apparent ubiquity of the verb “to like” associated with Facebook’s social button.I didn’t find it convincing.
  • Darmouth College: “Honorary Degree Recipient Conan O’Brien’s Commencement Address to Dartmouth College Graduates”, June 12, 2011. A long, hilarious speech with a somehow surprisingly profound conclusion. Really worth reading (or watching). Excerpt:

    It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.

  • The New York Times: “The Class of 2011” by Jonathan Corum, June 11, 2011. It’s a chart listing “word usage in 40 speeches given at graduations this year”. It was produced before O’Brien speech.

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