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Running Head: ESSAY ANALYSIS 1




David Foster Wallace delivered the speech this is water at the 2005 graduation of

Kenyon College. The speech has gathered widespread popularity over time with major

publishers even accelerating this fame by reprinting the address. Wallace, a reputable novelist

created what could become one of the most famous commencement speeches in recent times.

The speech did gravitate towards teaching how to think rather than the mainstream what to think.

The speech begins with a didactic story of two young fish who met an older fish who

asked them ...Hows the water? This stimulated the two fish into really being more aware of

their surroundings. This story tends to place Wallace in the role of the older fish and the young

graduates in the role of the young fish. This symbolically sets the stage for what he is about to


Wallace emphasizes the importance of non-conventional learning which is supposed to

teach one to control what to think and how to think. This contrasts with only filling up with

knowledge learning which rather puts one in the servant position of the mind. He effortlessly

gives another story from which he draws inferences to support his argument. He takes the young

graduate into their future where they have gotten their job and describes a typical day. Working

at least eight hours a day on a challenging job leaves one exhausted. On the way to the grocery

store, the traffic is slow with a few incidents here and there. The store is not better either

crowded with shoppers and long lines at the pay counter. What the exhausted you want is to go

home as quickly as possible rest and get ready for tomorrows job. These events can however

leave one drained, bored and frustrated. The default setting of the mind is to respond this way to

such occurrences. Actively controlling the mind and our thoughts can alter the response to

situations in life as they come. One can chose to be offended by all the activities that do not seem

to go well with what they really want fuelled by the innate feeling that one is the centre of the

world and all events happen around them. The other option is to be more aware of the setting

under which activities take place. The actions of others also conform to the belief that the world

revolves around them. Therefore if everyone is more socially aware, they will care more and be

less selfish.

The nature of self-centeredness blinds us from reality. It leads to isolation and

imprisonment that often we are not even aware of. It is the easier route to take as it does not

require effort and the world as it is encourages it. Freedom from this prison implies taking a

proactive step to manage consciousness. It takes discipline, awareness and attention to swing

focus from the self into sacrificing for others even in little ways. Trending further, Wallace

acknowledged that we all worship something whether money and possessions, physical beauty or

a set of values and principles that lay our guidelines for belief and action. What we worship has

implications on the running of our kingdoms our minds (Wallace, 2005).

In his commencement speech, Wallace adopted a simple tone to deliver his ideas

interwoven in fiction and statements. His wisdom is evident from the very start with the didactic

tale that is like a parable. He presents the truth n funny ways not beating it into the audiences

mind but rather giving them the freedom to choose what they learn. The uplifting eye opening

speech laid bare the truths of adult life and touched on issues such as suicide. The simplicity and

honesty gives the audience a feeling of connection with the speaker and also with the whole of

humanity. It has a universal appeal as it explores the struggles of everyday common man.

Encouraging each person to choose what they worship wisely, Wallace emphasizes the

importance of actively taking part in deciding what one does with their life. Some of the lessons

he was trying to teach the young generation were probably taught to him by experience. It was a

speech that he could have been targeted at his younger self. All in all, the speech remains a

wealth of insight which if exploited would make the world more conscious and therefore a better


All along his speech, Wallace emphasizes the deviant nature of this commencement

speech saying that it doesnt sound as inspiring but it actually is the capital T-truth. He employs

tools such as ethos, pathos, and logos to build rapport with his audience and come out as

persuasive enough for his message to get through. He presents reality as it is devoid of the

obscurities that make up adult employment life. It is truly a great piece of information that sheds

light on how our lives are governed by our minds and by how we perceive things.

Wallace aims at encouraging any anxious graduates and at the same time giving a word

of caution for the overly-ambitious among them. The anecdote about a believer and an atheist

arguing brings out the issue of perspective. The atheist does not believe in God, and says he has

never found any reason to do so. Once he is alone and lost in a blizzard facing certain death, he

prays to God for assistance. Eskimos show up and show him the correct way. For the believer,

this is indeed Gods work which doesnt have to be direct, but for the atheist, it was the Eskimos

who saved him not God. Therefore what we believe and make of certain situations is entirely

subjective and we decide on it. Once we believe in something, we are mostly arrogant and rigid

in the belief. This on a broader perspective points out that no one is an atheist but we all worship

something. Whatever we worship is what runs our lives, whether it is our image, our jobs, or

appreciation by others.

Wallace cautions the audience that his talk is not about morality or virtues, something

that the audience is tempted to believe nevertheless. He talks about a person veering off from

their default natural setting where they are the centre of everything to being well-adjusted. This

means being a more compassionate, understanding, and ready to assist others instead of being

judgmental and selfish. As an intellect, one may be lost in his own world of abstractness and

always be distracted from what is happening right in front of them. We can choose to be

conscious of everything around us or just live like unconsciously chasing after the wind.

The essence of Wallaces speech was to introduce the concept of the importance of how

not necessary what one thinks. Our reasoning clearly dictates what we make of every situation in

life. While everyone has their own beliefs that govern how one interprets life, the default setting

is to be self-centered. It is crucial to break this system by realizing that we live in an integrated

complex world where every other stranger you meet in the street has a life as complicated as

yours. Active awareness should take precedence over the nagging monologue in our heads. We

therefore take control of the understanding and what to make of situations which leads to real



Wallace, D. F. (2005). Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address-May 21,

2005. Available at: at htlp://moreinlelligen1life. com/slory/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-

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