There’s one every year—a commencement address that goes viral and pops up all over the Internet. Remember the Wellesley High School English teacher who looked the Class of 2012 in the eye and intoned, “You are not special”? Remember David Foster Wallace’s 2005 “This is Water” speech to Kenyon College?
This year the award seems to go to Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator, Avengers director, and all-around pop culture maestro Joss Whedon, who, in a memorable and thoroughly unorthodox commencement address, reminded Wesleyan University graduates that they “are all going to die.” (“You have, in fact, already begun to die,” he clarified.) Whedon, a 1987 graduate of the Connecticut liberal arts college and subject of a PopMatters Complete Companion eBook, went on to encourage his audience to embrace that central contradiction between one’s mind (which is full of great ambition and reach) and body (which is pretty much ready to die):
It never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice, it will not. If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.
On the subject of the state of the world, Whedon remarked: “I don’t know if your parents have explained this to you about the world but… we broke it.” But perhaps there is hope. “You are—not in a clichéd sense, but in a weirdly literal sense—the future,” Whedon concluded. “You will be the broken world and the act of changing it, in a way that you haven’t been before.”
Here I should probably disclose that I was among the 785 graduates Whedon was addressing. It’s a strange feeling when your own Commencement ceremony goes viral, for wasn’t that supposed to be a private moment between you, your classmates and family, and perhaps the mountainous load of student debt you are lucky enough to carry into the workforce and beyond? But then nothing is so private these days; this—my own graduation—seems another example of the hypertelevised, digital world that is 2013. Enjoy Whedon’s speech as if you were there that day, because nothing is so inevitable as reliable, viral media.
Except, of course, the fact that we’re all going to die.