I've read and/or listened (full; animated excerpts) to this commencement speech from David Foster Wallace many times in the last few years. I read it again recently and the capital-T Truth of it all hit me like a brick, as it always does. Maria Popova often calls the commencement speech the "secular sermon of our time", and this Sunday I soaked up the words of the preacher.
In the beginning, DFW states clearly the hard mental work of the every-day:
This is not a matter of virtue -- it's a matter of choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hardwired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
On the value of a liberal arts education, DFW points to the power of choice:
But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars -- compassion, love, the subsurface unity of all things. Not that the mystical stuff's necessarily true: The only capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it.
DFW closes with some simple yet powerful truths that are especially important for me to keep close to my chest as I wade through law school (with all its trappings of prestige):
It is about the value of real education, which has nothing to do with grades or degrees and everything to do with simple awareness -- awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
"This is water."
"This is water."
Personally, I've found that meditation is the best way to remind myself, "This is water." Regardless, we all need to find our way to some sort of awareness.