The Atlantic

I Didn’t Have Any Graduation Wisdom. So I Asked 19 Smart People Instead.

What a novelist, a therapist, a Buddhist teacher, and others have to say to the class of 2020
Source: The Atlantic

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of commencement addresses commissioned by The Atlantic for students who will not be able to attend their graduations because of the pandemic. Find the collection here.

In late January, I agreed to give a commencement speech at the high school I went to. I had vague ideas about what I might say—probably something about the perils of following predefined college-major, career, and life “tracks.” But before I began preparing in earnest, the pandemic hit, and I soon felt that my message seemed irrelevant and probably even unnecessary, since everyone has recently been derailed from their tracks in one way or another. On top of that, I realized that I didn’t have the faintest idea of what I could say to a group of people who were graduating into chaos and misfortune.

I struggled to come up with any guidance because, frankly, I see so little that people, especially young people, can do to dodge the many harms of the pandemic. But since I couldn’t plausibly get up on a stage (or a videochat) and tell everyone to just give up, I decided that I’d instead outsource the task of wisdom production by asking a bunch of smart people from a variety of fields—writing, psychology, history, and others—what they’d say to the class of 2020.

[Read: A commencement address too honest to deliver in]

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