In David Foster Wallace’s written copy of the 2005 Commencement Address, he portrays the idea through multiple examples that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. To begin, the first example given features two fish swimming. When they pass another fish, who asks how the water is that day, the example ends with one fish turning to his partner and asking what the heck water is. This comparison evidently proves that humans are often oblivious to events happening in their everyday lives. While Wallace is delivering this speech in front of students graduating, he is asking them to twist the ways in which they think. “So let’s talk about the single most persuasive cliche in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think” (Wallace 1). He then proceeds to explain that this is not an easy topic to hear or follow.
In his second example, Wallace tells a story about two men at the bar discussing religion, one is an atheist and one is a believer. In which, the atheist tells the person of faith about his near death experience, and how God did not save him, two eskimos did. Although it is clear that at the end of this story, the eskimos could have been the very sign from above, the guy is dead set that his view is right even before telling the story. Wallace explains that he has a “blind certainty, a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up” (Wallace 2). The key to being successful, is to be open minded and allow new ideas to challenge your views.
Both of these examples relate to the message in the beginning; there are some things people are so oblivious to, without even realizing it. The fish did not know he was in water, and he swims in it everyday. The man at the bar did not consider the option that the eskimos were sent there at that time specifically from God to save him. As a result, both of these main characters missed the greater picture. Wallace’s advice to the graduating class is to dive into things with no preconceived notions. An open minded person will be rewarded, no matter how difficult it is.
Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address … (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2020, from https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/DFWKenyonAddress2005.pdf