We have all heard the familiar phrase, “perception is reality.” While this statement accurately illustrates the fact that your point of view is dependent on your experiences, I find it to be a bit vague and, I admit, disappointingly passive. Is reality really this changeable? Are your perceptions really the result of circumstances beyond your control? Tonight, graduates, as you begin your journey forward, a journey that will challenge many of your current perceptions, I would like to offer some advice.
First, understand that there is a world around you. David Foster Wallace, in what Google has intimidatingly dubbed the greatest commencement speech of all time, stated “A fish doesn’t know it’s in water.” This thought-provoking quote captures the very crucial idea that your environment can, in fact, be invisible to you. As a fish swims, it cannot be aware that its world is an aquatic one. In fact, devastatingly for the fish, it only becomes conscious of its environment in the absence of it. The outcome, here, I’m afraid, is rather tragic. Be mindful of your surroundings, relish in the details, and embrace new experiences.
Second, recognize that you are a part of this world! You can influence it, affect others in it and, in your absence, it will be, even in a small way, different than it was the moment before. Engage in the world, but be cognizant enough to appreciate that you are not the center of it. That your actions have impact and with this comes power to make change. Let the beating of your fins generate current that will ripple into the world outside of you. We are all connected.
Lastly, accept that the world will continue to change. This is a certainty. Don’t live life by default. If ever you feel that you have mastered your reality, that you are fully sentient, know that, in that moment, you have become complacent. This complacency will mean, first, stagnation and, quickly thereafter, irrelevance. It will mean a decline of creativity and an ignorance of possibilities. Fish, to survive, must keep moving, pushing water through their gills, consuming that which surrounds them. Be adaptable, in every change there is opportunity.