Graduate Speaker Pete Davis | Harvard Commencement 2018

Graduate Speaker Pete Davis | Harvard Commencement 2018

October 20, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


I’m sure many of you have had this
experience it’s late at night and you start browsing Netflix looking for
something to watch you scroll through different titles you even read a few
reviews but you just can’t commit to watching any given movie suddenly it’s
been 30 minutes and you’re still stuck in infinite browsing mode so you just
give up you’re too tired to watch anything now so you cut your losses and
fall asleep I’ve come to believe that this is the defining characteristic of
our generation let’s call it keeping our options open there’s this philosopher
Zygmunt Bauman he calls it liquid modernity we never want to commit to any
one identity or place or community so we remain like liquid in a state that can
adapt to fit any future shape liquid modernity is infinite browsing mode but
for everything in our lives I’ve been thinking about this recently because
leaving home and coming here is a lot like entering a long hallway you walk
out of the room in which you grew up and into this place with thousands of
different doors to infinitely browse and throughout my time here I’ve I’ve seen
all the good that can come from having so many new options I’ve seen the joy a
person feels when they find a room more fitting for their authentic self I’ve
seen big decisions become less painful because you can always quit you can
always move you can always break up in the hallway will always be there and
mostly I’ve seen all the fun folks have had experiencing more novelty than any
generation in history ever experienced but as I’ve grown older here I’ve also
started seeing the downsides of having so many open doors nobody wants to be
stuck behind a locked door but nobody wants to live
in a hallway either it’s great to have options when you lose interest in
something but I’ve learned here that the more times I do this the less satisfied
I am with any given option and lately the experiences I crave are less the
rushes of novelty and more those perfect Tuesday nights when you eat dinner with
the friends who you have known for a long time who you’ve made a commitment
to and who won’t quit you because they found someone better I’ve discovered in
my time here that the people who inspire me the most are those who have left the
hallway shut the door behind them and settled in I think of Fred Rogers
recording episode 895 of Mister Rogers neighborhood because he was committed to
advancing a humane model of moral education I think of Dorothy Day sitting
with the same outcast folks night after night after night because it was
important that someone is committed to them I think of Martin Luther King but
not just the Martin Luther King who confronted the fire hoses in 1963 but
the Martin Luther King who hosted his thousandth tedious planning meeting in
1967 when Hollywood tells tales of courage they usually take the form of
slaying the dragon it’s all about the big brave moments but I’ve been learning
from these heroes that the most menacing dragons that stand in the way of
reforming the system or repairing the breach or the everyday boredom and
distraction and uncertainty that can erode our ability to commit to anything
for the long haul it’s why I love that the word dedicate has two meanings first
it means to make something holy second it means to stick at something for a
long time I don’t think this is a coincidence we do something holy when we
choose to commit to something and in the most dedicated
people I have met I have witnessed how that pursuit of holiness comes with a
side effect of immense joy we may have come here to help keep our options open
but I leave believing that the most radical act we can take is to make a
commitment to a particular thing to a place to a profession to a cause to a
community to a person to show our love for something by working at it for a
long time and to close doors and forgo options for its sake we often assume
that some acute and looming threat be it a foreign invader or a domestic
demagogue will be our downfall but if we were to end that end is just as likely
to come from something far less dramatic our failure to sustain the work it is
not only the bomb or the bully that should keep us up at night it is also
the garden untilled and the newcomer unwelcomed the neighbor unhoused and the
prisoner unheard the voice of the public unheeded and the long simmering calamity
unhaulted and the dream of equal justice unrealized but we need not be afraid for we have in
our possession the antidote to our dread our time free
to be dedicated to the slow but necessary work of turning visions into
projects values into practices and strangers into neighbors that is why in
this age of liquid modernity we should rebel and join up with a counterculture
of commitment consisting of solid people that is why in this age of infinite
browsing mode we should pick a damn movie and see it all the way through before we fall asleep let’s get to work