“This is Water” [Uluc]

Graduation or “commencement” speeches are an interesting genre of writing because they aim to achieve a plethora of actions. Speech givers most commonly attempt to inspire graduates (by providing words of wisdom that may benefit them in life). Whilst emphasizing to graduates the significance of their accomplishments.

David Foster Wallace, in his commencement speech “This is Water” puts a twist on the genre as a whole. Wallace did not spend his time on stage merely congratulating his audience, but presented them with four valuable pieces of hard truth. These truths being: You are not the center of the universe, living your life on “autopilot” will result in misery, you choose what you worship so choose wisely, and real freedom means sacrifice.  

As mentioned in Kerry Dirk’s article “Navigating Genres”, word location is important to the context of writing. Wallace utilizes world location by telling a short story in which fish do not realize they are swimming in water. He connects this to how people everyday do not realize that life is constantly happening all around them. They choose to focus on themselves due to selfish mindsets. Wallace, like advised in Dirk’s article, knew his audience and researched how others tackled their speeches before writing his own. The difference is, he was determined to skip the “bullshit” and write like nobody had ever written before.  

“This is Water” is an outstanding example of writing in a genre without following all of the previously used guidelines. It is still a commencement speech because Wallace is achieving the goal of sending graduates off with valuable information and praise. As well as being brutally honest with them about how the real world works. David Foster Wallace, using his unique outlook on life, has transformed the genre of commencement speeches.



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