Friday, May 20

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The author comments on the medium of the graduation cliché while still advancing it:

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché 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 "teaching you how to think". If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think.

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Pinch-hitting for an ailing Ted Kennedy, the then-candidate honors the Kennedy’s life of service and implores graduates to wed their lives to others:

Ted Kennedy often tells a story about the fifth anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps. He was there, and he asked one of the young Americans why he had chosen to volunteer. And the man replied, ‘Because it was the first time someone asked me to do something for my country.’ I don’t know how many of you have been asked that question, but after today, you have no excuses.

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The doctor and New Yorker writer on embracing the shortcomings of expertise:

The truth is that the volume and complexity of the knowledge that we need to master has grown exponentially beyond our capacity as individuals. Worse, the fear is that the knowledge has grown beyond our capacity as a society.

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Speaking to a group that started their college lives in September, 2001, the host of The Daily Show embraces how difficult the real world is:

I want to address is the idea that somehow this new generation is not as prepared for the sacrifice and the tenacity that will be needed in the difficult times ahead. I have not found this generation to be cynical or apathetic or selfish. They are as strong and as decent as any people that I have met. And I will say this, on my way down here I stopped at Bethesda Naval, and when you talk to the young kids that are there that have just been back from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don’t have the worry about the future that you hear from so many that are not a part of this generation but judging it from above.

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Former Washington Post opinion page editor Greenfield on not being overwhelmed by the past in the search for a “better truth”:

History helps guard against moral smugness too, or it should, anyway. For you are obliged, if you are honest, to acknowledge at least some reflection or resonance of the fallen ones in your own nature. Such humility is a conspicuously missing aspect of our contemporary culture, however. What might be a becoming spell of moral introspection, tends instead to become an orgy of bashing and blaming. I observe that now, as always in this country, when people speak of a terrible, all embracing decline in ethical standards, they are invariably speaking of the decline in their next door neighbor's standards, not their own.

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The Washington University philosophy professor devotes 4,697 words to the importance of using one’s education to better communicate with loved ones:

I want to talk to you about talking, that commonest of all our intended activities, for talking is our public link with one another; it is a need; it is an art; it is the chief instrument of all instruction; it is the most personal aspect of our private life. To those who have sponsored our appearance in the world, the first memorable moment to follow our inaugural bawl is the birth of our first word. It is that noise, a sound that is no longer a simple signal, like the greedy squalling of a gull, but a declaration of the incipient presence of mind, that delivers us into the human realm.

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The comedian speaks to his alma mater about the importance of taking risks, and his own rocky path from college to the late-night stage:

What else can you expect in the real world? Let me tell you. As you leave these gates and re-enter society, one thing is certain. Everyone out there is going to hate you. Never tell anyone in a roadside diner that you went to Harvard. In those situations, the correct response to, “Where did you go to school?” is “School? I never had much in the way of book learnin’ and such.” And then get in your BMW and get the hell out of there. Go.

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A profile of Arnold Schwarzenegger written during his first year in office as Governor of California:

"You know, the thing I love about Mexican women is how furry their pussies are."

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The downfall of a Goldman Sachs director:

"Now from, for the last three or four, I mean four or five years, I've given him a million bucks a year, right?" says Rajaratnam. "Yeah, yeah," says Gupta, who doesn't appear taken aback at all by Rajaratnam's next remark: "After taxes. Offshore. Cash."

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TM The only other time I saw you was in Bleecker Bob’s in the ‘70s. You walked in eating pizza and wearing aviator glasses and Bleecker Bob showed you an Ian Dury picture sleeve and you said, “I don’t listen to music by people I don’t wanna fuck.” PS (laughter) Yeah, that was me.

Thursday, May 19

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You get steeped in this stuff as a kid, even if some part of you was always skeptical, it's hard to lose the residual sense that everything unfolding in the world—from natural disasters to commerce and geopolitics—signals some approaching doomsday.
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A bridge, a preventable leap, and the politics of barriers for “suicide hotspots.”