One of my regrets in life is that I didn’t try to give a speech at my high school graduation. It wasn’t the valedictorian who gave the speech but rather the winner of a proxy speechwriting contest. As a budding high school journalist, I wanted to do it.
I wrote my essay. It was probably decent for an 18-year-old journalism nerd with a bad case of acne. But I never turned it in. It wasn’t stage fright. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it had a chance of winning. I probably just didn’t want to be judged by my peers.
It’s fitting, then, that one of the major themes of one of the great graduation speeches of all time is regret.
George Saunders, who delivered the convocation at Syracuse University this year, gave what some deem to be among the greatest commencement speeches ever.
His speech, titled “Congratulations, by the way,” will be published in book form by Random House in spring 2014, according to the Associated Press
The New York Times
’ 6th Floor blog has the speech in its entirety here
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Saunders details one thing he regrets, an encounter with someone he calls Ellen, who moved into his neighborhood:
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”
The experience still bothers him, Saunders says: “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”