Monday, May 05, 2014

Congratulations by the Way by George Saunders

Graduation season is upon us again, and a tiny part of me misses sharing in the exuberance and optimism of graduating seniors. The last several years, I would leave my seniors with a reading of protagonist Blue Vermeer’s fictitious commencement address from Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, in which she advises her classmates to “Live like a Goldfish”. If I were teaching today, I would be excited to use this slender new book, Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders. Saunders is an acclaimed author – one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the world, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow – best known for his numerous short story collections. This new book contains the text of his 2013 Syracuse University commencement address, which is not the usual patronizing sort, but more of a humble recognition that most of his regrets in life have to do with “failures of kindness.” Since it came out in April, this book has been getting quite a bit of attention – from Brainpickings to Salon. This short video includes an excerpt from the book about a girl Sauders knew in school who he wishes now he had shown more kindness. The speech is endearing and the book would make the perfect graduation gift!

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