HOW refreshing it is when one actually speaks the truth – straight, no chaser – in this culture. How utterly wonderful when we are told like it is. For instance, what constitutes true greatness.
That is what best-selling author John Green did when he delivered the commencement address to the Butler University (Indiana) Class of 2013 nearly two weeks ago. His speech has not gone unnoticed. In fact, it is on a trajectory to go as viral as the YouTube videos that he created with his brother Hank. (See commencement speech video above).
“I just want to note that the default assumption is that the point of human life is to be as successful as possible, to acquire lots of fame or glory or money as defined by quantifiable metrics like number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends or dollars in one’s 401K.
“That’s the hero’s journey, right?,” the man who has all of these things asks rhetorically. “The hero starts out with no money and ends up with a lot of it. The hero starts out an ugly duckling and becomes a beautiful swan. Or starts out an awkward girl and becomes a vampire mother.”
Vlogbrothers Hank and John Greene. Photo by Gage Skidmore.
JG rejects this notion, asserting to a laughing audience that this is not the real hero’s journey, the one from weakness to strength. It is unclear from the video whether the young people, who likely imagine themselves future masters and mistresses of the universe, are laughing out of nervousness or whether they think the speaker is joking, though some of his remarks are rather caustic.
In this Great Recession and in this era of unprecedented student loan debt, “The Fault in Our Stars" author is serious and one hopes that all who have ears – young, middle and old – will really hear him.
“Your student loans will come due and you will need a very good answer for why exactly you went to college in the first place,” he asserts.
“Which answer you will have a hard time coming by as you sit in your, job provided you are lucky enough to have a job and suffer the indignity of people calling you by the wrong name or if you are forced to wear a nametag, the indignity of people calling you by the right name too often … And that is the true hero’s errand, the journey from strength to weakness.”
Ansel Elgort will play the male lead of Gus in the film adaptation of John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars." Archive photo
It is in this space, JG promises his listeners, that they will acquire the empathy and humility necessary to be heroes living the good life.
“You are probably going to be nobody for a while. You are going to make that journey from strength to weakness and while it won’t be an easy trip, it is a heroic one. For, in learning how to be a nobody you will learn how not to be a jerk and for the rest of your life if you are able to remember your hero’s journey from college grad to underling, you will be less of a jerk.”
In closing comments JG, who specializes in young adult fiction, imparts “rock-solid advice about proper adulthood” from practical to deep to funny. The soon-to-be graduates are admonished against worrying too much about the lawn and encouraged to fade away rather than burn out. He also suggests they use their knowledge about the Internet against “old" people, presumably those 30 and up. Further, JC recalls the story of a Kuwaiti roommate during a time of strife in the former’s country to make a point about empathy
“For the rest of your life you will have a choice to read graffiti in a language you do not know. And you will have a choice about how to read the actions and intonations of the people you meet. And I would encourage you as often as possible to consider the ‘Happy Birthday, sir, despite the circumstances’ possibility.”
Visit http://www.johngreenbooks.com/ to learn more about John Green. Rx