The results are enough to make anyone not in the Wesleyan class of 2013 jealous.
Responsible as a writer and director for everything from “The Avengers” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Firefly,” it’s almost a surprise that Wesleyan hadn’t asked its famous 1987 graduate to speak before. At least Whedon made up for it in this speech.
What kinds of things would this big Hollywood guy talk about? Well, in what can’t be a surprise to anyone who has ever watched anything made by Joss Whedon ever, the commencement speech is about death.
And life, obviously. But there’s a lot of death.
It’s tempting to just copy the entire speech here. That’s what happens when almost every line is excellent. But the speech is kind of long, so here are just a few highlights. You can read the entire commencement speech on the Wesleyan University website.
A few choice quotes from Joss Whedon:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and … no. I’m not that lazy.”
When speaking of a short and negative graduation speech given by Bill Cosby: “I remember thinking, ‘I think I can do better. I think I can be a little more inspiring than that.’ And so, what I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die. This is a good commencement speech because I’m figuring it’s only going to go up from here.”
“The weird thing is your body wants to die. On a cellular level, that’s what it wants. And that’s probably not what you want.”
“Your body’s ambition: Mulch. Your body wants to make some babies and then go in the ground and fertilize things.”
“And for your entire life, you will be doing, on some level, the opposite — not only of what you were doing — but of what you think you are.”
“If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.”
“I think we can all agree that the world could use a little changing. I don’t know if your parents have explained this to you about the world but … We broke it. I’m sorry … It’s a bit of a mess. It’s a hard time to go out there. And it’s a weird time in our country.”
“To know that, in a world where debate has kind of fallen away and given way to shouting and bullying, that the best thing is not just the idea of honest debate, the best thing is losing the debate, because it means that you learn something and you changed your position. The only way really to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite.”
“Our connection not just to the people we love, but to everybody, including people we can’t stand and wish weren’t around.”
“So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been, and now, it becomes real on a level that it hasn’t been before.”
“You will be the broken world and the act of changing it, in a way that you haven’t been before. You will be so many things, and the one thing that I wish I’d known and want to say is: Don’t just be yourself. Be all of yourselves. Don’t just live. Be that other thing connected to death. Be life. Live all of your life. Understand it, see it, appreciate it. And have fun.”