Today’s Illustration: Whether it is or not, it is called — “The Greatest Commencement Speech Of All Time.”

Two Young Fish, Two Guys in a Bar, & David Foster Wallace ...

Who: David Foster Wallace

What: One of the most read speeches was given by David Foster Wallace.  In fact, that speech was highlighted in 2015 by Time Magazine, and the review was titled — “5 Takeaways From the Greatest Commencement Speech of All Time.

In his speech, Wallace said . . . .

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What [in the world] is water?” [1]

Where: The speech was given in 2005 to the graduating class of Kenyon College.

Key Biblical Thoughts:

  • culture
  • separation
  • conformity
  • renewing of your mind
  • conformity
  • rebellion
  • perspective
  • holiness
  • the Gospel
  • peer pressure
  • evangelism
  • tolerance / understanding
  • compassion
  • preaching

. . . . . 

Sermonic Example:

[Include the details you find useful]

What is called one of the greatest —  and called “the greatest” by some — but at least ONE of the greatest commencement speeches of all time — was given by “David Foster Wallace.”  It was given in 2005 and reviewed again by Time Magazine in 2015 in an article titled — “The Greatest Commencement Speech of All Time.”

Wallace gave his commencement speech to Kenyon College graduates– a private liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio — ranked #27 among liberal arts colleges in the United States.

What made the speech so memorable and noteworthy was his simple illustration that has been repeated and repeated throughout a variety of disciplines and fields of study.

The truth behind the illustration is not new.  However, the way it was framed — visualized — storied —  captured a basic truth about life and living.

This simple illustration or story also captures the task in front of us as a ministry and as a church engaged in sharing the Gospel.

Here is what Wallace said that was so illustriously memorable . . . .

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What [in the world] is water?” [2]

That simple story captures a truth we can all identify with — What seems so obvious, common, accepted by us because we live in it, is not so obvious to others.  The older fish has come to understand that reality!

When someone says or acts in ways that seem strange — or even seemingly “wrong-headed” —  it might be because they see life and live in far different terms and through disparate life experiences. In addition, their cultural context is different — maybe even vastly different — and not taking that into account when speaking to them will result in talking past them.

That is not only true with those who are part of the local church or ministry — our fellow believers – but with those with whom we share the Gospel. What is so obvious and normal to us, is not so obvious and accepted to others. . . .



1. –https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/this-is-water
https://time.com/collection-post/3894477/david-foster-wallace-commencement-speech/
— “Fish don’t know they’re in water” /  — https://sive.rs/fish.

“This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life” — David Foster Wallace

Story 1:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Story 2:

There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

EVERYBODY WORSHIPS

This was my introduction to David Foster Wallace, or DFW for short. He shared these two stories in the opening of his commencement speech at Kenyon College.

https://treehouseletter.com/2016/07/13/two-young-fish-two-guys-in-a-bar-david-foster-wallace-the-real-value-of-a-real-education/

2. Wallace goes on to say . . .

“if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.  . . . I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenyon_College

https://fs.blog/2012/04/david-foster-wallace-this-is-water/

Two Young Fish, Two Guys in a Bar, & David Foster Wallace – The Real Value of a Real Education

One thought on “Today’s Illustration: Whether it is or not, it is called — “The Greatest Commencement Speech Of All Time.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.