By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief
Copy rooms tend to be soul-sucking places. You can often find a teacher or office worker there, eyes glazed over, listening to the monotonous whirls and gasps of the machine and probably stapling in the same rhythm. The fluorescent lights flicker, the walls are bare, and you are sure this is the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.
But while the machine sucks the soul and the school year gets long and never ending, there are still a few coworkers trying their best to inspire their students. I found a pile of hopeful homework left next to the copy machine. There they were, 150 neatly piled copies of a commencement address given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon in 2005.
This is obviously a famous enough speech, especially since it made it to the reading list of 10th graders in Shanghai, China, but I had never read it before. I had come to the copy room to make my own monstrous load of dead tree handouts and decided to read it while I waited for the machine to stop its weird mechanical noises of death.
I was not disappointed.
For those who are not familiar, the speech is a rather abrupt and depressing affair beginning with a fish and water analogy and spiraling down into the dark and monotonous truth of adult life. He describes the long hours at work, the struggle to get through a grocery line, only to get home, sleep, and get up the next day to do it all over again.
At first, it made me sad. Really, really sad.
I’m 26, and most of the time feel like I’m play-acting at the whole adult thing. That weird, giggly joy of stepping into your own apartment for the first time, or getting a paycheck that the 15 year old me would never have dreamed of, or laughing at myself in the mirror because my business suit looks exactly like a costume I had to wear for a children’s play a long, long time ago. It’s all a big game.
But then you get used to it all, the joy disappears, and it becomes the exact repetitive monster David Foster Wallace describes. The rat race is real, my friends. I became doubly sad realizing that as a 10th grader I would have waved aside this prophecy as a rant from a man who clearly had nothing better to do in his life. Now, it felt as if he had been watching me in the grocery store.
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. He leaves his listeners with a challenge to think of others as possibly being more important than yourself, and adjusting your lens with which you see the world. Small yet powerful words.
So there I was, in the copy room, completely engrossed in reading this speech and having a small existential crisis of examining what my adulthood has become. I decided that today is a good day to change and start seeing things in a different way. I snuck a copy from the pile and it is now in my desk, next to notes from students I read when I am feeling uninspired. I gave those a read as well, and suddenly life is feeling new again. Inspiration brings joy, energy, and much needed passion.
Thanks God, for inspiration found in unlikely places, and the pure joy of literature and the power of words. Thank you that the cliche “it’s never too late to change” is true. Thank you for a reminder to look above and around and even upside down, to shake up the world like a snow globe and stand to the side, rather than the center. Help me bring meaning to even the dullest of moments and joy in fluorescent-lighted rooms. Help me to pass on inspiration to others who need it, just as it was given to me today.