As a kid I’d sit between the stacks at the public library, my books in uneven piles around me on the shit-orange carpet, the walls and staggered turrets of my castle. Breathing in the warm musk of aged paper, I’d sometimes feel suddenly, profoundly, sad, but also deeply humbled, because there were more good books left on the shelves, I suspected, than I could read in a lifetime. The volumes in a library were my first measure of the finiteness of life. Every time I add a book to my reading list, I revisit that feeling, and every day I go without reading feels like a betrayal.
Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
David McCullough, Jr., Wellesley High School Faculty Commencement Address, 2012