||On Friday, May 25, the BWL graduating class of 2012 received a clear, anecdotal, and wise address from the author Sebastian Junger. Most known for his best-selling first novel, The Perfect Storm, about the dangers of commercial fishing, Mr. Junger has also reported on war crimes in Kosovo, the peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, human rights abuses in Sierra Leone, and wildfires in the American West. In his words, he is attracted to “extreme situations and people at the edges of things.” Offering this breadth of experience and hunger for life, he commanded the attention of the 50 graduates.
After speeches from valedictorian Jordan Dannenberg, student body president Elijah Reid, and senior class president Cameron Wolfe, Mr. Junger began by stating that, though now 50, he was just coming to understand what life was about. He put it clearly: “The point of life is to really, really experience life. It’s up to you to figure out what that means. I think the only way you can do that, though, is to make yourselves emotionally vulnerable. You have to leave the things that are familiar. You have to risk fear, failure and not being impressive for a while. This is surprisingly difficult to do.”
Having recently spent a year with combat troops in the heavily contested Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan, Mr. Junger speaks from experience. Here, he collected footage for his Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo and his latest book, War, but he was also “pretty convinced I was going to be killed a few times.”
He cited the French philosopher Andre Gide, who said, “We are forced to feel more than we think” and reminded the graduates that “if you pay attention to that, you will make yourself vulnerable. If you don’t, you will be missing out on things that are really important in life.”
“It’s easier said than done,” said Valedictorian Jordan Dannenberg of Mr. Junger’s counsel, “but in an ideal world, I think living in that manner would allow people to have exciting, fulfilling lives – fulfilling in that they would be able to enjoy the adventure.”
A product of good East Coast schools (Concord Academy and Wesleyan University) and the suburbs of Boston, Mr. Junger reflected upon one of his early moments of vulnerability – when he hitchhiked across the country after college. In the “very intimidating landscape” of Wyoming, in the snowy cold of late October, he came upon a “bedraggled looking guy” walking away from the local coal mine with dirty Carhartts and a lunchbox. Though our guest feared this poor stranger would beg for food and money and end up taking more than he could spare, what happened was the opposite. He offered Mr. Junger his lunch. “He taught me a great lesson,” Mr. Junger said, “about assuming that you understand anything about someone else before they’ve had a chance to interact with you.”
True to his message of embracing new experiences, Mr. Junger spent some of his 20s as a high climber for a tree removal company – until a chainsaw injury pushed him toward journalism. This focus led him around the globe, from stark natural beauty to congested war zones and publications in Outside, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Journal, among others.
Mr. Junger closed his speech by referring to his year in Afghanistan, where he witnessed unparalleled selflessness among the members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Though he said, “some of them hated each other” they were also “willing to die for each other.” From his witness of these troops who put everything on the line and had nothing of the creature comforts young men desire, he offered the audience a simple reminder: “Courage is one of few things that is entirely elective. You don’t need to be tall to be courageous. You don’t need to be rich, educated, you don’t need to be anything. No one has any advantage in the matter of courage.”
Charged by the speech, graduating senior Brendan Holman extended the message: “Humans must explore, must travel, must confront their anxieties and adventure into the unknown. As Mr. Junger affirmed, life is indeed important, but the act of living is far, far more significant.”