Camus @ Commencement

Posted: 16th May 2014 by EricBierker in Uncategorized


There is a term making the rounds of the high school recently. I have heard it used in several different contexts and conversations. It is not a common phrase typically bandied about in a high school like OMG, TMI, PDA, and LOL . It is “Existential Crisis.” EC for short.

I am not sure where it originated, and where it is going, like the wind–yet the convergent usage is causing me to consider that perhaps our students are grappling with large issues not typically discussed. Maybe it is the devitalized economy, high college costs and post-grad crippling debt, bleak job market, and/or the vapidity of culture with hundreds of channels but nothing being on. Perhaps it’s the consequence standardized testing in all of its quantitative denaturing of knowledge.  An assessment wall that fragments the soul. Life is an essay, not multiple choice. Open-ended and infinite. Not easily measured and graded with those miniscule circles and sharpened number two pencils.

The French writer Albert Camus captured much of the existential spirit in the quote above. Typically Commencement speeches are on the up and up like a helium balloon. Soon losing altitude. Yet, in a world of heaviness, maybe some elucidation of why we all feel this burden would ultimately be more meaningful.

“No, … it is not humiliating to be unhappy. Physical suffering is sometimes humiliating, but the suffering of being cannot be, it is life. … What you must do now is nothing more than live like everybody else. You deserve, by what you are, a happiness, a fullness that few people know. Yet today this fullness is not dead, it is a part of life and, to its credit, it reigns over you whether you want it to or not. But in the coming days you must live alone, with this hole, this painful memory. This lifelessness that we all carry inside of us — by us, I mean to say those who are not taken to the height of happiness, and who painfully remember another kind of happiness that goes beyond the memory.” Albert Camus, Notebooks

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