Orange Alert

Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences. Return to home page. Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences. Return to home page.

Is Kindness Still Relevant?

10 years after his Convocation speech went viral, acclaimed author George Saunders G’88 revisits its message.

In May 2013, best-selling author and Professor of English George Saunders addressed graduates at the College of Arts and Sciences Convocation with a simple but powerful message: Choose kindness.

At the time, Saunders never imagined the speech would one day become one of the most celebrated Convocation addresses of all time.

“When I finished writing the speech, I was proud of it and looked forward to presenting it,” says Saunders. But after the Convocation ceremony, he distinctly remembers walking about the Quad with little feedback – good or bad – coming his way. In fact, he specifically recalls an indifferent reaction from one gentleman who recognized him in the crowd.

‘Are you the guy that gave that speech,’ the man said. When Saunders replied ‘yeah,’ the man simply said, ‘huh.’

“It’s safe to say it wasn’t a huge success at first,” says Saunders. But three months after Convocation, a transcript of that speech was posted on The New York Times website, where it immediately went viral with over one million shares.

Want more Saunders? Watch the extended interview.

The message of kindness struck a chord with readers around the world, and the speech has since been immortalized, as websites including Business Insider, CNN, Vox, Esquire and many others rank it among their top ten Commencement addresses year after year.

“I think the simplicity was the thing because I wasn’t trying to be academic,” Saunders notes about its broad appeal. “I wasn’t trying to be intellectually persuasive. I was just speaking from the heart in the simplest way I could.”

The speech even inspired his 2014 book, Congratulations, by the way, where Saunders explores kindness and identifies his biggest regrets in life, which were failures of kindness.

Hall of Languages orange graphic.

Additional Content

Side by side headshots of George Saunders, left, and Gretchen Ritter, right.

Alumni Academy

Check out a recent Alumni Academy with Professor George Saunders and Provost Gretchen Ritter.

Saunders' Address

Read the transcript of Saunders' 2013 Convocation address.

George Saunders holding an open book.

Writing a Legacy

Read more about Saunders' approach to storytelling and view a photo story by Ross Oscar Knight.