Graduate Speaker Pete Davis | Harvard Commencement 2018 | Summary and Q&A

May 24, 2018
Harvard University
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Graduate Speaker Pete Davis | Harvard Commencement 2018


Our generation is defined by browsing through infinite options without fully committing to anything, but real fulfillment comes from making long-term commitments.

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Key Insights

  • 🍃 Browsing through endless options without committing can leave us feeling unsatisfied with our choices.
  • 💄 True fulfillment comes from making long-term commitments and sticking with them.
  • 🧑‍🏭 Radically committing to something is a counter-cultural act in today's world.
  • 💄 Making commitments requires closing doors and forgoing other options.
  • 😃 Dedication leads to joy as it involves pursuing something holy.
  • 🍉 Long-term commitment can have a profound impact on individuals and communities.
  • 💦 Failure to sustain long-term work can be as damaging as acute threats.


I'm sure many of you have had this experience it's late at night and you start browsing Netflix looking for something to watch you scroll through different titles you even read a few reviews but you just can't commit to watching any given movie suddenly it's been 30 minutes and you're still stuck in infinite browsing mode so you just give up you're... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the downside of having too many open doors in our lives?

While having options can seem appealing, constantly switching from one option to another can leave us feeling less satisfied with any choice. We may crave novelty but find that true fulfillment comes from committing to something for the long term.

Q: Who are some examples of individuals who have embraced commitment?

Fred Rogers dedicated himself to advancing a humane model of moral education through his long-running show. Dorothy Day spent night after night with outcasts because she was committed to them. Martin Luther King not only faced dramatic moments but also hosted numerous tedious planning meetings as his commitment to the cause.

Q: Why is commitment considered a radical act in today's world?

In an age where keeping options open and avoiding long-term commitments is the norm, making a commitment to something or someone for a long time is seen as radical. It requires closing doors and forgoing other options for its sake, which goes against the prevailing mindset.

Q: What is the connection between commitment and joy?

Making a commitment to something holy often brings immense joy. The most dedicated people find joy in their pursuit of holiness through their long-term commitment to a particular thing, be it a cause, profession, community, or person.


In this video, the speaker explores the idea of "liquid modernity" and the tendency of our generation to keep our options open in all aspects of life. While having numerous choices can lead to new experiences and freedom, it also comes with its downsides. The speaker reflects on the importance of commitment, highlighting the profound impact of dedicated individuals who have chosen to settle in and make long-term commitments to causes, professions, communities, and relationships. The speaker urges us to choose and stick with something, emphasizing the transformative power of dedicating ourselves to a particular path, even amidst the distractions and uncertainties of our modern world.

Questions & Answers

Q: What does the speaker mean by "keeping our options open" in relation to our generation?

"Keeping our options open" refers to the tendency of our generation to avoid making commitments and to remain adaptable to future possibilities. We hesitate to fully commit to an identity, place, community, or relationship, always seeking alternate options that may seem better or more fitting for our authentic selves.

Q: What is "liquid modernity" according to philosopher Zygmunt Bauman?

Philosopher Zygmunt Bauman coined the term "liquid modernity" to describe the state of constant adaptability and lack of commitment in modern society. It signifies a fluid and ever-changing existence where individuals refrain from solidifying their identities, relationships, or affiliations in order to avoid being locked behind a closed door.

Q: How does the speaker compare their experience of entering a new place with infinite browsing mode?

The speaker likens the experience of entering a new place to browsing different options on Netflix. While transitioning to a new environment with countless possibilities can be exciting, it can also lead to an ongoing state of indecision and uncertainty, similar to the endless cycle of scrolling through options without committing to watching any movie.

Q: What are some positive aspects that the speaker has observed about having many options?

The speaker has witnessed the joy and fulfillment that individuals experience when they find a path or setting that aligns with their authentic selves. They also mention that having numerous options makes big decisions less agonizing, as one can always quit, move, or change direction. Exploring a multitude of choices can provide novelty and new experiences that previous generations might not have had the chance to encounter.

Q: What downsides has the speaker noticed about having too many open doors?

The speaker recognizes that having an excessive number of open doors can lead to dissatisfaction with any given choice. They have observed that constantly pursuing novelty and new experiences can overshadow the value of long-term commitments. Furthermore, the speaker notes that getting stuck in a hallway of endless choices can prevent individuals from truly settling in and building meaningful connections and relationships.

Q: What kind of experiences does the speaker mention craving lately?

The speaker mentions craving moments of connection and contentment that come from spending time with friends they have known for a long time. They describe the desire for those perfect Tuesday nights when they can have dinner with lifelong friends who have shown a commitment to the relationship and are not easily swayed by the allure of new connections.

Q: Who are some individuals the speaker considers as inspiring examples of commitment?

The speaker mentions several figures who have exemplified dedication and commitment in their respective pursuits. They highlight Fred Rogers, who dedicated himself to advancing a humane model of moral education through his show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Dorothy Day, who sat with outcast people night after night because of her commitment to them. Martin Luther King, who not only confronted the fire hoses in 1963 but also hosted countless planning meetings for the betterment of society.

Q: What does the speaker say about the usual portrayal of courage in tales and movies?

The speaker notes that mainstream tales of courage often focus on big, brave moments of slaying dragons or overcoming dramatic challenges. However, the speaker believes that true courage lies in committing to the everyday work and overcoming the ordinary obstacles that erode our ability to stay dedicated to a cause or a path for the long haul. They argue that these small, persistent acts of commitment are equally, if not more, important.

Q: What does the word "dedicate" mean, and why does the speaker find it significant?

The word "dedicate" has two meanings. Firstly, it means to make something holy—a sacred act. Secondly, it means to stick with something for a long time, to commit to it. The speaker finds this duality significant, suggesting that committing to a particular cause or pursuit can be seen as a holy or sacred act. By dedicating ourselves to something, we not only make it important but also experience immense joy through the pursuit of holiness.

Q: According to the speaker, what possible downfall should concern us aside from foreign invaders or demagogues?

The speaker suggests that our failure to sustain the necessary work of turning visions into projects, values into practices, and strangers into neighbors could lead to our downfall. They highlight the importance of addressing everyday issues such as untended gardens, unwelcomed newcomers, homeless neighbors, unheard prisoners, ignored public voices, and unresolved issues of equal justice. These long-simmering calamities, if left unaddressed, can have equally detrimental effects as more overt threats.


Amidst the age of liquid modernity and infinite browsing mode, the speaker urges us to rebel against the temptation to keep our options open and join a counterculture of commitment. They emphasize the importance of making long-term commitments to specific causes, communities, relationships, professions, and places. By working at something for a long time and closing doors to forgo options, we show our love and dedication. The speaker believes that the radical act of commitment holds the antidote to our fear and dread. They call for dedicating our time to the slow but necessary work of turning visions into tangible projects, values into daily practices, and strangers into genuine neighbors.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Browsing through endless options on platforms like Netflix has become a defining characteristic of our generation.

  • Having numerous choices can be exciting and lead to new experiences, but it can also leave us feeling unsatisfied with any given option.

  • The most fulfilling experiences come from committing to something for the long haul, whether it's a place, profession, cause, community, or person.

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