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Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness

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Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University in 2013, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of The New York Times, where its simple, uplifting message struck a deep chord. Within days, it had been shared more than one million times. Why? Because Saunders's words tap into a desire in all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives. Powerful, funny, and wise, Congratulations, by the Way is an inspiring message from one of today's most influential and original writers.

64 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

George Saunders

131 books8,663 followers
George Saunders was born December 2, 1958 and raised on the south side of Chicago. In 1981 he received a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. He worked at Radian International, an environmental engineering firm in Rochester, NY as a technical writer and geophysical engineer from 1989 to 1996. He has also worked in Sumatra on an oil exploration geophysics crew, as a doorman in Beverly Hills, a roofer in Chicago, a convenience store clerk, a guitarist in a Texas country-and-western band, and a knuckle-puller in a West Texas slaughterhouse.

After reading in People magazine about the Master's program at Syracuse University, he applied. Mr. Saunders received an MA with an emphasis in creative writing in 1988. His thesis advisor was Doug Unger.

He has been an Assistant Professor, Syracuse University Creative Writing Program since 1997. He has also been a Visiting Writer at Vermont Studio Center, University of Georgia MayMester Program, University of Denver, University of Texas at Austin, St. Petersburg Literary Seminar (St. Petersburg, Russia, Summer 2000), Brown University, Dickinson College, Hobart & William Smith Colleges.

He conducted a Guest Workshop at the Eastman School of Music, Fall 1995, and was an Adjunct Professor at Saint John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, 1990-1995; and Adjunct Professor at Siena College, Loudonville, New York in Fall 1989.

He is married and has two children.

His favorite charity is a project to educate Tibetan refugee children in Nepal. Information on this can be found at http://www.tibetan-buddhist.org/index...

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5 stars
3,154 (41%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 989 reviews
Profile Image for jessica.
2,533 reviews32.3k followers
January 2, 2021
‘what i regret most in my life are failures of kindness.’

continuing my tradition of starting off the new year with some words of inspiration and much needed positivity (see previous years: 2020, 2019, and 2018).

as we begin a new year and try to move on from the trials and upsets of the previous year, GSs 2013 address provides some excellent advice - everything we do should be done in kindness.

selfishness is a sickness we are all susceptible to getting it but, fortunately, theres a cure. do things that benefit others, be slow to anger and quick to help, and most importantly, go easy on yourself. no one is perfect and we are our own worst critics. but as we are kind to ourselves, being kind to others will become easier.

so i wish 2021 to be a year of kindness - i hope you choose kindness and that others will treat you with kindness in return.

PS - for those interested, here are links to the text and video of the commencement address.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
May 16, 2019

Since it is graduation time again, I thought I would revisit one of my favorite commencement addresses, namely, the speech the fiction writer George Saunders delivered at Syracuse in 2013. Although it is mercifully short—a quality that should (alas!) be true of every blessed graduation speech—it also contains a powerful message.

Mixed in with the humor, and personal anecdotes (include one memorable tale about a Sumatran river and monkey-poop), Saunders tells the graduates one important fact about himself: “What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness,” and suggests that a good goal to adopt would “try to be kinder”.

One thing I really like about this speech is that, although Saunders suggests a few things he believes make people kinder—education, prayer, meditation, art, good talks with friends, for example—he does not recommend any one thing for everybody. He merely says:
Find out what makes you kinder, what opens you up and brings out the most loving, generous, and unafraid version of you—and go after those things as if nothing else matters.

Because, actually, nothing else does.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,739 reviews2,265 followers
September 2, 2017
”Down the rough ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who over the course of his life has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people with all of their best years ahead of that (that would be you)

And I intent to respect that tradition.”

And so he talks about the things he’s done, things perhaps someone else might think he would regret, or should regret, but doesn’t. And then he talks about one thing from his youth that he does regret, not standing up for a young girl in his neighborhood, in his school who was picked on. Ridiculed. He had no part in this, other than one important way – he didn’t do anything to help; he didn’t disparage the bullies or stand up for her. He wasn’t unkind to her, he just wasn’t kind to her.
This is just lovely, short enough for a young reader, compelling enough for the oldest and wisest reader.

Simple enough, you say. So why is it that we all aren’t doing it every day to everyone? He talks about the things that get in the way, about success after graduation, goals in life – the concrete, measurable kind, how easy it is to push away the thought that this moment in front of you deserves your kindness. But, still…

”… err in the direction of kindness…”

Profile Image for Melki.
5,785 reviews2,340 followers
May 7, 2018
. . . success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it.

My oldest son will graduate from college on Saturday. I'll sit and watch, and try not to cry. The kid who once ate the dog food the dog didn't want will have a degree in Philosophy. What he will do with that degree is anyone's guess. I like to joke that his job will involve knowing the difference between a Grande and a Venti, but who knows? As his adviser swears, my son can write and he can think, and that puts him ahead of many job seekers out there.

This tiny book contains the transcript of a speech Saunders delivered to the graduating class of Syracuse University in 2013. It is sweet and funny and urges kindness above all else. Vonnegut was also a great proponent of being kind, so there might just be something to the concept. With several months left in this never ending Presidential election, I can think of no better advice . . . for graduates, their parents, politicians, and voters.


*Pssst! If you want this as a gift, by all means, buy the book. Otherwise, read the New York Times article here - http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/201...
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,000 reviews35.9k followers
January 25, 2022
Simply beautifully true…
…… powerful ………important
…..about kindness.

Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,411 followers
November 4, 2016
This book is the convocation speech George Saunders gave to the 2013 graduating class at Syracuse University.

George Saunders is the kind of old white guy that we want to give us life advice. He doesn't have many answers, and I argue this makes his advice even more valuable. He has only a few good hints, gleaned after a lifetime of rough and tumble. His dedication at the beginning of the book mentions his grandparents, in loving memory. In the course of the speech he tells us that when we become parents we know what sacrifice is and what it takes to love another. He hopes that we apply those lessons as the educated adults that we are, and maybe not wait until we get there, as parents. To know it, and to act on it. Now.

Convocation speeches are not just for graduates, ever. They are for those who aspire, for those who hope one day to graduate to better life management, to a happier, more fulfilling existence, for those who still need advice. That probably includes all of us. Even George Saunders.

George Saunders is my kind of guru. He is funny, articulate, self-deprecating, smart, and unassuming. He doesn't pretend to be something he is not. He is a fiction writer who is flummoxed by humans, and yet is someone who has figured out a few things in his life.

In this speech Saunders paradoxically brings up death. Just to remind us that this moment--it is just a moment. That a life is justifiably filled with plans, hopes, dreams, striving, and that this is good, necessary, and normal. But there is something we don't want to forget as we make our plans because it puts everything in order, and perspective, and that is death. We are not alone and striving in the world, but we live with others. We will have lots of opportunities in our long lives to choose to be kind or not. He recommends "to err in the direction of kindness." Because nothing else matters, in the end.

Every time I read this speech I cry in the exact same place. I wonder if you will, too. I cry when he says how proud our parents are on this day of our graduation, I cry because I know how much my parents did to get me to that place. How much they gave up, how much they loved, how much they hoped. I cry because I know what the parents feel looking at their kids graduating. How proud, yes, relieved, hopeful, etc.

Anyway, this book is about going after things that matter, like kindness. Because in the end...and in the beginning, and in the middle...that's all that matters.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
June 14, 2021
Here’s the simple 2013 Syracuse University commencement speech, which I had read before, online, and now reread in hardcover. Why? Because I wake up every day and I go to sleep these days looking at social media and newspaper articles and see that his simple message is sorely needed:

"What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

Here is Trish’s sweet review:


Since I am a teacher, I go to graduations every year and my eyes always mist over at that same place, too, where the parents are thanked, and I always remember when my little (hey, they were more than a half foot shorter than me!) mom and dad stood up for me at my doctoral graduation at Michigan, and I suddenly sobbed to see them there. They’d never graduated from high school, and they supported me in every thing I did, even when I was unlovable and falling apart. I had been cynical about going to graduations, just as I had been for funerals. Empty gestures, I thought. Hallmark social occasions. But I was wrong. These occasions are important human functions, gestures, reminders of principles that have to be more than platitudes. Reminders of what it means to be human. My parents, standing there, were among the kindest people I have ever met, they’d do anything for anyone, and they taught me to do the same.

So this is easy, right, to be nice to people, not mean? Be caring, loving, become love ever more each day?

"Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness."

It's not the most profound or best piece of writing, it's doesn't tell you much more than this, but it's good to spend ten minutes reading once in a while. I love Saunders's sweet kind voice caressing you through it.
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,481 reviews12.8k followers
May 6, 2018
Congratulations, by the way is a slightly expanded version of the commencement speech George Saunders gave at Syracuse University on May 11, 2013 - and it’s truly wunnerful!

Saunders makes the case for a life lived with purposeful kindness and unselfishness at the forefront, and does so in his amusing, charming and eloquent style. It’s a kinda corny sentiment, and exactly what you’d expect to hear at this sort of ceremony - a fact Saunders wryly notes at the beginning - but an important one to keep in mind.

It’s a deceptively simple, thoughtful and concise speech but, as anyone who’s tried can attest, writing like that ain’t easy and Saunders does so masterfully. I was very moved by his powerful words and unabashed guilelessness and found it to be refreshingly hopeful and upbeat.

A short read but an inspiring one, Congratulations, by the way is an energising spiritual shot in the arm - George Saunders weaves his beautiful magic again!
Author 0 books249 followers
October 25, 2016
And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been.
I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

A Commencement Speech that everyone should listen once!

Profile Image for Solistas.
147 reviews99 followers
January 3, 2018
Καλή χρονιά με υγεία κ αρκετό Saunders
Profile Image for Lizzy.
305 reviews166 followers
November 7, 2016
I thank my friend Trish for pointing out George Saunders' Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness to me. I loved it and I am relieved I still have time to be kinder hoping that later on I will feel less regret.

For Saunders can teach us a lesson that we should not forget, "What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness." Yes, let's follow his advice:
"Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness."
Trish's review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Drew Canole.
1,385 reviews1 follower
January 26, 2023
A very touching speech about how we can add some more kindness (and less selfishness) to our lives.

As someone who has had what everyone around me calls "success" I can really relate to this quote:

|. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it)
Profile Image for John Weiler.
122 reviews5 followers
May 12, 2014
Be kind now. Repeat as required.
I just gave away the entire book ... my first act of kindness.

Profile Image for Karl.
3,258 reviews263 followers
Want to read
August 17, 2016
This copy is signed by George Saunders.

This is a slightly expanded version of a commencement speech given by the author at Syracuse University May 11. 2013.
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews905 followers
August 22, 2014
Very slender volume - I read it in 10 minutes - that packs a whole lot of punch. This is the convocation address George Saunders delivered at Syracuse University in May 2013. You can watch it on YouTube (12 minutes), but I think it is much better quietly read and pondered than said.

The central message is very simple - try to be kinder - but the sentiment is delivered so eloquently and memorably that it is something I will carry with me and mull over from time to time. An instant classic, much like Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford address, and applicable to everyone.

This book would be a great gift for a grad (along with that check, of course!). Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
891 reviews146 followers
January 4, 2022
Ok, so I will admit to reading this slim volume tonight to get to 101 books this year (my reading goal), but I think I will read it every year on New Year's Eve. Absolutely beautiful, and a good reminder about what is truly important.

Edit Jan 3 2022 - so it’s been a few years since I read this, but I think it might be an even better New Year’s Day tradition - it’s inspired me to tackle this year with more kindness and compassion, and feels like a great way to start the year. Plus, I’m now a book AHEAD of my reading goal schedule!
Profile Image for Terri.
272 reviews
February 9, 2017
Only twenty pages, but George Saunders makes the most of his speech, to the Syracuse University graduating class 0f 2013. He speaks of his own life and his mistakes as a adult. But mostly the speech is about kindness. Given the horrendous climate of unkindness, that has taken the U.S. by storm, I was really eager and needed to read this. It made me feel better and that's something in this day and age.
Profile Image for Feinmann.
54 reviews30 followers
January 19, 2020
"Fate le cose che vi orientano verso i grandi interrogativi, ed evitate quelle che vi svalutano e vi rendono banali". Leggetelo, questo libretto.
Profile Image for Angy - Books Lover .
171 reviews18 followers
August 31, 2020
Più che un libro è un saggio. Molto breve, si legge in mezz'oretta. La prima parte, il discorso agli studenti universitari, e l'ultima, l'intervista, mi sono piaciute abbastanza. La parte centrale no, parla "male" dei tg e non mi ha"lasciato" nulla.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Cathy DuPont.
456 reviews167 followers
October 13, 2014
Stopped by the library to take something back, and always, always leave with something. For shame. If I read one book a day, I have enough books to read for a year but here I am taking books home to read.

Anyway, this is a feel good book and in movie form, "Pay it Forward."

Recently I read something about Saunders giving this address on kindness to a graduating college class. I did not go looking for the book but when I read the cover and back, I knew it was that book.

Thanks to my mother, I'm a sap for books such as this. Not so much spiritual but books that make us want to be a better person in all ways.

George Saunders says that kindness is what stays with us and brings rewards to us throughout our life. Rewards that are intangible but are recalled throughout our life with the "warm and fuzzies" that you (and I) did the right thing through kindness to others.

The students who heard this, I'm sure, were absolutely blown away by George Saunders and what he had to say that spring day. It is not your typical commencement address and I'm sure he made quite an impression on the 20-24 year olds.

The bottom line, be kind. And not only to animals, people.
Profile Image for Claire.
821 reviews175 followers
October 19, 2019
Brief but salient; the perfect Saunders reminder that kindness is that which really brings us together. It is something that is so easy to lose sight of in the busy, ambitious world, but that is never regrettable.
Profile Image for Sean.
85 reviews3 followers
April 29, 2014
I bought this on a whim after I had been drinking. I had already read the speech online, which I liked, and thought that this was the extended or complete transcript, since the details online said that it was 64 pages. I didn't know that half of the pages were flip-book imagery, and most of the pages were unfilled with text. It is also a very small book, so yeah, it easily contains the whole commencement speech that you can find for free. In that sense I was disappointed, but if I had not been tipsy shopping online I wouldn't have made this blunder. That one's on me.

What is it good for? A college grad, obviously. If I received this I would have been very grateful, and I would have liked it and found it charming. So I'm going to give this copy to someone else. As for the quality of the book, it's very nice. Not $14 nice, but it makes a good gift. It's a bit of a rip off, but Saunders is a writer, and if he can make money off of something like this, he'd be a fucking idiot not to capitalize.

My advice: go into your local book store, sit down and take the requisite fifteen minutes to read it yourself, and if you like it, buy it for someone in your life.
Profile Image for Hasan.
38 reviews24 followers
January 1, 2021
“ There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life. ”

What wonderful advice! And a lovely way to start a new year. I encourage everyone to read this. Here is the link to the address.
Profile Image for Adrián Ciutat.
190 reviews26 followers
January 30, 2021
Todo lo que escribe Saunders está bien, muy bien de hecho. Sin embargo me parece que le edición de este libro tiene una evidente intención económica, lo cual choca frontalmente con el mensaje que transmite el autor en él. Para ser amables y menos egoístas este texto no debería pasar de ser una introducción en cualquiera de sus otros libros.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
966 reviews100 followers
June 6, 2014
George Saunders is a bestselling author of several collections of short stories. He has also been the recipient of other very prestigious awards and recognitions. Mr. Saunders was asked to give a convocation address at Syracuse University. His address was posted on the website of the New York Times. Within a few days, it had been shared more than one million times!

This short book contains the text of that address. In it, Mr. Saunders conveys his thoughts on what graduates should keep in mind when pursuing their dreams. The central theme in the address is the advice he gives about kindness. In a world where self-promotion and achievement of fame and fortune are the primary focus, Mr. Saunders challenges graduates to perform acts of kindness in order to make a real difference in the world.

Very good advice.
Profile Image for Nadine in California.
929 reviews88 followers
October 23, 2021
I meditate regularly, including meditations on kindness, and I thought this short piece would be a nice complement and it is. I also have a thoroughly chickenshit reason for reading it - I'm behind on my GR reading goal and it gets me one book closer to being on track with only a 20 minute time investment. At least I'm not being unkind, although maybe if I had more integrity I'd have read one of the online versions out there and kept GR out of it. Would it be unkind of me to cast aspersions on Random House for padding it out with images and lots of white space and charging $14.00 for it? Or should I thank them for making these wise words more available - and encourage people to check out a library copy, making their public investment worth the price?
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