Joss Whedon at Wesleyan University

Any Whedonite could tell you that Joss Whedon is all too aware of the looming specter of death. The beloved geek creator has a reputation for killing off characters, especially fan favorite characters, in terribly tragic ways. In that regard, it probably makes perfect sense that his commencement address to the eager, hopeful youngsters of Wesleyan University’s Class of 2013 starts with the stern warning that “you are all going to die.”

As you’d expect, though, it gets a little more uplifting from there. (Partly because, as he jokes, “it can only get better” from that inauspicious beginning.) See, Whedon knows you’re going to die, and you do too, but first he has some very good advice to offer about how you might choose to live. Hit the jump to watch the speech in full.

Whedon delivered his speech at Wesleyan’s ceremony on Saturday, May 26. It was a homecoming of sorts for him, as he graduated from the school in 1987.

The video below comes via EW. Whedon comes up to the podium at around the 2:30 mark.

Or, if you’d rather read the speech than see it, Wesleyan has the full transcript available on their website.

Death, it turns out, is just Whedon’s way of pointing out the fact that the human condition is itself a contradiction, since our bodies want shrivel up and die while our minds want to accomplish great things. And accepting that kind of tension is key to living well:

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that two roads diverged in the woods and you took the path less traveled. Part of you is just going, “Look at that path! Over there, it’s much better. Everyone is traveling on it. It’s paved, and there’s like a Starbucks every 40 yards. This is wrong. In this one, there’s nettles and Robert Frost’s body—somebody should have moved that—it just feels weird. And not only does your mind tell you this, it is on that other path, it is behaving as though it is on that path. It is doing the opposite of what you are doing. And for your entire life, you will be doing, on some level, the opposite—not only of what you were doing—but of what you think you are. That is just going to go on. What you do with all your heart, you will do the opposite of. And what you need to do is to honor that, to understand it, to unearth it, to listen to this other voice.

You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key—not only to consciousness-but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in. It’s not just parroting your parents or the thoughts of your learned teachers. It is now more than ever about understanding yourself so you can become yourself.

In conclusion, he advises, “Be that other thing connected to death. Be life.” Not so morbid after all, is it?

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