Celebrating with Ray Bradbury

“Now, why are you here?” Ray Bradbury asked the graduates.

He didn’t mean why are you here at Caltech in caps and gowns on a Friday in June. He meant it in the biggest possible sense you can mean that question. Why are you here? On this tiny planet in this huge solar system in this vast universe?

And this wasn’t rhetorical or some thought piece, either. Mr. Bradbury had an answer.

“You’ve been put here because the universe exists. There’s no use the universe existing, if there isn’t someone there to see it.”

Mr. Bradbury believed in seeing things. “Stuff your eyes with wonder,” he wrote in Fahrenheit 451. “…See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” From behind his black-rimmed glasses, Mr. Bradbury had spent 70 years seeing. And he expected the same of the graduates.

Your job is to see the universe, he told them. “Your job is to witness.” But witnessing alone would not be enough. This was a man who described his house with a newborn as “loud with her cries of exaltation at being alive.”

So, to witness, yes. But also “to understand; to comprehend and to celebrate! To celebrate with your lives.”

There are, of course, a million reasons why celebration is easy to forget: we get busy, the unexpected happens, celebration seems so light and so trivial in the face of life’s real weights. But to Mr. Bradbury, none of that would have mattered. Because the stakes, when it came to celebration, were as high as they came.

At the end of your life, he made clear to the students, if you “look back and realize that you did not celebrate, then you wasted it.”

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