This is the commencement speech to the Kenyon College class of 2005, delivered by David Foster Wallace. In it, he discusses the subjects of empathy, awareness and the general lonesomeness of adult life. The title of the speech originates from the following simple parable:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
Wallace’s speech suggests that the overall purpose of higher education is to be able to consciously choose how to perceive others, think about meaning, and act appropriately in everyday life. He argues that the true freedom acquired through education is the ability to be adjusted, conscious, and sympathetic.