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The 20 best commencement addresses and graduation speeches ever

by kirsty
A great commencement speech can last in a fresh graduate’s mind forever. Here are the top 20 Commencement Addresses to teach and inspire.

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford

http://youtu.be/UF8uR6Z6KLc

Best quote: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Conan O’Brien’s 2000 Commencement Speech at Harvard

 http://youtu.be/5cFY0-IFcwc

Best quote: “So what can you expect out there in the real world? Let me tell you. As you leave these gates and re-enter society, one thing is certain: Everyone out there is going to hate you. Never tell anyone in a roadside diner that you went to Harvard. In most situations the correct response to where did you to school is, “School? Why, I never had much in the way of book larnin’ and such.” Then, get in your BMW and get the hell out of there.”

Ellen DeGeneres’ 2009 Commencement Address at Tulane University

 http://youtu.be/0e8ToRVOtRo

Best quote: “The definition of success changes. Success is to live your life with integrity and not give in to peer pressure to be something you’re not. Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path; unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, then by all means, you should follow that.”

J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Commencement Speech at Harvard University

 http://youtu.be/wHGqp8lz36c

Best quote: “So given a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

Oprah Winfrey’s 2013 Commencement Address at Harvard

 http://youtu.be/GMWFieBGR7c

Best quote: “It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point you are bound to stumble because if you’re constantly doing what we do, raising the bar. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, the higher the law of averages. Not to mention  – as the Myth of Icarus predicts – you will at some point fall. And when you do, I want you to know this, remember this: there is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction. Now when you’re down there in the hole, it looks like failure. So this past year I had to spoon feed those words to myself. And when you’re down in the hole, when that moment comes, it’s really okay to feel bad for a little while. Give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost but then here’s the key, learn from every mistake because every experience, encounter, and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you and force you into being more who you are. And then figure out what is the next right move.”

Stephen Colbert’s 2013 Commencement Address at the University of Virginia

 http://youtu.be/kNkxQKGex28

Best quote: “But while we may be leaving you with an economy with fewer job opportunities for the new graduate to slip into and while traditional paths may seem harder to find, that also means that you will learn sooner than most generations the hard lesson that you must always make the path for yourself. There is no secret society out there that will tap you on the shoulder one night and show you the way. Because the true secret is – your life will not be defined by the society that we have left you.”

Julie Andrews’ 2013 Commencement Speech at the University of Colorado Boulder

 http://youtu.be/kNJvZOBho6Y

Best quote: “There are so many opportunities for giving in this world. Don’t engage in random acts of kindness, engage in planned acts of kindness. There are at-risk children who need to be mentored. There are people who go hungry every day, there are those who are infirm and have no one to look after them. Some have experienced a paralysing loss. Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak. Be a beacon of light, for those whose lives have become dark. Fight the good fight against global warming. Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world YOU want to live in.”

Aaron Sorkin’s 2012 Commencement Address at Syracuse University

 http://youtu.be/hwvilfPWHYI

Best quote: “Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness, character. You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance—and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy. Unless they went to Georgetown, in which case, they can go to hell.”

Jon Stewart’s 2004 Commencement Address at William & Mary College

 http://youtu.be/ajPvjKFFIAo

Best quote: “College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a different story.”

Bono’s 2001 Commencement Address at Harvard

 http://youtu.be/wQ4A8NLMAbY

Best quote: “Didn’t John and Robert Kennedy come to Harvard? Isn’t equality a son of a bitch to follow through on? Isn’t “Love thy neighbour” in the global village so inconvenient? God writes us these lines but we have to sing them … take them to the top of the charts, but it’s not what the radio is playing – is it? I know.”

Toni Morrison’s 2004 Commencement Address at Wellesley College

 http://youtu.be/SAJH03U7aHM

Best quote: “Although you will never fully know or successfully manipulate the characters who surface or disrupt your plot, you can respect the ones who do by paying them close attention and doing them justice. The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean. But then, I am a teller of stories and therefore an optimist, a believer in the ethical bend of the human heart, a believer in the mind’s disgust with fraud and its appetite for truth, a believer in the ferocity of beauty. So, from my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.”

Jerry Zucker’s 2003 Commencement Speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Read the full transcript here

Best quote: “If you’re going to fail, fail big. If you don’t, you’re never going to make a difference. Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Ask yourself one question: If I didn’t have to do it perfectly, what would I try? For many of you, the biggest obstacle to getting there will be a fear that you have carried with your since childhood — the fear of humiliation, of embarrassment, of ridicule. That is SO stupid!”

Amy Poehler’s 2011 Commencement Address at Harvard

 http://youtu.be/7WvdxgGpNVU

Best quote: “All I can tell you today is what I have learned. What I have discovered as a person in this world. And that is this: you can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own.”

Tom Hanks’ 2011 Commencement Speech at Yale

 http://youtu.be/baIlinqoExQ

Best quote: “Fear is whispered in our ears and shouted in our faces. Faith must be fostered by the man or woman you see every day in the mirror. The former forever snaps at our heels and delays our course. The latter can spur our boot heels to be wandering, stimulate our creativity and drive us forward. Fear or faith, which will be our master?”

Jane Lynch’s 2012 Commencement Speech at Smith College

 http://youtu.be/RwuNfHSOxZI

Best quote: “in order for our lives to go forward, in order to engage fully in life, we need to be willing and able to accept what is right in front of us. Whatever it is, the good, the bad, the thrilling, the heartbreaking, every emotion, occurrence, event, person, place or thing, you will experience them all. That’s the “YES” I’m talking about. And the acceptance and embrace of it with all your heart and doing something with it, that’s the “AND.” You accept influence and then you exert influence. You can’t make a cloudy day a sunny day, but you can embrace it and decide it’s going to be a good day after all.”

Denzel Washington’s 2011 Commencement Speech at the University of Pennsylvania

 http://youtu.be/QyDo5vFD2R8

Best quote: “I’m sure in your experiences—in school… in applying to college… in picking your major… in deciding what you want to do with life—people have told you to make sure you have something to “fall back on.” But I’ve never understood that concept, having something to fall back on. If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall… forward.  At least I figure that way I’ll see what I’m about to hit.Fall forward. Here’s what I mean:  Reggie Jackson struck out twenty-six-hundred times in his career—the most in the history of baseball.  But you don’t hear about the strikeouts. People remember the home runs. Fall forward. Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments. Did you know that?  I didn’t either—because #1,001 was the light bulb. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.”

Arianna Huffington’s 2013 Commencement Speech at Smith College

 http://youtu.be/UJ25qEHgcM4

Best quote: “And remember that while there will be plenty of signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are, to take care of yourself along the way, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible. “Give me a place to stand,” my Greek compatriot Archimedes said, “and I will move the world.””

Will Ferrell’s 2003 Commencement Address at Harvard

 http://youtu.be/yPl3X6whm3A

Best quote: “You’re about to enter into a world filled with hypocrisy and doublespeak, a world in which your limo to the airport is often a half-hour late. In addition to not even being a limo at all; often times it’s a Lincoln Towncar. You’re about to enter a world where you ask your new assistant, Jamie, to bring you a tall, non-fat latte. And he comes back with a short soy cappuccino. Guess what, Jamie? You’re fired. Not too hard to get right, my friend…”

Bill Gates’ 2007 Commencement Address at Harvard

 http://youtu.be/zPx5N6Lh3sw

Best quote: “In line with the promise of this age, I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue – a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. If you make it the focus of your career, that would be phenomenal. But you don’t have to do that to make an impact. For a few hours every week, you can use the growing power of the Internet to get informed, find others with the same interests, see the barriers, and find ways to cut through them. Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”

Winston Churchill’s 1941 Commencement Speech at Harrow School

Best quote: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

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