Commencement speakers are expected to inspire, congratulate and encourage the graduates they stand before.
They have a fine line to walk: their speech must be personally aimed at their audience, while being inspiring without quoting a bunch of clichés. In addition, since the speeches stand between the graduate and their diploma, the commencement speakers need to keep it short.
While some of the speeches will leave the students filled with hope, others will leave them scratching their heads. Here‘s a look at some of the more well-known speakers and what they have said to this years graduates:
Alice Cooper at Los Angeles Musicians’ Institute
Whatever you do, avoid mediocrity. Mediocrity is your enemy. Instead, go out on a limb: you’ll either be a big success or a terrible failure, but either is better than mediocrity.
Barack Obama at Barnard College
“Because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher. I’ve seen your passion and I’ve seen your service… I’ve seen a generation eager — impatient even — to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course.”
“It’s up to you to hold the system accountable and sometimes upend it entirely. It’s up to you to stand up and be heard, to write, and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote. Don’t be content just to sit back and watch.”
Brian Williams at George Washington University
You don’t actually have to build a rocket and take us into space but please, take us somewhere. Please keep us moving, push us, lift us up, make us better.
Condoleezza Rice at Southern Methodist University
“There are many people in this world who are just as intelligent, just as hard working, just as deserving of success, but for whatever reason did not enjoy the opportunities that you have. As [graduates], you have been summoned to the ideals of compassion and charity for the less fortune.”
Ira Glass at Goucher College
Commencement is in itself ridiculous: to inspire at a moment which needs no inspiration. Something incredible is happening to you right now. The whole world is opening to you. You have completed something difficult that took persistence and probably you questioned yourselves again and again. What can words add to that except delay the moment you get your diploma?
Jane Lynch at Smith College
What if life gives us the opportunity to rob a bank or a way to cheat on our taxes or say it offers us several hours in a row of life with the Kardashians…hours that we can never get back? To this I say: you can always trust that when you’re coming from your highest self and from your heart, you’ll know when you should say ‘YES’ and when to engage the awesome power of ‘NO WAY.'”
Katie Couric at the University of Virginia
Life can deal you some crushing blows, and we all need a deep reserve of resilience to survive.
Maria Shriver, at USC
Have the courage to go beyond other people’s rules and expectations. I pray that you will live and write your own story and then be brave enough to communicate it authentically to others. People will be inspired by it, people will learn from it, and people will have the courage to change their own lives because of the example you have set.”
Michelle Obama at Virginia Tech University
The truth is graduates, there will always be folks who make judgments about you based on superficial things like where you’re from or what you’re wearing or how you look. There will always be folks who judge you based on just one thing that you say or do, folks who define you based on one isolated incident. And here at Virginia Tech, I know you all know a thing or two about what’s that like. But you also know that in the end, people can only define you if you let them.
Mitt Romney at, Liberty University
“Sometimes, as Dr. Viktor Frankl observed in a book for the ages, it is not a matter of what we are asking of life, but rather what life is asking of us. How often the answer to our own troubles is to help others with theirs.”
Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia
Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — and in life, and in love, and in business, and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways in which life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art.
Oprah Winfrey at Spelman College
“You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go. What I learned is that that’s a great metaphor for life. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own life because if you are not, life will drive you.”
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