Commencement is never without its interesting moments, and while high school graduations usually consist of your classmates rattling on about missed opportunities and never giving up, many college graduations are lucky enough to have more high profile speakers. What inspirational, humorous, and “OMG SO TRUE!” speeches and quotes made the cut this year? Find out!

John Green: Butler University

John Green is a professional YouTuber with his brother Hank Green on VlogBrothers, and they DFTBA with all of Nerdfightaria. Oh, and he’s the New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our StarsLooking for AlaskaAn Abundance of KatherinesPaper Towns, and half of Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

20. “You have probably figured out by now that education is not really about grades or getting a job; it’s primarily about becoming a more aware and engaged observer of the universe.” (14:48)

John gives the Butler graduating class of 2013 “a few pieces of what [he believes] to be rock solid advice about, like, proper adulthood”:

19. “First and perhaps most importantly, do not worry too much about your lawn.” (13:45)
(Adults devote time to their lawns? This is a thing? Apparently, yes, yes it is a thing.)

18. Second: “It is much better to fade away. Always. Fade. Away.” (14:19) Much better than burning out. Perfectionists, type-A’s, procrastinators, and everyone of the like, I’m looking at you.

17. Third: “Keep reading.”(14:29) (Especially his books. “Ideally in hardcover.”)

16. Fourth: “[A]bout the Internet: Old people like myself are terrified by their ignorance of the internet, and you should use that to your advantage. You should say things at your job like, ‘You don’t have a tumblr? Oh you should really have a tumblr. I can set you up with that.'” (15:00)

15. Fifth: “Try not to worry too much about what you are going to do with your life. You are already doing what you are going to do with your life[.]” (15:19)

14. “And lastly, [to] be vigilant in the struggle toward empathy.” (15:58)

Jon Lovett: Pitzer College

Jon Lovett is a former presidential speech writer, creator of “1600 Penn”, and jokester, having crafted President Obama’s jokes for the White House Correspondents’ dinner.


Every year, the Pitzer College senior class selects their commencement speaker. They “didn’t invite a typical commencement speaker”; if they wanted one of those they should’ve booked “Goodwin, or that nice pilot who crashed into the Hudson or Tom Hanks.” (4:06). They invited Jon Lovett, who talks to the class about the magic of commencement, of being a graduate, and bullsh*t:

13. “[T]his was the rare moment when a human being could be free—free to write and dream and walk the earth and shout at power and dance, dance with beautiful strangers!” (3:27)

12. “One of the greatest threats we face, simply put, is bullsh*t. We are drowning in it. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research, in social media’s imitation of human connection, in legalese and corporate double-speak; it infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth and making it harder to achieve anything. And it wends its way into our private lives as well, changing even how we interact with each other, the way casual acquaintances will now say, “I love you,” the way we describe whatever thing as the best thing ever, the way we are blurring the lines between friends and strangers, and we know that.” (7:12)

11. “F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, ‘Yeah, this should definitely be in 3D.’ No, what he said was, the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. That’s what you have to do. You have to be confident in your potential and aware of your inexperience. And that’s really tough.” (9:17)

Jim Yong Kim: Northeastern University

Jim Yong Kim is the current president of the World Bank, has served as the former President of Dartmouth College, department chair at Harvard Medical School, and co-founder & director of Partners in Health…after he did his medical residency, of course.

Whether you are currently in high school, starting undergrad in the fall, just graduated from university, or even years into a career you love, the people you love and love you will always play into where you see yourself in life. Some more passively, and some more directly…like Dr. Kim’s father:

10. I remember vividly one particular day when I returned from college my father picked me up at the airport and when we were driving home he asked me, in the most casual way, ‘So, Jim, what are you thinking of studying?’ I told him I was really excited about philosophy and political science and I thought I could make a difference in the world must thinking of going into politics. My father put the blinker on, slowly pulled over to the site of the road, turned off the car, looked back at me and said, ‘When you finish your medical residency you can do whatever you want!’ I see some Asian parents in the audience nodding their head saying, ‘What’s funny about that?'” (6:03)

Stephen Colbert: University of Virginia

Stephen Colbert is a comedian who stars in the news parody show, The Colbert Report. To see more of Colbert totally pwning commencement addresses, check out his speech to his alma mater Northwestern in 2011.

Stephen Colbert, or Stephen Colbert? Regardless, Colbert spoke (entertained?) at his wife’s alma mater with his usual humor and unusual take on the “Me, Me, Me Generation” debate:

9. “I just want to say the UVA students are incredible. The men are all gentlemen. And the women are all the most beautiful and intelligent in the world. I’m not just saying that because I dated a UVA girl. I’m saying it because I married her.” (3:57)

8. ” …your generation needs everything to be about you. And that’s very upsetting to us baby boomers because self-absorption is kind of our thing. We’re the original ‘Me Generation’, we made the last 50 years all about us. We took all the money. We soaked up all the government services. And we’ve deep-fried nearly everything in the ocean. It may seem that all that’s left for you is unpaid internships, Monday to Tuesday mail delivery, and thanks to global warming, soon Semester at Sea will mean sailing the coast of Ohio.” (12:38)

7. But while we may be leaving you with an economy with fewer job opportunities for the new graduate to slip into, 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.” (13:48)

6. “And don’t worry if [the baby boomer generation does] not approve of your choices. In our benign self-absorption, I believe we have given you a gift; a particular form of independence, for you do not owe the previous generation anything. Thanks to us, you owe it to the Chinese.” (15:00)

Julie Andrews: University of Colorado Boulder

Julie Andrews is a film and stage actress, singer, and author. While famous in the United States for her roles in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, she now is a public advocate for the arts and a children’s book author with her daughter Emma.

Maybe it’s just me, but even giving a commencement speech in Colorado summer heat, Julie Andrews will always be Maria of The Sound of Music? Just like Maria, she “can’t seem to stop singing wherever [she is].”

5. “You have been given the tools for successes yet to be realized. Take your good fortune and run with it. Use those tools wisely as you embark upon this next chapter of your lives. Keep learning as you go. Acknowledge that there will be fear and adversity, and then go out and kick butt!” (17:10)

Joss Whedon: Wesleyan University

Joss Whedon (Wesleyan University, Film  Major, ’87) is a writer, producer, and director: the genius behind the magic of many cultural icons, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Firefly”, and The Avengers.

Lots of colleges have awesome alumni, and Wesleyan has Joss Whedon (’87). The school invited him back…and the best thing he can tell them is “YOU ARE ALL. GOING. TO DIE.” It could only get better:

4. “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.” (5:43)

3. “Now, if you do, does this mean you get to change the world? All I can say, at this point, is that I think we can all agree that the world could use a little changing. I don’t know if your parents have explained this to you about the world but we…broke it? Ummmm, we’re sorry? It’s a bit of a mess.” (7:25)

2. “So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been.” (10:53)

1. “You will be so many things and the one thing that I wish I’d known, and want to say, is: don’t just be yourself, be all of your selves. Don’t just live, be that other thing connected to death. Be life. Live all of your life. Understand it, see it, appreciate it, and have fun.” (12:04)



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the author

Jo is in her first year of studying biology at Fordham University, with interests in the social sciences, business management, and world domination. Recently returned to New York from 12 years in California, you'll most likely find her adventuring around the city. Residences include the science and humanities departments, running trails, and every coffee shop from here to Narnia. Nobody’s quite sure if she has a heart, but she’s got some sort of pump that moves around the black sludge that is espresso through her veins.

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