Leaving is hard. It means you have to start a new chapter of your life. Leaving anything is hard. It’s why I never watch the last episode of TV series. Change is terrifying, but it’s also exciting. Whether you are facing a big transition like the end of high school or college, or you’re about to buy a risky new pair of shoes, these legendary commencement speeches will having you feeling a little better about the wild and great unknown.

Joyce Carol Oates at Niagara County Community College, 2015

Mega-famous author and Princeton University professor gave the class of 2015 a powerful message: refuse rejection with the utmost optimism. We’ve all heard “don’t give up on your dreams!” a million times, but Ms. Oates’ examples of Stephen King and her own students who have gone on to be well-known, hit particularly close to home. Her words are like a warm hug from your mother- they also encourage us to have the same faith in ourselves as our mothers’ do.

Most unique tid-bit: “…we don’t have time to “improve” our weaknesses, we have time only to concentrate upon our strengths. What you do well—you must learn to do better. And when you do this better—you must learn to do it even better. That is the way—that is the only way—to excel at anything.”

Listen and read here.

Mellody Hobson at University of Southern California, 2015

Mellody Hobson speaking at USC. Image from The Hollywood Reporter.

Mellody Hobson speaking at USC. Image from The Hollywood Reporter.

Hobson is one tough- and smart- cookie. As president of Ariel Investments and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dreamworks, she has to be. In her address, She encourages our generation to go forth with bravery. It’s the single most important ingredient to success. Small drops or huge splashes, every brave act is incredible and important. Be brave enough to have restraint, be brave enough to stand out, be brave enough to not know something and seek out the information. Embrace uniqueness. Have well-thought out and researched opinions. And most importantly be brave enough to love and be loved.

Prepare to be empowered: “Be willing to speak up and stand out. I know first-hand that this can be especially hard for women and minorities determined to fit in. I’ve seen so many young women hang back, adopting the attitude, ‘Tell me what you want me to be and I’ll be it.’ A far better approach is to say, ‘This is who I am and I have value. And I hope you will accept it, but if you don’t, I’m still good with who I am.'”

Read and listen here.

Mark Ruffalo at Dickinson College, 2015

Activist and member of the terror advisory list Mark Ruffalo kept it short and sweet at Dickinson, but his message is a strong one. He asks the young folks to misbehave. Challenge the system. He’s giving us permission to fight back and question everything. Of course, you’ve probably already suspected that this “system” everyone has always referred to isn’t necessarily the most trustworthy, but it’s sometimes hard to realize that YOU are the one who has the power to challenge that. So thanks, Mr. Ruffalo.

The big idea: “And so I’m asking each of you, at some point, to act up — be misbehaved. Buck the system. Fight for what you believe in. This is the time to do it. You’re the ones to do it.”

Shonda Rhimes at Dartmouth College, 2014

All hail Queen Shonda, supreme leader of Shondaland which is quickly taking over our TVs and the rest of the free world. An alum of Dartmouth, Rhimes starts out by openly admitting that she is nervous and does not like to give speeches. That takes guts while also highlighting the supreme power you are given when you acknowledge your fear and then continue on anyways. She also says that dreaming is total crap. Don’t dream. Do. So while you are sitting on your bed, freaking out about the lime green shoes, stop. Put them on and walk out the door and get some incredible stuff done. Before you know it, you’ll have started a trend that a million other people wanted to try out too, but couldn’t because they were too busy dreaming.

Best soundbite: 

You take it in.

You breathe this rare air.

You feel alive.

You be yourself.

You truly finally always be yourself.”

Read and listen here.

David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College, 2005

David Foster Wallace giving his commencement speech at Kenyon College. Image from Lit Stack.

David Foster Wallace giving his commencement speech at Kenyon College. Image from Lit Stack.

I listen to this all the time. I listened to it while I studied for finals last semester. Sometimes I use it as white noise. Sometimes I give it my full and utter attention. Because it’s important stuff. Foster Wallace cares. He is friendly and good. Everyone is naturally self-centered. It’s normal and usual. What is important is that we figure out how to change the way we think to be more present members of society. What it comes down to is that we are all on the exact same roller coaster of life and getting stuck in the drudgery of it all isn’t what it’s meant to be. Or at least that’s what I think he’s saying. It’s a big, big speech.

Biggest bit of food for thought:“‘This is water.’ ‘This is water.'”

Read and listen here.

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the author

Kathleen is a Northern California native and incoming freshman at Washington & Lee University. She spends much of her free time obsessing over the future (not in a crystal ball way) and making plans to visit as many countries as humanly possible throughout her four years of college. She loves her dog Morton, Grey's Anatomy, and money. One day she hopes to become the perfect mix of Cristina Yang, Mindy Kaling, April Kepner, and Amy Poehler. Until then you can find her crying over how exciting life is and retaking the Myer's Briggs Test to make sure she really is ENTJ.

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