Image from Bwog

Image from Bwog.

It’s one of my favorite times of the year…commencement season! This year’s impressive lineup of commencement speakers have a lot that they have to live up to. Here are the most famous and memorable speeches of all time. From authors to first ladies to CEOs, this is a versatile group of individuals. Each of them managed to offer their own personal wisdom to not only the graduates, but to us as well! Hopefully this will give you some inspiration as we head into the summer.

1. Steve Jobs

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

This speech given by Jobs at Stanford University became a hit. He encouraged the graduates to do what they love and not to just depend on an education to get them further in life.

2. JK Rowling

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default.”

Successful author JK Rowling gave this inspirational speech to Harvard graduates back in 2008. She talked about failure and imagination: two important themes for graduates to carry with them. Rowling is someone who has encountered her own personal failures so she knows exactly what she’s talking about. This is such a memorable and inspiring speech.

3. Neil Gaiman

“And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art.”

Author Neil Gaiman spoke to the graduates of The University of the Arts about failure and what making good art is. The best part of his speech is that he tells these art students that making good art despite your poor circumstances or whatever else may happen to you is vital as an artist. Sometimes failing at your work is the best thing that could have happened to you.

4. David Foster Wallace

“It is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now).”

This is possibly one of the most famous commencement addresses of all time. It even inspired DFW to make a whole book out of it. I love the fact that he doesn’t claim to be an expert, he just knows what he knows about life and he presents that to these graduates in the most honest and natural way.

5. Shonda Rhimes

“Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”

This successful TV writer confesses that she isn’t one for public speaking. But she talks to the graduates of Dartmouth in an understanding and honest way. Her best advice is that just having dream after dream is pointless and doesn’t accomplish anything. The dreamers aren’t the ones out there getting stuff done.

6. Barbara Bush

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”

This former first lady, who was in office at the time this speech was delivered, had an important message for Wellesley College. She told them that being a kind person who does what they love and what makes them happy is extremely important. It’s especially important to keep in mind when leaving college behind and going out into the workforce.

7. Amy Poehler

“Try to keep your mind open to possibilities and your mouth closed on matters that you don’t know about.”

Amy’s speech given to Harvard graduates on Class Day is filled with humor and seriousness alike. I love her general message about some of her wisdom on what students should do with the next step of their life.

8. Nora Ephron

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

The late Nora Ephron was an incredible writer who wasn’t afraid of using her voice. She herself attended Wellesley College and she urges these young women to push buttons and fight for their rights. She believes that the view of women being treated unequally is something that not only these women–but all women, should take personally. Her message of not only girl power but of making your voice heard and not letting any other factors get in the way of that is very important.

9. Barack Obama

“Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

President Obama has had many commencement addresses during his time as both senator and President. My personal favorite are the words that he spoke at Barnard College. Barnard is an all girls college but the President still had wisdom and honesty to share with these women. It hit close to home with him since he has daughters of his own. Basically, his main pieces of advice was that women are just as educated as men now, and women have to fight for their rights as often as possible.

10. John Green

“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.”

The famous author gave a funny and touching commencement address a few years back at Butler University. His stories are so personal and fit in so naturally with his overall message–it’s rare and memorable. I definitely recommend hearing or at least reading this speech. It’s obvious that Green is truly speaking from the heart.



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