It’s that time of year for college students to listen to graduation speeches that they likely won’t remember a week after graduation. But some speeches that attempt to improve student success in the real world have become noteworthy, such as the Steve Jobs commencement speech. Below are snippets from some of the best commencement speeches.
Speeches with passion
We might remember the speech given by Apple’s Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005, a few years before his death in which he urged graduates to pursue their dreams and find opportunities to learn and grow. He also encouraged young people to discover the thing they love to do. “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work,” Jobs said.
Be lifelong learners
In 2012, Salman Khan, creator of the education website Khan’s Academy, spoke at Rice University’s commencement. Khan encouraged graduates to be lifelong learners. “The next 10 years are your chance to ask the naïve questions which you’ll later learn are actually the profound questions. The ones that are actually going to be the game-changers. It’s your chance to really invest in yourself,” he said, reported in “Get Inspired: Seven of the Most Memorable Commencement Speeches,” posted on Keller INK, May 22, 2012.
This is water
Writer David Foster Wallace gave the 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College in which he told graduates to recognize the obvious. “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’ … The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about…[Education has to do with] awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: ‘This is water.’ … It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.”
Lean In and be heard
Commencement speeches that sink in with graduates are the ones with the “been there, done that” quality, in which the speaker offers wisdom they learned themselves. Marlo Thomas (yes, That Girl) wrote in “The Right Words From the Right Celebs: Memorable Commencement Speeches” posted June 7, 2013, on Huffington Post: “It is no accident that Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s current bestselling book, ‘Lean In,’ has its roots in her 2011 commencement address at Barnard [College], when she implored the women in the audience to reshape the cultural conversation—in business and life—‘to make sure women’s voice are heard and heeded.’ That message landed loud and clear.”
Don’t live in fear
Comedian, talk show host and New Orleans native Ellen DeGeneres spoke at Tulane University in 2009 where she told graduates that the most important thing “is to be true to yourself. Ultimately, that’s what’s gotten me to this place. I don’t live in fear, I’m free; I have no secrets and I know I’ll always be ok, because no matter what, I know who I am… Live your life with integrity and not to give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not, to live your life as an honest and compassionate person, to contribute in some way…Never follow anyone else’s path,…be true to yourself and everything will be fine.”
There is no such thing as failure
Oprah Winfrey gave the 2013 commencement speech at Harvard University where she said: “If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, higher, the law of averages, not to mention The Myth of Icarus, predicts that 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 into another direction.”
Do you know of any noteworthy commencement speeches you’d like to tell us about in the comments?