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Top 10 Best Commencement Speeches Ever Given

by David Giuliano
graduation speech

Graduation speeches are supposed to be the last lesson students learn before embarking on their journey into the “real world”. So how can one person sum up everything they have learned in about twenty minutes? What advice can they possibly share with new grads that will prepare them for…well… the rest of their lives?

graduation speech

In these ten commencement speeches people ranging from Silicon Valley billionaires to late night show entertainers share with their coming-of-age audience a little wisdom they have gained through their own real-world experience. So here’s some of the best wisdom you can find, without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars or years of your life just waiting for this moment…


Steve Jobs, Stanford University

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”


David Foster Wallace, Yukon College

“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”


Neil Gaiman, Philadelphia University of the Arts

“And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”


Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane

“Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods, and your lost and you see a path, then by all means you should follow that.”!


Jane Lynch, Smith College

“…live in the moment. Stay fluid and roll with those changes. Life is just a big extended improvisation. Embrace the ever changing, ever evolving world…”!


Aaron Sorkin, Syacuse

“Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt.”


Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal, that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It is not easy, but if you accept your misfortune, and handle it right, you’re perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.”


Sheryl Sandberg, Barnard

“You are privileged in the most important sense of the word, which is that you have almost boundless opportunity in front of you. So, the question is, what are you going to do with it? What will you do with this education you worked so hard to achieve? What in the world needs to change, and what part do you plan on playing in changing it?”


Bono, Penn

“Sing the melody line you hear in your own head, remember, you don’t owe anybody any explanations, you don’t owe your parents any explanations, you don’t owe your professors any explanations. You know I used to think the future was solid or fixed, something you inherited like an old building that you move into when the previous generation moves out or gets chased out…But my point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”


JK Rowling, Harvard

“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves, already. We have the power to imagine better.”


Featured photo by Frederick Van Johnson

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