5 famous graduation speeches and what we learned

Not all commencement speeches are created equal. We’ve hand picked the following five for a dose of post-graduation inspiration as the summer winds down. Take a look at these insightful and famous graduation speeches by some of the world’s greatest and funniest minds.


#1: “It’s the things you chain yourself to that set you free.” -David Brooks, Commencement Address at Dartmouth, 2015

Commentator David Brooks explains what we can expect in the coming decades, emphasizing the importance of identifying and prioritizing your loves and making commitments.

“You have your own criteria. You’re not relying on the opinions of others. You have your own standards and your own ability to judge your own life. For most people this agency moment comes just before 30. But then you can have a few other agency moments later in life, at age 53 or 75, when your loves change order, and you have to realize that and you have to adjust. Once you have achieved your agency moments, you can begin to make commitments.

We are not a society that nurtures commitment-making. We live in a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on individual liberty and freedom of choice. Ivy League student culture is built around keeping your options open and fear of missing out. We live in a society filled with decommitment devices. Tinder, OkCupid, Instagram, Reddit; the entire Internet is commanding you to sample one thing after another. Our phones are always beckoning us to shift our attention span. If you can’t focus your attention for 30 seconds, how can you make a commitment for life? But your fulfillment in life will not come from how well you explore your freedom and keep your options open. That’s the path to a frazzled, scattered life in which you try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one. Your fulfillment in life will come by how well you end your freedom. By the time you hit your 30s, you will realize that your primary mission in life is to be really good at making commitments.”


#2: The six rules of success -Arnold Schwarzenegger, Commencement Address at University of Southern California, 2009

Bodybuilder, actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger lays out the six rules he’s lived by.

1. Trust yourself – “And what I mean by that is, so many young people are getting so much advice from their parents and from their teachers and from everyone. But what is most important is that you have to dig deep down, dig deep down and ask yourselves, who do you want to be?”

2. Break some rules – “It is impossible to be a maverick or a true original if you’re too well behaved and don’t want to break the rules. You have to think outside the box. That’s what I believe. After all, what is the point of being on this earth if all you want to do is be liked by everyone and avoid trouble?

3. Don’t be afraid to fail – “You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself. You keep pushing because you believe in yourself and in your vision and you know that it is the right thing to do, and success will come.”

4. Ignore the naysayers – “How many times have you heard that you can’t do this and you can’t do that and it’s never been done before? Just imagine if Bill Gates had quit when people said it can’t be done. I hear this all the time. As a matter of fact, I love it when someone says that no one has ever done this before, because then when I do it that means that I’m the first one that has done it.”

5. Work like hell – “You never want to fail because you didn’t work hard enough. I never wanted to lose a competition or lose an election because I didn’t work hard enough. I always believed leaving no stone unturned. Mohammed Ali, one of my great heroes, had a great line in the ’70s when he was asked, “How many sit-ups do you do?”. He said, “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts.” That’s what makes you a champion.

6. Give something back – “Whatever path that you take in your lives, you must always find time to give something back, something back to your community, give something back to your state or to your country. My father-in-law, Sargent Shriver – who is a great American, a truly great American who started the Peace Corps, the Job Corps, Legal Aid to the poor – he said at Yale University to the students at a commencement speech, “Tear down that mirror. Tear down that mirror that makes you always look at yourself, and you will be able to look beyond that mirror and you will see the millions of people that need your help.” And let me tell you something, reaching out and helping people will bring you more satisfaction than anything else you have ever done.


famous graduation speeches


#3: “You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” -Steve Jobs, Commencement Address at Stanford University, 2005

Apple CEO Steve Jobs reminds us of the deadline we all share.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. 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. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”


#4: “The most important thing is to be true to yourself.” -Ellen DeGeneres, Commencement Address at Tulane University, 2009

Comedian and actress Ellen DeGeneres shares her thoughts on why it’s important to not live in fear of being yourself.

“It was so important for me to lose everything because I found what the most important thing is. The most important thing is to be true to yourself. Ultimately that is what got me to this place. I don’t live in fear, I have no secrets and I know I will always be OK because no matter what, I know who I am.

When I was younger I thought success was something different. I thought success was to be famous, become a star, drive nice cars…. My idea of success is different today. The definition of success changes. Success is to live your life with integrity and to not give in to peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not. Success is to be honest and to contribute in some way… Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, then by all means you should follow that.”


famous graduation speeches


#5: “Score yourself on a curve.” -Stephen Colbert, Wake Forest University, 2015

Comedian Stephen Colbert says to set your own standards in life.

“Of course, any standards worth having will be a challenge to meet. And most of the time, you will fall short. But what is nice about having your own set of standards is that from now on, you fill out your own report card. So do yourself a favor: be an easy grader. Score yourself on a curve. Give yourself extra credit. You have the power. You are your own professor now. Which I know is a little creepy because that means you’re showering with your professor. But you have tenure. They can’t fire you. So I hope you find the courage to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. And then, please expect as much of the world around you. Try to make the world good according to your standards. It won’t be easy. Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done — like ending racial tension, or getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions. And we should know they can’t be done. After all, we’re the ones who didn’t do them.


Inspired by these famous graduation speeches? Apply now to create your own path to success and boost your career!



Sources: http://www.graduationwisdom.com/

Photo 1. based on Graduation, by Alan Light, CC-by-2.0

Photo 2. based on Arnold Schwarzenegger, by Gage Skidmore, CC-by-SA2.0

Photo 3. based on 135112_2605, by Disney | ABC Television Group, CC-by-ND 2.0


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Elizabeth Trovall

After short stints in Argentina and Belize, Elizabeth is finishing up her fourth year in Santiago, Chile. Elizabeth writes about international internships, life abroad and professional development for The Intern Group. She also reports on politics, business and culture in Latin America for public radio and print media. An Austin, Texas native, Elizabeth first left home to earn her journalism degree from the Reynolds Institute of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Besides her friends and family, she misses live music and Mexican food the most.
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