11 celebrity graduation speeches that will inspire you, regardless of your age
It’s May, so you all know what that means — college graduation season is in full swing. Leaving the place you’ve called home for four years is equal parts exciting, bittersweet, and a little scary. Perhaps that’s why college commencement speeches are so important. When we get a really amazing and inspiring speaker, things feel a little less daunting as we pack up for good and head out into the “real” world.
Of course, it’s downright exciting when a famous face is on campus to deliver a commencement address.
So, in honor of the class of 2017 (and everyone else who needs some inspiration right now), let’s take a look at some celebrity commencement addresses that will inspire you regardless of your age.
The iconic filmmaker and writer returned to her alma mater in 1996 to deliver one of the best commencement speeches of all time. Although the whole speech is filled with inspiring lines, these words in particular are incredibly relevant right now:
“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.
During her commencement address at University of Wisconsin — Madison, Couric got down with today’s lingo and urged the grads:
“Work hard, and then work even harder... There may be days when you’ll say to yourself, ‘I can’t. I literally can’t even.’ But you can! You can even!
At George Washington University in 2013, Washington urged her alma mater’s graduating class to push themselves out of their comfort zones and write their own life stories: “You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that writes the story you were meant to tell.”
In 2011, Hanks addressed Yale’s graduating class and urged them not to give in to fear:
"Fear has become the commodity that sells as certainly as sex," Hanks said. "Fear is cheap, fear is easy, fear gets attention ... It's fast, it's gossip and it's just as glamorous, juicy and profitable. Fear twists facts into fictions that become indistinguishable from ignorance."
Kaling brought a whole lot of laughter to Harvard Law School’s Class Day in 2014 (we’d expect nothing less), telling the grads:
"Even though I have no idea why I was asked to speak here today, I prepared a speech very carefully the way that any good Dartmouth-educated graduate would. I drank a 40 of Jagermeister. I called my dad to see if he would get me out of it — he could not… I tried to hire a college freshman to write it for me in exchange for a $200 gift card to Newbury Comics — that didn’t work out."
The late Apple CEO urged Stanford grads to never settle when it comes to finding a fulfilling and satisfying career — even if the path turns out to be completely different than expected:
“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. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.
Last month, Monae delivered the commencement address at Dillard University and shared a message that’s more important now than ever. Even better? She used NASA’s first black female engineer Mary Jackson, who she brilliantly portrayed in Hidden Figures, as an inspirational example:
“She stood before that white judge with so much courage and determination to challenge the system. She saw freedom and she went for it. She grabbed it by the neck and she just wouldn’t let up. That’s how we — me and you — can escape the gravity of fear, making us free to soar wherever our hearts and minds so desire.
The Late Show host returned to his alma mater, Northwestern University, to remind the class of 2011 that dreams can change. Falling short of something doesn’t make you a loser — and don’t let success get to your head.
"Thankfully, dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed and you’re not some loser — but just as importantly — if you do get your dream, you’re not a winner.
Winfrey urged Harvard’s 2013 grads to get off social media and engage in face-to-face conversations with those who hold different views — it was almost as though she predicted the future.
"My hope is that you will try to go out and have more face to face conversations with people you disagree with. That you’ll have the courage to look them in the eye and hear their point of view and help make sure that the speed, and distance, and anonymity of our world doesn’t cause us to lose our ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and recognize all that we share as a people.
Following your dreams requires a leap of faith — and Rudolph knows that firsthand:
"Just say yes. And not just yes, but add information, so that in adding information, you don't negate that other person's idea but in fact, you build on it," she Tulane's class of 2015.
In his 2012 commencement speech at Barnard (an all-women’s college), President Obama urged the graduates to use their education and resources to set a positive example — and to pay it forward to the next generation.
“Think about what that means to a young Latina girl when she sees a Cabinet secretary that looks like her. Think about what it means to a young girl in Iowa when she sees a presidential candidate who looks like her. Think about what it means to a young girl walking in Harlem right down the street when she sees a U.N. ambassador who looks like her. Do not underestimate the power of your example. This diploma opens up new possibilities, so reach back, convince a young girl to earn one, too.
Wise words we should all take to heart.