Being asked to give a commencement speech is a pretty big deal. It means that thousands of new grads will be eagerly hanging onto your every word, and when you’re a celeb, you know the speech will end up online within a matter of minutes.
These six commencement speeches did not disappoint, and even if you don’t have a cap to throw, we think you’re still going to feel like cheering.
Yates was the acting attorney general before being fired by President Donald Trump for refusing to support his Muslim travel ban, and while being publically fired by a sitting president might not typically be the type of thing you’d boast about, Yates has been resolute in standing by her actions.
Yates delivered a commencement speech to graduates of Harvard Law in late May, and parts of her speech directly addressed the controversy and what it meant to lose her job while acting according to her conscience. Her message to new law grads was simple: do what’s right — no matter the cost.
“I’m hoping that fear of being wrong won’t keep you from acting,” she said. “Because inaction, doing nothing, or simply going along, that’s a decision, too, and it seems the times in my life that I haven’t acted, that’s when I’ve regretted it the most.”
Funnyman Will Ferrell delivered a commencement speech punctuated with his trademark humor but also filled with some surprisingly poignant wisdom.
“You’re never not afraid,” he said. “I’m still afraid. I was afraid to write this speech. And now, I’m just realizing how many people are watching me right now, and it’s scary. Can you please look away while I deliver the rest of the speech? But my fear of failure never approached in magnitude my fear of what if. What if I never tried at all?”
My god, do I miss Oprah. We need Oprah now more than ever. Can you imagine having mother-flipping Oprah deliver your commencement speech? Well, grads at Smith College were treated to just that.
Her speech was peak Winfrey, as she encouraged grads to be true to themselves, use their unique personalities to find their calling in the world and work tirelessly to make the world a better place. She also urged grads to question their purpose and let life guide them to service.
“You ask the question, How can I be used? Life, use me,” she told the assembled students. “Use me, show me through my talents and my gifts, show me through what I know, what I need to know, what I have yet to learn, to be used through the greater service to life. You ask that question and I guarantee you, Smithies, the answer will be returned and rewarded to you with fulfillment, which is really the major definition of success for me.”
Clinton’s commencement speech was filled with a few on-point digs at Trump (speaking of her own graduating class back in 1969, she said, “We were furious about the last presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace, with his impeachment for obstruction of justice, after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice”), but she spoke primarily about the power of optimism, hard work and resistance.
“I believe with all my heart that the future of America, the future of the world, depends on brave, thoughtful people like you insisting on truth and integrity right now, every day,” she said. “You didn’t create the circumstances, but you have the power to change them. Don’t be afraid of your ambition, your dreams, or even your anger. Those are powerful forces, but harness them to make a difference in the world.”
Oh lord. I’m not crying, you’re crying! #NastyWoman forever.
Students at Maine’s Colby College were treated to a commencement speech by America’s sweetheart, former vice president Joe Biden.
After starting his speech by taking a selfie and declaring “It’s time to break the internet!” to raucous cheers, Biden got serious and urged students to stay engaged in the political process, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that disengaging from the system that you think is broken will hold you harmless from the system’s failures,” he warned. “It’s absolutely essential for you to engage in the world around you… You must maintain that determination and commitment to making things better… So you have to engage, you have to be involved even in this dirty business of politics. You have to, for your own safety’s sake. And I have no doubt you will, because you must.”
Biden also made a pointed remark about the current president, quoting Plato: “The penalty good people pay for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves.”
Finally, one of the most notable commencement addresses was given by Vice President Mike Pence.
What was notable was not the content of Pence’s speech, but the dozens of Notre Dame students who boldly stood up and walked out while he was giving it in order to protest the racist and xenophobic actions of his government.
Good for you, Notre Dame grads. Somehow, the future doesn’t seem quite so bleak anymore.