Learning is a lifelong process… it doesn’t stop as soon as you doff your cap and gown. We’ve culled a few rousing commencement speeches that’ll teach you important life lessons no matter what your age is.
Best quote: “Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.”
As the founder of the ubiquitous online book emporium Amazon, Jeff Bezos is clearly an intelligent man. But in his 2010 commencement speech to Princeton’s graduating class, the entrepreneur devoted much of his time to expounding upon a virtue taught to him by his grandfather — that it’s harder to be kind than to be clever, or, essentially, it’s how you use your gifts that counts.
Best quote: “You’ll meet a lot of people who, to put it simply, don’t know what they’re talking about. … Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin — you know him as the guy responsible for famous film fare like A Few Good Men and West Wing — kept his commencement speech lighthearted with funny anecdotes and his trademark comedic timing. However, Sorkin delivered timeless advice that will remain relevant for the graduates throughout their life: Trust yourself, take risks and don’t be afraid of failing.
Best quote: “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”
Harry Potter maven J.K. Rowling — among spot-on jokes about Gryffindor reunions and gay wizards — spoke to two very important life truths during her 2008 commencement address at Harvard. First, she spoke of the virtues of failure and, second, she touched on the importance of imagination… both notions that we can all benefit from embracing more often.
Best quote: “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, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary… Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
The year after he was diagnosed with cancer, Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs spoke to Stanford’s graduating class. The resulting graduation speech was raw, genuine and filled with passionate advice for anyone — not simply students — who seek to enjoy a life well-lived. Stay hungry, my friends.
Best quote: “And as you grow, you’ll realize the definition of success changes. For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to 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. So to conclude my conclusion, follow your passion, stay true to yourself.”
In typical Ellen DeGeneres fashion, the comedian’s commencement speech at Tulane University was witty and hilarious and had the graduating class (and the staff) rolling in laughter. But the funny lady also opened up about a few tragedies in her life that led her to where she is today, and from which she learned her most valuable life lesson: You must stay true to yourself.
David Foster Wallace
Best quote: “Of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty little unsexy ways every day.”
David Foster Wallace — the novelist, essayist and short story writer — delivered a sharp, sometimes profanity-laced commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005, and we wish we had been there to see the late, great writer in action. His core sentiment? Live. Live out loud. Don’t just be in the rat race… be present in your life.