After years of hard work, studying, and learning, graduates all over the country are receiving their degrees. The commencement ceremony is where these years of effort are celebrated. Each school is at liberty to choose their keynote speaker, which may be a government leader, celebrity, or local figure. In this post, I’ve highlighted noteworthy inspirational and humorous advice given to graduates in commencement ceremonies this spring.
Media mogul Oprah Winfrey spoke to the all female class of Spelman College in Georgia, reminding graduates that “your crown has been paid for [and to] put it on your head and wear it.” Three pieces of advice she felt would be valuable to the Class of 2012: Know who you are and what you want; find a way to serve; and always do the right thing. ”You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go,” Winfrey said. “What I learned is that that’s a great metaphor for life. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own life because if you are not, life will drive you.”
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the new graduates of Dallas’ Southern Methodist University. Rice urged graduates to find their passions, exercise reason, to reject false pride, and to be optimistic. “There are many people in this world who are just as intelligent, just as hard working, just as deserving of success, but for whatever reason did not enjoy the opportunities that you have. As [college graduates], you have been summoned to the ideals of compassion and charity for the less fortunate. Now, Commencement marks your opportunity – indeed, your obligation – to graduate with both wisdom and humility.”
Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress Jane Lynch was the keynote speaker at Smith College’s commencement ceremony. “My advice to you: 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 with the best rule I’ve ever found. Say “YES AND.” Lynch humorously added, “If life gives you lemons, grab it by the horns and drive — and yes, I just mixed three metaphors. Remember, I was a C student.”
In addition to his address at Barnard College, President Barack Obama also spoke at the commencement of Joplin High School in Missouri. The speech commemorated the one-year mark from when a tornado devastated the town and killed 161 people. President Obama pointed out that their resilience in the face of disaster was an inspiration to people everywhere. “You’ve grown up quickly over the last year,” he said. “You’ve learned at a younger age than most that we can’t always predict what life has in store for us. No matter how we might try to avoid it, life can bring heartache… But here in Joplin, you’ve also learned that we have the power to grow from these experiences. We can define our own lives not by what happens to us, but by how we respond.”
Stand-up comedian and television star Eugene Mirman gave a humorous, yet inspirational address to the graduates of Hampshire College. “Whatever your interest, no matter how weird or unattainable or far off it seems, it’s not. It’s completely possible and even likely if you just consistently work at it … You can make your own way. So just because you move to some city and there’s not a job, make that job or find it or get a bunch of friends together and make something and do it.”
Scientist Brian Schmidt, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics, spoke to graduates at his alma mater, University of Arizona in Tucson. Schmidt said “If there is anything I have learned in the 23 years since my graduation ceremony, it is that chasing your dreams requires patience and persistence. And I have seen many talented people get derailed in their lives. The most common problem is loss of confidence. Life is a confidence game – it is almost impossible to succeed without self-confidence.” He continued, “No matter how much bad luck you experience in life, ultimately the only thing you can do about it is to move on as best you can and chase your own dreams. Take solace in the fact that, at least in my experience, time heals all wounds.”
What advice do you remember from your high school or college graduation?