It’s just past the time of year when students across the country celebrate their graduation from college, university, or school. Many graduation events culminate with a commencement speaker, typically someone who is an important citizen, a thought-leader, politician, or other noted celebrity.
I’ve never given a commencement address, but I imagine it’s one of the more difficult presentations to give. You can easily slip into generic, boring platitudes about success and the future–a Dr. Seuss Oh, the Places You’ll G0!-sorta thing. But some commencement speakers stand out—presenters that have something new to convey or some new perspective to share, or are just funny or emotional.
Over the last month or so, I’ve watched more than a dozen commencement speeches from 2017. I’ve pulled out 6 of my favorites and given you a short quote from each (I’ve also linked to a few others that didn’t make my top list).
These may not be the most polished speeches, and the presentations are not flawless–a stammer here and there, a reliance on the printed words, and so on. But each speaker gives their personal, unique perspective about their own journey and their experiences, and I think share something special with the graduates.
Of all those I watched, Chief Justice John Roberts’ commencement address at the Cardigan Mountain School, a boarding school for boys in New Hampshire, is my favorite. His talk is poignant and meaningful, and I think relates to many people, not just teens. Will Ferrell gave my second-favorite speech this year because, well, he’s just funny.
I hope you enjoy them. And maybe learn something too.
John Roberts, Cardigan Mountain School
From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to learn the value of justice.
Will Ferrell, USC
Keep throwing darts at the dartboard. Don’t listen to the critics. And you will figure it out.
Theo Epstein, Yale University
Even though so much can be quantified these days, the most important things cannot be. When things go really, really wrong, and then when it rains on top of everything else,…I ask you to choose to keep your heads up and come together, to connect, and to rally around one another, especially those who need it the most. It is likely to uplift you all.
Kumail Nanjiani, Grinnell College
Ultimately, we are all much more similar than we are different….We are all just looking for food and love and meaning, and we find that meaning with each other. With community.
Oprah Winfrey, Agnes Scott College
If you make a commitment, a conscious intention to be committed to the work that you do, the relationships you have, your life will unfold with such beauty and grace through that commitment.
Tim Cook, MIT
People will try to convince you that you should keep your empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise.
Joe Biden, Harvard University
Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard
Sheryl Sandberg, Virginia Tech
James Mattis, West Point
Pharrell Williams, NYU
Arnold Schwarzenegger, University of Houston