A college graduation is a pretty momentous occasion. It’s the culmination of four (or more!) years of critical thinking, exploration, and learning some important life lessons – like how to write a 30-page research paper in just one all-nighter, for example. Or, how to wake up at 8:24 in the morning and still make it to your 8:30 class on time. Or, maybe most importantly, how to make a gourmet meal out of ramen noodles and Red Bull.
Even though a graduate officially closed their books and now dons a cap and gown, it doesn’t mean the learning has stopped. In fact, the graduation ceremony itself is a prime opportunity to pick up some helpful pearls of wisdom.
Commencement addresses are famous for offering motivating and encouraging takeaways to graduating students (and lifelong learners!). Check out the top 5 inspirational graduation speeches sure to get any graduate ready to take on the world.
Image Source: jfklibrary.org
John F. Kennedy’s commencement address achieved the impressive feat of not only being a source of inspiration for the people in attendance but also acting as a rallying cry for peace for an entire nation.
“What kind of peace do we seek?” he asked. “Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”
In the midst of the Cold War, President Kennedy called for unity and partnership, and, more than 50 years later, the speech remains one of his most famous to this day.
Image Source: harvard.edu
It doesn’t get much more inspirational than JK Rowling’s true rags-to-riches story. Once an out-of-work, struggling single mother, she turned her tale of wizard Harry Potter into a fiction empire, complete with film adaptations and worldwide fans. Rowling used her life story, with tales of tribulation and triumph, to ready the Harvard graduates for the road ahead. Rowling emphasized the transformative power of failure in one’s life: “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”
Image Source: Youtube.com
Young graduates finish college with their entire lives ahead of them and with futures full of excitement and possibility. Randy Pausch, former computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, took his time at the commencement podium to ensure the graduates knew to make those futures, and all the days ahead, count. At just 46, Pausch received a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and was told “he had just 3 to 6 months to live.”
Knowing that his address to the graduates would likely be one of his last opportunities to inspire his students, he pulled out all the stops when it came to offering advice. Pausch told students to focus on living meaningful, intentioned lives. “We don’t beat the Grim Reaper by living longer, we beat the Reaper by living well and living fully, for the Reaper will come for all of us. The question is what do we do between the time we are born and the time he shows up. It’s too late to do all the things that you’re gonna kinda get around to,” he said.
Image Source: harvard.edu
Inspirational doesn’t have to mean serious. Funny woman and smart girl, Amy Poehler, offered the audience a mix of insightful gems and laughs. The Saturday Night Live veteran talked to the graduates about the importance of teamwork and finding success by understanding the value of relationships.
“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own…You’re all here today because someone gave you strength. Helped you. Held you in the palm of their hand,” Poehler said.
Image Source: dartmouth.edu
It’s hard to turn on ABC without happening upon a show free of Rhimes’ handiwork. As the showrunner for multiple hit television series, Rhimes is known for creating strong, driven characters who often don’t pull punches or mince words.
So, it’s no wonder that she didn’t hold back when giving some of her own words of wisdom to the Dartmouth grads. Action, not dreams, she told them, would help them be successful in life.
“The world has plenty of dreamers,” Rhimes said. “And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing. Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”
Perhaps the last bit of on-campus learning students might absorb, the commencement speech can inspire graduates to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals in the next chapter of their lives.