Inspiring Advice

Commencement speeches aren't just for college grads: Boldface names offer inspiring advice

Commencement speeches from boldface names offer inspiring advice

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It's not just graduates who can get good advice from commencement speakers.

Commencement speeches from such notables as President Obama, retired astronaut Scott Kelly and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren are aimed at college graduates, but they offer good advice for everyone, no matter where they are in life. Some of our favorite advice from this year's speeches:

Senator Elizabeth Warren at Bridgewater State University

Warren offered gravitas, sound advice and a sense of humor to congratulate graduating seniors. She is the only commencement speaker (so far) who has quoted pop icon Taylor Swift in her speech, saying,“’Haters going to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.’ Knowing who you are helps you ‘Shake It Off’.” 

President Obama at Rutgers University

“You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. I'll repeat that. I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. Not just hashtags, but votes," Obama told grads.

Scott Kelly at the University of Houston

“In those moments when you’re doing something that could be life-changing, whether it’s in space, or in your career, you need to remind yourself that there is nothing more important than what you’re doing right now," Kelly said.

Larry Ellison at the University of Southern California

“When people start telling you that you’re crazy, you might just be onto the most important innovation in your life.“ Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, added, “Don’t let the experts discourage you when you challenge the status quo. Like Mark Twain says, what’s an expert anyway? Just some guy from out of town.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda at the University of Pennsylvania

“The stories we tell vs. the stories we leave out will reverberate across the rest of your life," the creator of the smash Broadway hit, Hamilton, said. "My dear terrified graduates, you are about to enter the most uncertain and thrilling period of your lives. The stories you are about to live are the one you will be telling your children, and grandchildren and therapists.”

Sheryl Sandberg at University of California - Berkeley

The most moving and powerful commencement speech this year was by Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, activist and author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To LeadShared by over 3 million people via social media, Sandberg shared the lessons she has learned from the sudden loss of her husband one year ago.

“When the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are – and you might just become the best version of yourself.”

Even if you are not a fan of commencement speeches, this is a speech to be savored and saved for tough times.

And these speeches are only beginning. In early June, look for words of wisdom from Matt Damon, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ken Burns, at Stanford University.

A great commencement speech has the unique ability to break down the barriers of cynicism, and puts us back in the audience, wearing a cap and gown, ready to embark on our next great adventure.


Brooke Kinert is marketing director at The Alexander Group.