In a sea of graduation clichés, some commencement speeches stand out.
They’re witty, they’re wise, and they offer real advice — not just about professional success, but about personal success. They’re about forging a good career, but they’re also about what it means to be a good person.
Here, we’ve gone through our favourite speeches of all time and distilled them down to one piece of concrete advice.
Whether you graduated this spring or you’ve been out of school for decades, these are words to live by.
'Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you're paralysed because you have no idea what your passion is.
'The truth is, it doesn't matter. You don't have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn't have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real.'
'If we'd all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.
'So whatever your dream is right now, if you don't achieve it, you haven't failed, and you're not some loser. But just as importantly -- and this is the part I may not get right and you may not listen to -- if you do get your dream, you are not a winner.'
'We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully, violently, to every insult or injury.
'But in our personal lives, our inner lives, at least, we can learn to live without the sick excitement, without the kick of having scores to settle with this particular person, or that bunch of people, or that particular institution or race or nation. And we can then reasonably ask forgiveness for our trespasses, since we forgive those who trespass against us.'
'...I want you to just think about this: Think about NOT waiting your turn.
'Instead, think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy. Think about entrepreneuring. Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don't know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it.'
'Nobody has the exact memory that you have. What is now known is not all what you are capable of knowing. You are your own stories and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human without wealth. What it feels like to be human without domination over others, without reckless arrogance, without fear of others unlike you, without rotating, rehearsing, and reinventing the hatreds you learned in the sandbox.
'And although you don't have complete control over the narrative (no author does, I can tell you), you could nevertheless create it.'
'(Y)ou will take risks, and you will have failures. But it's what happens afterwards that is defining. A failure often does not have to be a failure at all.
'However, you have to be ready for it -- Will you admit when things go wrong? Will you take steps to set them right? -- because the difference between triumph and defeat, you'll find, isn't about willingness to take risks. It's about mastery of rescue.'
'Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don't have the alibi my class had -- this is one of the great achievements and mixed blessings you inherit: Unlike us, you can't say nobody told you there were other options. Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead.
'Twenty-five years from now, you won't have as easy a time making excuses as my class did. You won't be able to blame the deans, or the culture, or anyone else: You will have no one to blame but yourselves. Whoa.'
'Our problems are man-made -- therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable -- and we believe they can do it again.'
'For your entire life, you will be doing, on some level, the opposite -- not only of what you were doing -- but of what you think you are. That is just going to go on. What you do with all your heart, you will do the opposite of. And what you need to do is to honour that, to understand it, to unearth it, to listen to this other voice.
'If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.'
'The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.
'If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change.'
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