Best graduation speeches of all time

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Ahhhh, your graduation day. The day you graduate from college should be one of the best days of your life, and should give you all of the motivation you could possibly need to start your entrance into the world of adulthood (as scary as that may seem). Every single graduation ceremony will feature a commencement speech, which is filled with anecdotes, advice and a heck load of inspiration to make the ceremony a moment you’ll never forget. Of course, unless you go to an Ivy-League school or you have some pretty notable alum, it’s likely that your dean will provide you with a speech. If you’re lucky, you may have some pretty high-class celebs, like these guys…

Steve Jobs’s 2005 speech at Stanford University

Steve Jobs was an unusual choice for a commencement speaker, considering he flunked his college career. However, he then went on to be one of the successful businessmen in the world – so had a lot of wisdom to impart onto the 2005 Stanford University graduands. A year before his speech, Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and knew he had little time left to live. So, he used his speech to tell the students to live each day as if it were their last. He wanted them to take chances, to make big choices that could affect their lives, he wanted them to love every second of the life they had, and not settle for anything less than what they deserve and want in their hearts. This one is definitely a tearjerker…

Shonda Rhimes’s 2014 speech at Dartmouth College

Shonda Rhimes’ commencement speech is one of the best graduation speeches of all time – and really has to be seen to believed. Although her speech was inspirational and full of hope, she was realistic and practical and wanted to prepare the students for life outside of the university. She brought up the idea of a ‘dreamer’ – a person who spends their lives dreaming of far-off goals and potentially unachievable aims. However, while those people are busy dreaming, there are others who are doing, and actually taking the steps to get where they want to be. She urges the students to keep moving forward and seizing every opportunity that comes their way. She says to ‘ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.’

George Saunders’s 2013 speech at Syracuse University

While many commencement speakers talk of a working career and a successful lifestyle, George Saunders based his 2013 Syracuse University speech on the art of kindness. He went into huge detail about the failures in his life, many of which had come about because he had not been a nice person. He had often seen people struggling in front of him, and he didn’t help. He just stood there and watched as other people fell around him. He wanted to impart the idea that kindness, just like education and intellect, is created through time and effort. Instead of being selfish and striving to the top, people should build relationships around them, help others, and get to the top together.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 1999 speech at Agnes Scott College

Kurt Vonnegut is arguably one of the best writers in history, and his commencement speeches became so popular, he had lists of colleges asking him to speak at their graduation day. One of his most famous speeches came at the 1999 graduation day at Agnes Scott College. During this speech, Vonnegut had one key message – that we must live in a world where we all respect each other and do not live in hate. He rejects the idea of holding grudges, or judging other people because of their beliefs or religions, and believe we should always ‘forgive those who trespass against us.’

J.K Rowling’s 2008 speech at Harvard University

Over the years, many commencement speakers have used their own lives to bulk up their speeches – and J.K Rowling’s 2008 speech at Harvard University is one of the most poignant. In this speech, she speaks of her struggles and her failures in life. Before the release of Harry Potter, she was a struggling writer, she was completely broke, and she had failed at everything she had wanted to achieve. However, when she had hit rock bottom, she knew that there was light at the end of the tunnel. She was healthy, she still had a glimmer of passion in her heart, and she had the drive to continue – and it worked out in the end. She wanted the students to know that it is perfectly normal to fail sometimes, but what’s important is how you rise from the ashes.
Love the sound of these speeches? You just have to watch the full versions for yourself.

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