Do you remember who your graduation speaker was or what they said?
The familiar strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” emanate from many large gathering places this time of year. Throngs of black-gowned, mortarboard-wearing students eagerly anticipate the moment when they get to turn their tassels from the right side to the left and morph into graduates. But first, the de rigueur commencement speech must be endured.
It is well-known that not all graduation speeches are created equal. In fact, my own college commencement speaker was so lackluster (or quite possibly, I had partaken in too much revelry the night prior) that shamefully, all these years later, I am hard-pressed to recall who even gave it or what they said. I’m pretty sure it was a guy. Maybe an astronaut?
Some of the quips and comments I’ve compiled from a number of esteemed commencement speakers over the years hopefully prove more inspiring and entertaining:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. ... Stay hungry, stay foolish. Remember that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
-Steve Jobs, Stanford, 2005
“When the hard times come in your life – and they will, and when the doubts creep in about whether God is looking out for you, just remember that not only did you see an NCAA Basketball Championship during your time here, but in your senior year – Duke lost in the first round to a 15 seed. So you know there’s a God up there in that Carolina Blue Sky.”
-Mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg, UNC-Chapel Hill, 2012
“My first job as a commencement speaker is to illustrate that life is not fair. For example, you worked tirelessly for four years to earn the diploma you will be receiving this weekend. And Dartmouth is giving me the same degree for interviewing the fourth lead in Twilight. Deal with it.”
-Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth, 2011
“The best news is, I don’t have a speech. I just have a few comments. Plus, it’s hot and you’re hung-over. But enough about your parents.“
-News Anchor Brian Williams, GWU, 2012
“I have two pieces of advice. First, being pre-approved for a credit card does not mean you have to apply for it. And lastly, the best career advice I can give you is to get your own TV show. It pays well, the hours are good, and you are famous. And eventually some very nice people will give you a doctorate in fine arts for doing jack squat.”
-Comedian Steve Colbert, Knox College (Galesburg, IL), 2006
“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
-Novelist David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College (Gambier, OH), 2005
What do you remember from your own commencement address? Who gave it? Where was it? What pearls of wisdom did you walk away with?