Top 10 Commencement Speeches

These are truly inspirational graduation speeches worth reading from the beginning to the end. It is not easy to select just 10 speeches. Truth be told, I love each and every commencement address I collected on this site, now over 200 of them. I believe you can't go wrong with any of these graduation speeches; there is something to learn and share from every single commencement speech.

If you need help, my article How to Write a Graduation Speech takes an in-depth look at commencement speeches topics and it is the best available guide to learn how to write an outstanding commencement address.

 


1. Steve Jobs

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. 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.

Remembering 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."

Commencement Address at Stanford University, 2005

 

2. David Foster Wallace


Is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.

Commencement Address at Kenyon Collge 2005

 


3. Adm. William McRaven

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.


Commencement Address at University of Texas Austin, 2014

 


4. J.K.Rowling

 I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.


Commencement Speech Harvard University, 2008

 


5. David McCullough Jr.

... the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.


Commencement Address at Wellesley High School, 2012


6. Jennifer Lee

When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better, because you don’t have your defenses up, you can accept the criticism. You don’t become so preoccupied with that failure that you forget how to learn from it, you forget how to grow. When you believe in yourself, you succeed better. Hours spent questioning, doubting, fearing, can be given over to working, exploring, living .


Graduation Speech at University of New Hampshire, 2014

 


7. Ellen DeGeneres

Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else's path unless you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.


Commencement Address at Tulane University, 2009

 


8. Bradley Whitford

Take action. Every story you've ever connected with, every leader you've ever admired, every puny little thing that you've ever accomplished is the result of taking action. You have a choice. You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life.


Commencement Address at University of Wisconsin, 2004

 

9. George Saunders

Err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.


Commencement Address at Syracuse University, 2013


 

10. Jim Carrey

Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. 


Graduation Speech at Maharishi University of Management, 2014

 

MORE BEST GRADUATION SPEECHES

Here are more of the best graduation speeches, out of the more than 200 commencement speeches I collected so far.

11. Joyce DiDonato

One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, right here, right now, in this single, solitary, monumental moment in your life– is to decide, without apology, to commit to the journey, and not to the outcome. 

Graduation Speech at Juilliard School, 2014

 

12. Doug Marlette

Ease up on yourselves. Have some compassion for yourself as well as for others. There’s no such thing as perfection, and life is not a race.

Graduation Speech at Durham Academy, 2005

 

13. Alan Alda

 As I get older, the only thing that speeds up is time. But as much as it's true that time is a thief, time also leaves something in exchange. With time comes experience - and however uncertain you may be about the rest of the world, at least about your own work you will be sure.

Commencement Address at Connecticut College, 1980

 

14. David Brooks

You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is arrogance and pride. Failure can lead to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.

Commencement Address at Darmouth College, 2015

 

15. Neil Gaiman

And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.


Graduation Speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, 2012

 

16. Tim Minchin

Respect people with less power then you. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.


Commencement Address at University of Western Australia, 2013

 

17. Ed Helms

So long as your desire to explore is greater than your desire to not screw up, you're on the right track. A life oriented toward discovery is infinitely more rewarding than a life oriented toward not blowing it.


Commencement Address at Knox College, 2013

 


18. Jerry Zucker


It doesn't matter that your dream came true if you spent your whole life sleeping. So get out there and go for it, but don't be caught waiting. It's great to plan for your future. Just don't live there, because really nothing ever happens in the future. Whatever happens happens now, so live your life where the action is — now.


Commencement Address at University of Wisconsin, 2003


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Read also:

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Cristina Negrut is the founder of graduationwisdom.com. She has collaborated extensively with NPR, National Public Radio, in building the The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever project and has given TV, radio, and press interviews on commencement speeches. She holds a MS in Library and Information Science from University of Michigan and works as a user experience design engineer in Madison, WI.

Email: gradwisdom@gmail.com

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