Top 10 Commencement Speeches

These are truly inspirational graduation speeches worth reading from the beginning to the end. Since 2010, I also create top ten lists for the best speeches of the year, so if you are looking to find some of the best commencement addresses in the recent past, look no further. Truth be told, I love each and every speech I collected on this site. This is why the top 10 list was really hard to make; I believe you can't go wrong with any of the speeches in the collection, 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

graduation speech quotes 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.

Commencement Address at Stanford University, 2005


2. Jerry Zucker

graduation-quotes-images 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 ó now.

Commencement Address at University of Wisconsin, 2003


3. Adm. William McRaven

graduation speeches MC Raven 2014
Commencement Address at University of Texas Austin, 2014


4. Mark Lewis

The person who youíre with most in life is yourself and if you donít like yourself youíre always with somebody you donít like.

Commencement Address at University of Texas Austin, 2000


5. David Foster Wallace graduation quotes images wallace

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.

Commencement Address at Kenyon Collge 2005


6. 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


7. John Walsh

Do one thing at a time. Give each experience all your attention. Try to resist being distracted by other sights and sounds, other thoughts and tasks, and when it is, guide your mind back to what you're doing."

Commencement Address at Wheaton College, 2000


8. Michael Uslan

You must have a high threshold for frustration. Take it from the guy who was turned down by every studio in Hollywood. You must knock on doors until your knuckles bleed. Doors will slam in your face. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and knock again. Itís the only way to achieve your goals in life."

Commencement Address at Indiana University, 2006


9. Ellen DeGeneres graduation quotes images ellen

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


10. Bradley Whitford graduation-quotes-images

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



As I wrote in the introduction, it is pretty impossible to make a list of just top ten, so here are ten more of the best graduation speeches, out of the 200 commencement speeches I collected so far in the ten years since I started this site.


11. George Saunders
graduation images quotes

Commencement Address at Syracuse University, 2013


12. 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


13. Jennifer Lee
graduation quotes images lee

When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better, because you donít have your defenses up, you can accept the criticism. You donít 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


14. 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


15. 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


16. 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


17. Alan Alda
graduation images quotes

 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


18. 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


19. 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


20. 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


21. 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

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