It is cap and gown time, my friends. Graduation ceremonies from everything to kindergarten through doctorates are happening and with each ceremony comes great inspiration.

Graduation ceremonies show us that you can finish what you start. That the road is long, but it is achievable. That even when you graduate one lesson, it is just the beginning of the other.

The high point of this season is the speeches being made at convocations around the continent. Honorary degrees are bestowed upon the famous and successful in exchange for some nuggets of wisdom to share with the graduating class.  But it’s just not the graduates that can benefit from the life lessons shared this time of year, in fact we can all appreciate the kick in the pants that these “what it all means” speeches can afford.

Need a kick in the pants?  Here are some of the best graduation speeches ever and then clear out your schedule, because you’re about to be inspired to get things done and finally understand the meaning of your life.


“Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard Business School ’12

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all in which case, you fail by default.”

 – JK Rowling, Harvard ’08 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with 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. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

– Steve Jobs, Stanford ’05 

“The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.”

– David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College ’05

“When I was younger I thought success was something different. I thought when I grow up, I want to be famous. I want to be a star. I want to be in movies. When I grow up I want to see the world, drive nice cars, I want to have groupies.

But my idea of success is different today. And as you grow, you’ll realize the definition of success changes. For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila.”

– Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane ’09.

“If everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view…. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others…. 

The sweetest joys of life … come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”

– David McCullough Jr., Wellesley High School ’12 

“But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this: College is something you complete; life is something you experience.”

– Jon Stewart, College of William and Mary ’04.

“Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.”

– Jeff Bezos, Princeton ’10.

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

– Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune ’97 

“Forget about the fast lane. If you really want to fly, just harness your power to your passion. Honor your calling. Everybody has one. Trust your heart and success will come to you.

So, how do I define success? Let me tell you, money’s pretty nice. I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that it’s not about money, ’cause money is very nice. I like money. It’s good for buying things.

But having a lot of money does not automatically make you a successful person. What you want is money and meaning. You want your work to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings the real richness to your life. What you really want is to be surrounded by people you trust and treasure and by people who cherish you. That’s when you’re really rich.”

– Oprah Winfrey, Stanford ’08.

“Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be. And remember that the story is never over…I will go now to make bigger mistakes and to embarrass this fine institution even more.

But let me leave you with one last thought. If you can laugh at yourself, loud and hard, every time you fall, people will think you’re drunk.”

– Conan O’Brien, Harvard ’00.

“The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape. Now if I were a folksinger I’d immediately launch into “If I Had a Hammer” right now get you all singing and swaying. But as I say I come from punk rock, so I’d rather have the bloody hammer right here in my fist.

That’s what this degree of yours is, a blunt instrument. So go forth and build something with it. Remember what John Adams said about Ben Franklin, ‘He does not hesitate at our boldest Measures but rather seems to think us too irresolute.”

– Bono, University of Pennsylvania ’04.

“Fear has become the commodity that sells as certainly as sex. Fear is cheap, fear is easy, fear gets attention…. It’s fast, it’s gossip and it’s just as glamorous, juicy and profitable. Fear twists facts into fictions that become indistinguishable from ignorance.

To stand on the fulcrum between fear and faith — fear at your back, faith in front of you.

Which way will you move? Move forward, move ever forward, and tweet out a picture of the results.”

– Tom Hanks, Yale ’11.

“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. Action is the antidote to apathy and cynicism and despair. You will inevitably make mistakes. Learn what you can and move on. At the end of your days, you will be judged by your gallop, not by your stumble.”

– Bradley Whitford, Wisconsin ’04.

“Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say˜yes.’ And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say˜yes’ back.

Now will saying˜yes’ get you in trouble at times? Will saying˜yes’ lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool.  But saying ˜yes’ begins things. Saying˜yes’ is how things grow. Saying˜yes’ leads to knowledge.˜Yes’ is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say˜yes.”

– Stephen Colbert, Knox College ’06.

Here are some fun pull quotes to share:

Ellen graduation quote

JK Rowling graduation quote

Oprah Winfrey Graduation Speech

Jon Stewart Graduation Advice


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