You are currently viewing 7 Life Lessons to Learn from Iconic Commencement Addresses

7 Life Lessons to Learn from Iconic Commencement Addresses

Iconic Commencement

While commencement addresses are primarily aimed at the misty-eyed graduates, they might be of use for students at any stage of their complex, bustling, and sleep-deprived lives. In fact, some of them are so good that they should be handed out to every single freshman on the very first day of college. The problem with good advice is that it often comes too late. So, no matter if you are an undergraduate, a graduate, or a postgraduate, this distillation of the best commencement speeches of the last decades will undoubtedly come in handy.

A commencement speech has no set rules. So, you can expect almost anything from the commencement speaker. It can be a story, a joke, a song (check out Will Ferrell’s cover of Whitney Houston’s classic I Will Always Love You), or even something less conventional. For example, during the 135th Commencement at Morehouse College, billionaire Robert F. Smith promised to pay down the student debt of 400 graduating students. Could it get any better? Let us hope this generous gesture will turn into a tradition, but meanwhile, most of the speakers are offering graduates another precious gift – their hard-earned wisdom. And you can be sure, the advice that these people give is worth listening to because many of them have shaped the XXI century. Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Malala Yousafzai, Barack Obama, J.K. Rowling, Richard Feynman have all given outstanding commencement speeches.

We have prepared for you a selection of invaluable life lessons from some of the best commencement speeches so that you could save a little time for your homework. But if this does not help, remember that you can always rely on highly-skilled professionals from who can take some of the assignments off your shoulders. We very much hope that the list below will raise your spirits in these challenging times.

1. “Develop an Internal Moral, Emotional G.P.S.” (Oprah Winfrey)

On her way up, Winfrey overcame so many obstacles that they would suffice for several lives. What was her secret? In 2013 at Harvard, Winfrey told the graduates that failure helps us clearly see what we really want to achieve in life, not only in terms of the resume but also in terms of our true calling. “I know this, if you’re willing to listen to, be guided by, that still small voice that is the G.P.S. within yourself, to find out what makes you come alive, you will be more than okay,said Winfrey

2. “Don’t Let the Noise of Others’ Opinions Drown Out Your Own Inner Voice” (Steve Jobs)

In his 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford, Steve Jobs emphasized that life is finite, which makes it all the more precious. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” said Jobs. So, think for yourself and stop comparing yourself with others.

3. “Always Play Like an Underdog” (Matthew McConaughey)

Matthew McConaughey’s advice seems quite unconventional at first, but the famous actor knew what he was talking about. When we feel that we have finally achieved ultimate success, we are creating a “fictitious ceiling, a roof, to our expectations of ourselves,” explains McConaughey. Do not make this mistake! Always have bigger goals, never pause to pat yourself on the shoulder, and you will achieve great heights!

4. “Fall Forward!” (Denzel Washington)

Denzel Washington, in his 2011 Penn Commencement Speech, wondered why people keep advising you to have something to fall back on. “If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything except my faith. I want to fall forward, I figure at least this way I will see what I’m going to hit,” said Washington. Failure is inevitable, and you have to embrace it, turn it into experience, get up, and keep going.

5. “Pay Forward!” (Robert F. Smith)

In his commencement speech, Robert F. Smith not only made the graduates an unprecedented gift but also challenged them to do the same in the future: “Now, I know my class will make sure they pay this forward.” This is an inspiring appeal that teaches us that we should always share the success we have achieved with fellow human beings.

6. “Imagine Better!” (J.K. Rowling)

In 2008, in her Commencement Speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling brought into focus the vital importance of imagination, which is “the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” We need to turn on our imagination and let it help us touch the lives of other people, feel what they feel, and thus become more compassionate and humane. “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better” – these are truly the words to live by.

7. “Build a Community” (Barack Obama)

When former President Barack Obama spoke at “Graduate Together: High School Class of 2020 Commencement,” he urged the graduates to build a community if they want to thrive in the world turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. “No one does big things by themselves,” argued the political leader. Humanity can defeat the global challenges that the future has in store only by working together as one team.

Click for more blogs