22 2012

Get Inspired: Seven of the Most Memorable Commencement Speeches

Every May audiences are treated to the sounds of Pomp and Circumstance as graduates line up to check off the big goal they’ve been pursuing for years: Graduation! It’s a huge day and a huge accomplishment at any level. Commencement speeches come in two varieties: forgettable and unforgettable. To celebrate graduation season, we’re serving up seven of our favorites for your inspiration whether you’re donning a mortar board or not. To kick things off, we’ve highlighted a couple that touch on two of our favorite themes: Follow your passion and never stop learning!

Follow Your Passion

One of the world’s most famous television personalities gave the commencement address at Tulane University in 2009. In her speech, Ellen DeGeneres said she never let anyone dissuade her from following her dreams of working in television as a comedian. She explained the rough patches she encountered on her road to success, including the cancellation of her sitcom, and instructed the graduating class to, “Follow your passion. Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else’s path.”

Similarly, Steve Jobs had much to say about doing what he loved when he spoke at Stanford in 2005: “You’ve got to find what you love… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” He compared his passion for his work to his love for his wife and family, weighing heavily on following one’s heart and intuition when it comes to what’s truly important in life.

Never Stop Learning

In the same speech, Jobs shared his experience directing his own education. Having dropped out of college, Jobs took it upon himself to sit in on classes he found interesting. He told the story of auditing a “fascinating” calligraphy course, though at the time he had no application for it. Ten years later he designed the Mac, creating, “the first computer with beautiful typography…multiple-type faces [and] proportionately spaced fonts,” claiming no personal computer would have these innovations had he not dropped in on that one calligraphy class.

This year, Rice University invited self-education innovator Salman Khan to speak at their commencement. Khan’s website, Khan’s Academy, was introduced to help people all over the world continue their education. He shared with the 2012 graduates the idea of being a lifelong learner, stating: “The next 10 years are your chance to ask the naïve questions which you’ll later learn are actually the profound questions. The ones that are actually going to be the game-changers. It’s your chance to really invest in yourself.”

Seven Superlative Commencement Speeches

Graduation is a great time of year to get inspired. If you want to jump start your tomorrow, we’ve linked our favorite graduation speeches for your viewing pleasure. Let us know which of these made you laugh, made you cry or maybe, made you laugh so hard you cried.

1. Most likely to make a difference:

Steve Jobs, Stanford University 2005

2. Most likely to quietly take over the world:

Anthony Corvino, Binghamton University 2009

3. Most likely to include dancing:

Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University 2009

4. Most likely to succeed after failing:

JK Rowling, Harvard University 2008

5. Class clown:

Will Ferrell, Harvard University 2003

6. Best personality:

Stephen Colbert, Knox College 2006

7. Most original:

David Engler, Mahoning County Career and Technical Center 2011 (given via Twitter)