One of the biggest highlights of college graduation is the commencement speech. It’s a rush of inspiration, perspective, and reality, delivered by an incredible human being who has “been there, done that” and made a real contribution to society. Even if you graduated years ago, you can still be just as moved by their wisdom, and act on their timeless advice.
Here’s a collection of our favorite pieces of life advice from this year’s commencement speeches. We selected notable individuals from a wide variety of positions, from First Lady Michelle Obama to NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. These quotes are sure to rekindle the young, idealistic spirit in all of us.
John Kerry, Yale University
“You have to reject the notion that problems are too big and too complicated… You don’t have the luxury of just checking out. And it doesn’t matter what profession you wind up in, what community you live in, where you are, what you’re doing – you do not have that luxury.” – Secretary of State John Kerry on optimism and embracing challenges, whether in government or your own life.
Katie Couric, Trinity College
“Changing the world doesn’t happen all at once. It isn’t a big bang. It’s an evolution, the sum of a billion tiny sparks. And some of those sparks will have to come from you.” - Award-winning TV Journalist Katie Couric on creating space for yourself in a career, and in that way, making an impact on the world.
Bill Nye, UMass Lowell
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. Respect their knowledge and learn from them. It will bring out the best in all of you.” – Bill Nye “The Science Guy” reminding us that when we go into the world ready for change, we can all be instrumental, and we should take advice from anyone and everyone along the way.
Atul Gawande, UNC Chapel Hill
“The key is, if you find yourself in a place where you stop caring—where your greatest concern becomes only you—get out of there.” – Surgeon and staff writer for New Yorker Magazine Atul Gawande on how we can’t know everything, but even so we can be important and innovative problem-solvers in the fields we care deeply about.
Jose Andres, The George Washington University
“It’s not only about giving bread to an orphan, but helping build a bakery that can feed an orphanage.” – World Renowned Chef Jose Andres on the importance of overcoming fear of rejection, handling life’s curveballs, and knowing that you are only as good as the people around you.
Michelle Obama, Dillard University
“I want you to keep reaching higher. I want you all to keep raising your bars… I cannot wait to see the world that your children will be born into.” – First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama speaking about how important it is to stay hungry in your passions, your education, and your dreams.
Peyton Manning, University of Virginia
“Work to find new solutions to old problems. Think outside the parameters that restrict other peoples’ thoughts. Just because you’re a novice on the job… doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to solutions in very significant ways.” – Five-time National Football League MVP Peyton Manning on how to break into the real world as a “rookie”.
John Legend, University of Pennsylvania
“Searching for truth is in many ways the same as searching for your soul… Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure. The things that are at your core. The things you know you were put on this earth to do.” – Grammy award-winning musician John Legend speaking about how the key to success and happiness is merely finding what you love, and chasing what you feel you were born to do.
Jeff Bauman , Fisher College
“We are all running a marathon in one way or another. Today you are at the finish line of one race, but life is full of starting lines and heartbreak hills. You just have to keep running forward.” - Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman on the importance of holding your head high and persevering through life’s most difficult challenges.