Facebook Twitter

20 famous college commencement speeches

SHARE 20 famous college commencement speeches
President Barack Obama is seen on stage before delivering the commence address at Barnard College, Monday, May 14, 2012, in New York.

FILE - President Barack Obama is seen on stage before delivering the commence address at Barnard College, Monday, May 14, 2012, in New York.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

It’s that time of the year where caps and gowns are worn, the tune “Pomp and Circumstance” is being played all over, caps are thrown in the air and inspirational speeches are given.

College graduations are happening all over America and one of the signature trademarks of any commencement ceremony is the commencement speaker and the speech that is given, which can range from inspirational to funny to powerful … or a complete amalgamation of all of these aspects.

With research from VoxCNBC and Time.com and in honor of all of those undergraduates and graduate students getting promoted to the real world, here are 20 famous college commencement speeches.

1. Bill Gates

College: Harvard University (2007)

Quote: ”Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on big inequities. I feel sure it will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”

2. Steve Jobs

College: Stanford University (2005)

Quote: ”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, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. … Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

3. John F. Kennedy

College: American University (1963)

Quote: ”For peace is a process — a way of solving problems. With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor — it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement.”

4. Stephen Colbert

College: Northwestern University (2011)

Quote: ”And I love it, because thankfully dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed, and you’re not some loser. But just as importantly — and this is the part I may not get right and you may not listen to — if you do get your dream, you are not a winner.”

5. Jon Stewart

College: College of William & Mary (2004)

Quote: ”Let’s talk about the real world for a moment. … I don’t really know how to put this, so I’ll be blunt: we broke it. Please don’t be mad. I know we were supposed to bequeath to the next generation a world better than the one we were handed. So, sorry. I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but it just kinda got away from us. Somewhere between the gold rush of easy Internet profits and an arrogant sense of endless empire, we heard kind of a pinging noise, and then the dang thing just died on us. So I apologize. But here’s the good news: you fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people.”

6. Sheryl Sandberg

College: Harvard Business School (2012)

Quote: ”He put his hand on my sheet and he looked at me and said, ‘Don’t be an idiot.’ Excellent career advice. And then he said, ‘Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and 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.’ ”

7. Michael Lewis

College: Princeton University (2012)

Quote: ”Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interest to anything. All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may deserve the extra cookie. But you will be happier, and you will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.”

8. Oprah Winfrey

College: Spelman College (2012)

Quote: ”I want to know where are we going. Do we have a destination? Is there a plan? Are we just riding? What I’ve learned is that’s a great metaphor for life. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own life, because if you’re not, life will drive you.”

9. Neil Gaiman

College: University of the Arts (2012)

Quote: ”The things I’ve done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about, the stories where I was sure they would either work or more likely be the kinds of embarrassing failures that people would gather together and discuss until the end of time. They always had that in common. Looking back at them, people explain why they were inevitable successes. And while I was doing them, I had no idea. I still don’t. And where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work? And sometimes the things I did really didn’t work. There are stories of mine that have never been reprinted. Some of them never even left the house. But I learned as much from them as I did from the things that worked.”

10. Aaron Sorkin

SyracuseU, YouTube

College: Syracuse University (2012)

Quote: ”Decisions are made by those who show up. Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world. Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day: civility, respect, kindness, character. You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance … don’t ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.”

11. Jane Lynch

College: Smith College (2012)

Quote: ”My counsel to you, women of Smith College: let life surprise you. Don’t have a plan. Plans are for wusses. If my life went according to my plan, I would never ever have the life I have today. Now, you are obviously good planners, or you wouldn’t be here. So stop it! Stop it now! Don’t deprive yourself of the exciting journey your life can be when you relinquish the need to have goals and a blueprint.”

12. Ellen Degeneres

College: Tulane University (2009)

Quote: ”I know that a lot of you are concerned about your future, but there’s no need to worry. The economy is booming, the job market is wide open, the planet is just fine. It’s gonna be great. You’ve already survived a hurricane. What else can happen to you? And as I mentioned before, some of the most devastating things that happen to you will teach you the most.”

13. President Barack Obama

College: Barnard College (2012)

Quote: ”He had two pieces of advice for the class of all women: 1) “Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table,” and 2) “Never underestimate the power of your example. The very fact that you are graduating, let alone that more women now graduate from college than men, is only possible because earlier generations of women — your mothers, your grandmothers, your aunts — shattered the myth that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be where you are.”

14. Michelle Obama

College: Spelman College (2011)

Quote: ”Sometimes I’d save them the trouble and raised the questions myself, in my own head, lying awake at night, doubting whether I had what it took to succeed. And the truth is that there will always be folks out there who make assumptions about others. There will always be folks who try to raise themselves up by cutting other people down. That happens to everyone, including me, throughout their lives. But when that happens to you all, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to just stop a minute, take a deep breath — because it’s going to need to be deep — and I want you to think about all those women who came before you.”

15. Bono

College: University of Pennsylvania (2004)

Quote: ”So, my question I suppose is: What’s the big idea? What’s your big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University of Pennsylvania?

”[M]y point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”’

16. Lewis Black

College: Thurgood Marshall College, University of California at San Diego (2013)

Quote: ”You are now entering a world that’s filled to the brim with idiots. Since there are so many idiots out there, you actually may start to think you’re crazy. You are not. They are idiots.

”Whatever you do, don’t tell them that they are an idiot. There may come a day when you may need that idiot. Idiots may be idiots — but they do have a memory.”

17. Will Ferrell

College: Harvard University (2003)

Quote: ”One of you, specifically John Lee, will spend most of your time just hanging out in your car eating nachos. You will all come back from time to time to this beautiful campus for reunions, and ask the question, ‘Does anyone ever know what happened to John Lee?’ At that point, he will invariably pop out from the bushes and yell, ‘Nachos anyone?!’”

18. Jeff Bezos

College: Princeton University (2010)

Quote: ”There’s a difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice.”

19. J.K. Rowling

College: Harvard University (2008)

Quote: ”You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. … Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected. … The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”

20. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

College: New York University (2012)

Quote: ”Dream big and achieve much.”