The commencement address is seen as a required rite of passage for every student on the cusp of entering the real world. Oftentimes they are long, dull, and peppered with generic cliches. But every now and then, there are gems – valuable life lessons seasoned with the wisdom of time that are able to inspire even the most cynical of people.
In the spirit of the upcoming season, here’s a roundup of ten inspiring graduation speeches worth listening to:
David Foster Wallace, Author – Kenyon College (2005)
On the real value of education:
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: ‘This is water.’
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.
Steve Jobs, Stanford University (2005)
On listening to your inner voice:
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.
JK Rowling, Harvard University (2008)
On failing in life:
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. 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.
Jim Carrey, Maharishi University of Management (2014)
On serving the world:
What’s yours? How will you serve the world? What do they need that your talent can provide? That’s all you have to figure out. As someone who has done what you are about to go do, I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.
Conan O Brien, Dartmouth College (2011)
On following your dreams:
Many of you here today are getting your diploma at this Ivy League school because you have committed yourself to a dream and worked hard to achieve it. And there is no greater cliché in a commencement address than “follow your dream.” Well I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change. And that’s okay.
Aaron Sorkin, Syracuse University (2012)
On trusting your compass:
Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt.
George Saunders, Syracuse University (2013)
Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.
Debbie Millman, San Jose State University (2013)
On seizing the moment:
If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.
Daniel Pink, Weinberg College (2014)
On the importance of living:
The smartest, most interesting, most dynamic, most impactful people lived to figure it out. At some points in their lives, they realised that carefully crafted plans often don’t hold up. Sometimes, the only way to discover who you are or what life you should lead is to do less planning and more living – to burst the double bubble of comfort and convention and just do stuff, even if you don’t know precisely where it’s going to lead, because you don’t know precisely where it’s going to lead.
Neil Gaiman, University of Arts (2012)
On making good art:
And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art…And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.