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6 Inspiring Graduation Speeches from Leaders

By Joseph Cueto on May 5, 2015

Don’t you just love graduation speeches? They're meant to send fresh graduates off into the world inspired and ready to take on the challenge of the so-called "real world."  But for all of us, graduation speeches are always something we can go back to when we need that booster shot in moments of distress and exhaustion.

Whenever you're feeling lost, here’s a set of inspiring speeches, from tech industry leaders. May their words lend you a unique brand of support in helping you in your times of need:

2013: Twitter CEO Dick Costolo at the University of Michigan

Dick Costolo is the current CEO of Twitter and its former COO. In 2013, Business Insider referred to him as "one of Silicon Valley's most impressive CEOs", and TIME Magazine named him one of the 10 Most Influential U.S. Tech CEOs. Costolo gave a 2013 spring commencement address to the University of Michigan graduating class on May 4, 2013. Here are some key lessons from his speech"

You have the power to make an impact: "What I implore you to do is believe that if you make courageous choices and bet on yourself and put yourself out there that you will have an impact as a result of what you do and you don't need to know now what that will be, or how that will happen, because nobody ever does."

Be in the present moment: “You can’t plan a script. The beauty of improvisation is you’re experiencing it in the moment. If you try to plan what the next line is supposed to be, you’re just going to be disappointed when the other people on stage with you don’t do or say what you want them to do and you’ll stand there frozen. Be in this moment.”

Why doing what you love is important: "When you're doing what you love to do, you become resilient. You create a habit of taking chances on yourself. If you do what expected of you and things go poorly, you will look to external sources for what to do next, because that will be your habit. You will be standing there frozen. If you are just filling a role you will be blindsided."

Catch the whole speech here.

2013: Dropbox CEO Drew Houston at the MIT

Andrew W. "Drew" Houston is an American Internet entrepreneur who is best known for being the founder and CEO of Dropbox, an online backup and storage service. According to Forbes magazine, his net worth is $1.2 billion. He was named one of the most promising players aged 30 and under by Business Week while his baby, Dropbox has been touted as Y Combinator's most successful investment to date. Drew was also named among the top 30 under-30 entrepreneurs by, and one of the 20 best startups of Silicon Valley. Here's some things to take away from his speech at MIT in 2013:

Make the most out of your life’s days: "I used to worry about all kinds of things, but I can remember the moment when I calmed down. I had just moved to San Francisco, and one night I couldn't sleep so I was on my laptop. I read something online that said "There are 30,000 days in your life." At first I didn't think much of it, but on a whim I tabbed over to the calculator. I type in 24 times 365 and — oh my God, I'm almost 9,000 days down. What the hell have I been doing?"

Be an adventure-seeker: "And today on your commencement, your first day of life in the real world, that's what I wish for you. Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward. Thank you."

The definition of a happy and successful person: "When I think about it, the happiest and most successful people I know don't just love what they do, they're obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them."

Catch the whole speech here.

2014: CEO Marc Benioff at the University of Southern California (USC)

Marc Benioff is an American internet entrepreneur, author and philanthropist. He's the founder, chairman and CEO of, a cloud computing company. Benioff started in March 1999 in a rented San Francisco apartment and defined its mission as "The End of Software". He's “credited with turning the software industry on its head” by using the Internet to “revamp the way software programs are designed and distributed.” In 2010 Fortune named him one of the Smartest 50 People in Tech[17] as well as one of the Top 50 People in Business. These are some of the beautiful things he said during his address to USC:

The route to happiness: "The real joy in life comes from giving, from service, from doing things for other people. Nothing will make you happier than giving.”

Give, give, and give some more: "Don’t forget to do something for others…Nothing will make you happier than giving."

Company culture runs deep: "If you’re going to connect your business and your philanthropy, you better make sure that it’s integrated deep into your culture, that it’s not just something that you’re going to tack on."

Catch the full speech here.

2014: Business magnate, philanthropist, investor, computer programmer, and inventor Bill Gates at Stanford University

This man needs no further introduction. An American business magnate, philanthropist, investor, computer programmer, and inventor, Gates originally established his reputation as the co-founder of Microsoft, the world’s largest PC software company. During his career at Microsoft, Gates held the positions of chairman, CEO and chief software architect, and was also the largest individual shareholder until May 2014. He is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the personal computer revolution. Here's what he has to say:

Yes, you can. Be positive: "Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness. That's the attitude that says we can't defeat poverty and disease. We absolutely can."

It pays to be an optimist: "But we want to make the strongest case we can for the power of optimism. Even in dire situations, optimism can fuel innovation and lead to new tools to eliminate suffering. But if you never really see the people who are suffering, your optimism can't help them. You will never change their world."

Talent plus empathy goes a long way: So here is our appeal to you: As you leave Stanford, take your genius and your optimism and your empathy and go change the world in ways that will make millions of others optimistic as well.

Catch the full speech here.

2015: Apple CEO Tim Cook at George Washington University

Tim Cook is the current CEO of Apple Inc.  As Apple Inc. CEO, Cook regularly begins sending emails at 4:30 a.m. and previously held Sunday-night staff meetings by telephone to prepare for the next week. Cook shared the keys to his leadership at Apple in May 2013: people, strategy, and execution; he explained, "If you get those three right the world is a great place.

Be true to yourself and your values: “It’s about finding your values, and committing to them. It’s about finding your North Star. It’s about making choices. Some are easy. Some are hard. And some will make you question everything.”

Good and right work: "Your challenge is to find work that pays the rent, puts food on the table, and lets you do what is right and good and just."

You are important to the world: "No matter what you do next, the world needs your energy, your passion, your impatience for progress...Don’t shrink from risk. And tune out those cynics and critics. History rarely yields to one person — but think, and never forget, what happens when it does...That can be you. That should be you. That must be you."

Catch the full speech here.

2015: Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel at the USC Marshall School of Business

Evan Spiegel is an American Internet entrepreneur who is the co-founder and CEO of the mobile application Snapchat. In 2012, he left Stanford to focus on Snapchat shortly before completing his degree. While studying product design at Stanford, he proposed Snapchat as a class project and co-founded the mobile application Snapchat along with Robert Murphy and Reggie Brown. What pieces of advice did he have to give to the students of USC Marshall School of Business?

The measuring stick for doing something important: "I am now convinced that the fastest way to figure out if you are doing something truly important to you is to have someone offer you a bunch of money to part with it...The best thing is that, no matter whether or not you sell, you will learn something very valuable about yourself. If you sell, you will know immediately that it wasn’t the right dream anyways. And if you don’t sell you’re probably onto something. Maybe you have the beginning of something meaningful."

Laying the groundwork: "The greatest thing we can do is provide the best possible foundation for those who come after us."

The challenge within a challenge: "You're going to face a challenge, a full time job. The hardest part is going to be getting used to solving problems that don't have answers."

Catch the full speech here.

Bookmark these speeches for a rainy day. You never know when you're going to need a pick me up from these tech leaders.

*Screenshot of Tim Cook from YouTube