Most Famous Graduation Speeches – That Had Everyone Hooked

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Most Famous Graduation Speeches

Graduation day is a moment that marks both an end and a new beginning in your life. You not only celebrate your graduation but also reflect on all the memories you made during these four important years. Some celebrate it by giving and receiving graduation gifts, others go on graduation trips and some prepare to join the workforce. No one can deny how important graduation day is.

That is why, universities invite some of the most influential and inspiring people to give commencement speeches on this significant occasion. And over the years, many influential people from all fields of life have given innovative graduation speeches. They are filled with valuable life lessons, wise words, and encouragement to graduates. Especially so as the graduates embark on their next journey. With that in mind, here are 10 of the best graduation speeches that will surely motivate you!

Top 10 Graduation Speeches of All Time

1. Bill Gates at Northern Arizona University, 2023

Who is Bill Gates? Otherwise, known as the billionaire dropout of Harvard, Bill Gates is the founder and CEO of Microsoft. But I guess he doesn’t require much of an introduction, does he now? Well, just last year, he shared 5 things he wished he had heard at his student graduation speech.

A graduation that he never had. There, he emphasized the importance of having a mindset open to embracing both career and life changes. He said that learning to take a break is an important aspect as any other. These are very simplistic words coming from one of the richest people in the world, right? But it is the very simplicity of this inspiring college quote that strikes the heart.

“You are not a slacker if you cut yourself some slack. When I was your age, I didn’t believe in vacations. I didn’t believe in weekends … But as I got older—and especially once I became a father—I realized there is more to life than work … Don’t wait as long as I did to learn this lesson …”

2. Oprah Winfrey – Class of 2020, Virtual Online Speech

How can we forget 2020? The very year when the COVID-19 pandemic started breaking out in large clusters all around the world. It caused the whole globe to go into quarantine and academic institutions had to introduce the online learning module. But even with this virtual schooling, people had to still continue graduating right?

For the class of 2020, Oprah Winfrey, the beloved American host, gave one of the most motivational speeches virtually. Her commencement speech became a profound lesson for those students struggling with balancing their lives in those months of chaos.

At the same time, it became one of the best graduation speech examples for later generations! As a great story about lessons from a graduation speech cancelled by coronavirus. Likewise, through the examples that have been set during this time of chaos, students will now know which college to choose for themselves according to their newfound preferences!

“Look who turns out to be essential! Teachers—your teachers!—healthcare workers of course … and those who clean the places where we work and shop and carry out our daily lives … We are all here because they, at great and profound risk, are still providing their essential service. What will your essential service be?”

3. Howard University Graduation Speech By Chadwick Boseman In 2018

Like others, he also gave one of the best graduation speeches of all time. He emphasized the importance of having a purpose in life. Likewise, researcher John Taylor says that commencement speeches are a meaningful event in a student’s life. And that they can be made more meaningful through reflections on past-achievements. Which is exactly what Boseman sought to do in his speech.

“… Purpose is an essential element of you … It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history … Whatever you choose … remember … the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”

4. Executive Sheryl Sandberg at UC Berkeley, 2016

The former Facebook head, in her keynote speech, talked about accepting reality. She asked the graduates to embrace a realistic outlook on life and admit that, yes, there are hard times. But those hard times are moments that we can gain control of through our will and hope.

“Many of you have already experienced the kind of tragedy and hardship that leaves an indelible mark,” said Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl. “The easy days ahead of you will be easy … It’s the hard days — the days that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are”

Also see: How to Find Classmates for Class Reunion

5. University of Texas Graduation Speech By Admiral McRaven, 2014

Admiral McRaven is known for giving one of the most famous commencement speeches at his alma mater. In that speech, he talked about the lessons that life throws at us. However, his account is memorable because his lessons centered on the determination to serve one’s country. His speech was extremely simple and yet very impactful at the same time. Those who had sought to serve their country after graduation definitely had their passion reignited!

“… changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it … Well, I’m confident that it will look much, much better … I can assure you that it matters not whether you’ve ever served a day in uniform, it matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status … our struggles in this world are similar … and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward, changing ourselves and changing the world around us will apply equally to all”.

6. Actor Jim Carrey in 2014 at Maharishi University

Being true to his style, the beloved American actor, Jim Carrey, started his great graduation speech with a comedic tune. He said that he was there just to make a sound, causing a round of laughter and applause.

“You didn’t think I could be serious, did you? I don’t think you understand who you’re dealing with. I have no limits. Furthermore, I cannot be contained because I’m the container. You can’t contain the container, man … I used to believe that who I was ended at the edge of my skin … Then I learned that everything outside the vehicle was part of me too, and now I drive a convertible. Top down, wind in my hair.”

7. J. K Rowling at Harvard, 2008

Books have always had that effect of peace, haven’t they? Therefore, students, especially, should always have one or two comfort books. While on this topic, Rowling’s works have always been top-listed as one of the best books for college students. The author of the Harry Potter series also delivered a commencement speech at Harvard. But unlike others, she did so on the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination in life.

“… Failure gave me an inner security … I discovered that I had a strong will … So given a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement … I stopped pretending to be anything more than what I was. My greatest fear had been realized. I had an old typewriter and a big idea … Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

8. Steve Jobs’ Address at Stanford University in 2005

Jobs, in his speech at Stanford, shared that he also had his fair share of ups and downs. And how those troubling times are now memorable moments of his life. The tech genius didn’t mention tips on how to save money in college during dire times or anything of the like. Rather, the only thing that he stressed about was his persistence.

“you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do … and you’ll know when you find it.”

9. Toni Morrison’s Keynote Address at Wellesley College in 2004

She was the first African American woman Nobel Laureate. Her works and she herself became cultural assets that the later generations would cherish. In her speech, the lovely woman debunked the long-held notion that youth is the best time of one’s life. Rather, she advised the students that true adulthood that they will from now experience is more satisfying than simple youth.

“The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually, it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing … And although you don’t have complete control over the narrative, no author does, I can tell you, you can nevertheless create it.”

10. John F. Kennedy, American University, 1963

During the turmoil of the early 1960s, Kennedy inspired graduates never to let go of their goals. He said that their struggles and striving would one day let them achieve one of their greatest goals. Which for him was world peace.

“Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable — that mankind is doomed — that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. Our job is not to accept that. Our problems are man made — therefore, they can be solved by man. And a man can be as big as he wants.”

Conclusion

Inspiration, tears, and a newfound passion define a graduation speech. All the best graduation speeches are motivating and memorable. Therefore, go and attend one and rediscover your goal in life!

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Omer is a bibliophile, history buff, anime enthusiast, and an aspiring blogger. He can often be found engaged in discussions on current affairs, both political and economic, over a cup of tea. His current interests revolve around researching the impacts of Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning on our society.

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