The Best Commencement Speeches (That We Still Love to Turn to for Advice)

The Best Commencement Speeches (That We Still Love to Turn to for Advice)

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Mary Schmich, Wear Sunscreen, 1997

Our Favorite Line: “Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't."

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Michelle Obama, Tuskegee University, 2015

Our Favorite Line: "So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth. I had to answer some basic questions for myself: Who am I? No, really, who am I? What do I care about? And the answers to those questions have resulted in the woman who stands before you today."

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Amy Poehler, Harvard University, 2011

Our Favorite Line: "Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own."

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Kerry Washington, George Washington University, 2013

Our Favorite Line: "I want you to look back on the journey that brought you here. What moments challenged you most? When were you asked to step outside of your familiar territory in order to rise to the occasion of your potential?  How have you pushed past your fear? I want you to remember those moments because they will embolden you and affirm 

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Kerry Washington, George Washington University, 2013

you and remind you that you did this, you completed this journey. You answered the call, and now you can continue to do so."

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Conan O'Brien, Dartmouth College, 2011

Our Favorite Line: "No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you. In 2000, I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that.  But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality."

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Chadwick Boseman, Howard University, 2018

Our Favorite Line: "Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose."

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George Saunders, Syracuse University, 2013

Our Favorite Line: "Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder."

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Nora Ephron, Wellesley College, 1996

Our Favorite Lines: “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.“

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Will Ferrell, University of Southern California, 2017

Our Favorite Line: "Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result. Trust your gut, keep throwing darts at the dartboard. Don’t listen to the critics, and you will figure it out."

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Anne Lamott, University of California, Berkeley 2003

Our Favorite Line: "The holy thing inside you really is that which causes you to seek it. You can't buy it, lease it, rent it, date it, or apply for it. The best job in the world can't give it to you. Neither can success, or fame, or financial security."

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Margaret Atwood, University of Toronto, 1983

Our Favorite Line: "You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it, and this, paradoxically, alters reality. Try it and see."

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Stephen King, Vassar College, 2001

Our Favorite Line: "I ask you to begin the next great phase of your life by giving, and to continue as you begin. I think you'll find in the end that you got far more than you ever had, and did more good than you ever dreamed."

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Toni Morrison, Wellesley College, 2004

Our Favorite Line: "If these are indeed the best years of your life, you do have my condolences because there is nothing, believe me, more satisfying, more gratifying than true adulthood.  The adulthood that is the span of life before you. The process of becoming one is not inevitable. Its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely 

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Toni Morrison, Wellesley College, 2004

hard-won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of."

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Zadie Smith, New School, 2014

Our Favorite Line: "We fear that the work of many hands will obscure the beloved outline of our individual selves. But perhaps this self you’ve been treasuring for so long is itself the work of many hands."

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Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth College, 2014

Our Favorite Line: "Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change."

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Abby Wambach, Barnard, 2018

Our Favorite Line: "Women are feared as a threat to our system—and we will also be our society’s salvation. Our landscape is overrun with archaic ways of thinking about women, about people of color, about the “other,” about the rich and the poor, about the powerful and the powerless—and these ways of thinking are destroying us. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for."

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