2013 Commencement Speech Round-Up
This year’s commencement season saw many eminent speakers providing advice to graduates across the country. We found many connections between themes presented in commencement speeches this year to concepts we are working with at The Good Project. In our research on Quality, for example, we have learned how individuals value time well spent. In our Good Play project, we have heard much about the impact of social media and the relevance of human connection. Understanding one’s personal and professional values, citizenship, responsibility towards others and the wider world, navigating new technologies, finding role models – these are just a few more Good Project ideas echoed in some of our favorite commencement speech highlights below.
“There was a time in my late 20’s when I worried all the time what audiences thought (‘will they like me?’, ‘am I up to par?’, etc.)—and it suddenly dawned on to me that everyone in the audience had paid good money to come see a show they really wanted to see, and possibly, they were there after a day of dealing with a lot of stress. … I realized that I was in a position to brighten their day, to make a difference, to give them three hours of surcease, of transcendence, and hopefully, joy. From that moment on, I began to develop a mindset of giving. I stopped looking inward, I began to grow up and I started looking outward, with an eye toward making a difference wherever and whenever I could. Today, I invite YOU to start looking at life the same way. There are so many opportunities for giving in this world. Don’t engage in random acts of kindness, engage in planned acts of kindness…… Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world YOU want to live in.” – Julie Andrews, University of Colorado-Boulder
“I’m not going to tell you that money doesn’t matter, because you wouldn’t believe me anyway. In fact, for too many people around the world, money is literally a life-or-death proposition. But if you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end. A career decision based only on money and not on love of the work or a desire to make a difference is a recipe for unhappiness.” – Ben Bernanke, Princeton University
“I want to encourage you to reject the cynics who say technology is flattening your experience of the world. Please don’t let anyone make you believe you are somehow shallow because you like to update your status on a regular basis. The people who say technology has disconnected you from others are wrong. So are the people who say technology automatically connects you to others. Technology is just a tool. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s just a tool. Deep human connection is very different. It’s not a tool. It’s not a means to an end. It is the end — the purpose and the result of a meaningful life — and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.” – Melinda Gates, Duke University
“In closing, my challenge to you is this: set bold goals, deliberately and consciously build your willpower, and use your time well. ….. you face a world of uncertainty. Don’t fear that uncertainty. Embrace it. Use it. Uncertainty means that nothing is predetermined. Uncertainty means that the future is yours to shape — with the force of your will, the force of your intellect, and the force of your compassion. Uncertainty is freedom. Take that freedom and run with it.” – Jim Yong Kim, Northeastern University
“I am impressed to note that while you studied many of you have also made efforts to help others. Education gives us a good preparation, but it is by actually putting it to use in the service of others that we make our lives meaningful. The very purpose of our life is happiness, which is sustained by hope. We have no guarantee about the future, but we exist in the hope of something better. Hope means keeping going, thinking, ‘I can do this.’ It brings inner strength, self-confidence, the ability to do what you do honestly, truthfully and transparently. I appreciate your having already begun to help others.” – Dalai Lama, Tulane University
“So be a good role model, set a good example for that young brother coming up. If you know somebody who’s not on point, go back and bring that brother along — those who’ve been left behind, who haven’t had the same opportunities we have — they need to hear from you. You’ve got to be engaged on the barbershops, on the basketball court, at church, spend time and energy and presence to give people opportunities and a chance. Pull them up, expose them, support their dreams. Don’t put them down.” – President Barack Obama, Morehouse College
“I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people was that there is a common denominator in our human experience. Most of us, I tell you, we don’t want to be divided. What we want, the common denominator that I found in every single interview, is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I have done over 35,000 interviews in my career, and as soon as that camera shuts off, everyone always turns to me and inevitably, in their own way, asks this question: “Was that okay?” I heard it from President Bush: I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyoncé and all of her Beyoncéness. She finishes performing, hands me the microphone and says, “Was that okay?” Friends and family, yours, enemies, strangers in every argument in every encounter, every exchange—I will tell you they all want to know one thing: Was that okay? Did you hear me? Do you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you? And even though this is a college where Facebook was born, my hope is that you would try to go out and have more face-to-face conversations with people you may disagree with. That you’ll have the courage to look them in the eye and hear their point of view and help make sure that the speed and distance and anonymity of our world doesn’t cause us to lose our ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes and recognize all that we share as a people. This is imperative for you as an individual and for our success as a nation.” – Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University
“You’ve got to trust in yourself and know what your internal passion is and that’s what’ll drive you to success. When you have success, are you going to become a different person? … Or are your ideals going to be with you forever?” – Steve Wozniak, UC-Berkeley
What were your favorite commencement speeches this year?