The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever

/ Tuesday, May 20 /

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David Foster Wallace on the meaning of life (Kenyon College, 2005)
“Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

Joseph Brodsky on winning the game of life (University of Michigan, 1988)                                      “Of all the parts of your body, be most vigilant over your index finger, for it is blame-thirsty. A pointed finger is a victim’s logo.”

Debbie Millman on courage and the creative life (San Jose State University, 2013)
“Imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time.”

Kurt Vonnegut on kindness, technology, community, and the power of great teachers (Agnes Scott College, 1999)
“Teaching, may I say, is the noblest profession of all in a democracy.”

Bill Watterson on life and creative integrity (Kenyon College, 1990)
“The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.”

Anna Quindlen on the secret to a happy life (Villanova, 2000 / undelivered)
“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.”

George Saunders on the power of kindness (Syracuse, 2013)
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

Patti Smith on life and making a name for yourself (Pratt, 2010)
How dental care protects our inner Pinocchio.

Greil Marcus on the toxic division of high vs. low culture (School of Visual Arts, 2013)
“What art does … is tell us, make us feel that what we think we know, we don’t.”

Joss Whedon on embracing our inner contradictions (Wesleyan, 2013)
“Identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is a process that you must be active in.”

Neil Gaiman on mistakes and the creative life (Philadelphia University of the Arts, 2012)
“Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.”

Ann Patchett on writing and life (Sarah Lawrence College, 2006)
“Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected.”

Judith Butler on the value of the humanities and why we read (McGill, 2013)
“We lose ourselves in what we read, only to return to ourselves, transformed and part of a more expansive world.”

Kurt Vonnegut on reading, boredom, belonging, and hate (Fredonia, 1978)
“Hate, in the long run, is about as nourishing as cyanide.”

Ellen Degeneres on success and following your own path (Tulane, 2009)
"Never follow anyone else's path, unless you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path, and by all means you should follow that."

Aaron Sorkin on trusting your compass (Syracuse, 2012)
"Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt."

Barack Obama on the life of service and the impulse to change the world (Wesleyan, 2008)
"All it takes is one act of service — one blow against injustice — to send forth what Robert Kennedy called that tiny ripple of hope. That’s what changes the world. That one act."

Conan O'Brien on disappointment and what defines us (Dartmouth, 2011)
"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."

J.K. Rowling on defining failure for ourselves (Harvard, 2008)
"Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is something on which to pride yourself. But poverty itself is romanticized only by fools."

Robert Krulwich on friends in low places (Berkeley School of Journalism, 2011)
"This is the era of Friends in Low Places. The ones you meet now, who will notice you, challenge you, work with you, and watch your back. Maybe they will be your strength."

Meryl Streep on change and making our own "normal" (Barnard, 2010)
"Really, there is no ‘normal.’ There’s only change, and resistance to it, and then more change."

Jeff Bezos on cleverness vs. kindness (Princeton, 2010)
"Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices."

Oprah Winfrey on failure and maxing out our humanity (Harvard, 2013)
“The key to life is to develop an internal moral, emotional GPS that can tell you which way to go.”

Steve Jobs on serendipity and connecting the dots of life (Stanford, 2005)
"You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards."

Credit: Via Maria Popova. To find more, check out NPR’s greatest 300 Commencement Speeches


Why go to College when there are so many invaluable lessons in each one of these speeches. Skip 4 years and instead live every single day. 

Copyright © Gaurav Monga