The traditional commencement address is all about rallying the troops and preaching to the choir: Go forth, dream large, and change the world. Among this year’s best commencement speakers, more vital calls to action emerged: Work hard, keep learning, love what you do. And yes, make the bed every morning.
Commencement speeches are crafted to inspire Millennials—already pumped to begin the next chapter of their lives—to turn their amps up to 11. But the best commencement addresses are not for Millennials only. They can be a tonic for older adults as well; those in a rut; those uninspired, those who have not only lost their bliss, but wouldn’t recognize it if it walked into the room.
Here is more shared wisdom from this year’s commencement addresses:
Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth University:
“I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing. Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. It’s hard work that makes things happen. Be a doer, not a dreamer.”
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, City Colleges of Chicago
“Your life’s course will not be determined by doing the things that you are certain you can do. Those are the easy things. It will be determined by whether you try the things that are hard.”
Ed Helms, Cornell University
“When you try hard at everything you do, even if it feels utterly foolish to do so, you're opening up future doors and possibilities that you might not be seeing in the moment,”
Tory Burch, fashion designer, Babson College
“Even if you’re not yet an entrepreneur, you can be entrepreneurial in everything you do. If you view each stop as an opportunity to learn something, there is always something you will take away from that experience.”
Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” University of Massachusetts
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. Respect their knowledge and learn from them.”
George Stephanopoulos, Franklin & Marshall College
“I hope you all stay curious and never stop learning. One of the best parts of my job right now is how many different parts of the world, how many stories, how much information it exposes me to every day. All that makes for a rich, stimulating and fast-paced professional life. But I also have to remind myself every single day to slow down, to think, remember what it's like to really study.”
Katie Couric, Trinity College:
“Passion is the fuel of high performance, passion prevents you from watching the clock or thinking of work as a four letter word. Passion will make you exude positive energy, and people want to be around positive people. First and fundamentally, you have got to love what you do.”
Jim Carrey, Maharishi University:
“My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn't believe that that was possible for him. And so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant. And when I was twelve years old he was let go from that safe job, and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Naval Adm. William H. McRaven, The University of Texas at Austin
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Viet Nam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the (bed). It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over. If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
Related story: 2014 Commencement Speakers Urge Millennials to “Stop Worrying So Much”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.