The paths these celebrity speakers took were varied, but addressing their audiences of eager graduates, they each have universal life lessons to share about what it takes to live lives that maximize potential.
Our second roundup of the best bits from this year's distinguished class of commencement address speakers includes iconic actors, entrepreneurs, executives, a director of blockbusters and an aspiring "filthiest person alive" (that would be John Waters). The paths they took were varied, but addressing their audiences of eager graduates, they each have universal life lessons to share about what it takes to live lives that maximize potential. But why should this wisdom be shared just among the young? Anyone in need of an inspirational spark to recapture that fresh-out-of-college feeling that they can take on the world can benefit. You're welcome.
Robert De Niro, New York University Tisch School of the Arts
“You discovered a talent, developed an ambition, and recognized your passion. When you feel that you can’t fight it, you just go for it. When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. Yeah you’re f–ked. The good news is, that’s not a bad place to start.”
Robert Redford, Colby College
“Don’t be afraid to take a risk, don’t be afraid of failure, be bold,”
John Waters, Rhode Island School of Design
“A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: All you need is one person to say, ‘Get in’ and off you go. And then the confidence begins.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author), Wellesley
“I don’t speak to provoke. I speak because I think our time on earth is short and each moment that we are not our truest selves, each moment we pretend to be what we are not, each moment we say what we do not mean because we imagine that is what somebody wants us to say, then we are wasting our time on earth.”
Christopher Nolan, Princeton
"In the great tradition of these speeches, generally someone says something along the lines of 'Chase your dreams,' but I don't want to tell you that because I don't believe that. I want you to chase your reality.”
Chris Matthews, Saint Mary’s College of California
“Go for it. Make them say no. Never say no to yourself…I read where David Letterman advised Jerry Seinfeld, before he got his show, ‘Just make sure if you fail, you did what you wanted to.’”
Jeff Immelt (GE CEO: Siena College
“I have learned from my failures. But none have shaken my curiosity, my desire to take risks, or my will to try again.”
Jason Kilar (former Hulu CEO), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“In the early days ahead of Hulu’s launch, both the company and my decision to lead and help build it were very publicly considered truly horrible, awful ideas. We were called ClownCo by the smartest people in Silicon Valley. A digital counter even ran on one of the tech industry’s most respected websites to track how many days it was going to take for the company to implode. The early days of Hulu were among the toughest in my career. I kept reminding myself of that phrase attributed to Winston Churchill: ‘When you are going through Hell, keep going.’”
Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos CEO, Seaver College
“We code-named our product the Edison because we assumed we’d have to fail 10,000 times to get it to work the 10,001th, and we did. There’s no shortcut to really hard work. In our experience you have to work harder and work smarter than everyone else.” We learned so much more from our failures than we did from our successes and our character and our values were hardened by the people who told us over and over there was no way we would succeed. I think that rejection, when you’re doing something you love, is an omen you’re on the right path. And it’s an unbeatable fuel if you choose to use it.”
Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman, Google), Virginia Tech
“Engage with the world around you. Don’t just push a button saying you ‘Like’ something that someone is up to. Go tell them yourself. Life is about who you love, how you live, it’s about who you travel through the world with. It’s about these people here, with whom you have shared so much. Life is about much more than just existing. So, please, class of 2015: go out there and choose to live.
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.