Chances are that if you went unannounced to Apple corporate headquarters and asked CEO Tim Cook for advice on how to make your way in the world, you would quickly be shown the door. Likewise Michelle Obama; how close do you think you could get to the White House to ask her to share her life lessons (considering the lax security, probably pretty close, but still….)?
Thankfully, there are commencement speeches, for which notables in politics, business and entertainment are called to regale anxious young audiences with words of wisdom to get them on their (hopefully) independent way.
But graduates are not the only ones who could benefit from this quality time with the elites of their professions, and thanks to YouTube, their commencement speeches are accessible to anyone who could use a little motivational lift or inspirational goose.
Here are a few sound bites from some of this year’s commencement speakers:
Madeleine Albright, Tufts University
"As a professor and mother of three college graduates, I have to confess that I just love commencement ceremonies. They are a unique milestone in our lives, because they celebrate past accomplishments and future possibilities."
Denzel Washington, Dillard University
"Don’t be afraid to dream big, but remember dreams without goals are just dreams and they ultimately fuel disappointment."
Katie Couric, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“A fulfilling professional life can be found at the intersection of what you love and what you’re good at. And when you think you’ve discovered it, go at it full-throttle."
Tim Cook, George Washington University
“The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena…Don’t shrink from risk. And tune out those critics and cynics,"
Meredith Vieira, Boston University
“Be the left shark…the one who went rogue and danced to his own crazy beat, who stole the show.”
Matthew McConaughey, University of Houston
“We all got two wolves in us, a good one and a bad one…and they both wanna eat. We just gotta feed that gold wolf a little more than the other one.”
Ken Burns, Washington University, St. Louis
“Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of our country — they just make our country worth defending.”
Gen. Colin Powell, Rice University
“To those of you who are not graduating with a 3.5 GPA or better, have faith, my young friends, have faith. Remember it ain’t where you start in life that counts, but what you do with life that will determine where you end up in life. Did you work hard, never stop learning, believe in yourself, believe in this great country of ours?: Did you dream big? Did you set high standards, ever rising? Were you your own role model?"
Stephen Colbert: Wake Forest University
"Try to make the world good according to your standards. It won’t be easy. Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done — like ending racial tension, or getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions. And we should know they can’t be done. After all, we’re the ones who didn’t do them."
Michelle Obama, Tuskegee University
"Our history… teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together -- then we can build ourselves and our communities up. We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together -- together -- we can overcome anything that stands in our way"
Mitt Romney, Saint Anselm College
“Your world is now breathtakingly large, almost without boundaries. With such vastness and with so many possible directions to take, some of you may understandably feel somewhat anxious and uncertain. You may even be tempted to look for a smaller, more comfortable world, one that’s less complex, and less demanding. That’s not who you are and that’s not what Saint Anselm has prepared you to do. To experience a fulfilling, purposeful life, one thing you’re going to have to do it this: live a large life."
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.