The best college commencement addresses balance humor and insight with a reasonable reality check.
In our second recap of the best of this year’s college commencement speeches, we highlight further life lessons and hard-earned wisdom from the best and brightest from the fields of politics, business, philanthropy, literature, and show business. What makes a good college commencement address? Ideally it is one that (in addition to brevity) balances humor and insight with a reasonable reality check. But college grads preparing to enter into the so-called adult world are not the only ones who could benefit from exhortations to maximize one’s potential, follow one’s passion, and to think creatively. These maxims offer a shot of inspiration that shouldn’t be wasted on just the young.
Ken Burns, Stanford University: "Be curious, not cool. Feed your soul, too. Every day."
Lulu Chow Wang (businessperson and philanthropist), Wellesley: "An open mind allows us to explore all the options before us – not just the ones that are comfortable and familiar. It allows us to imagine ourselves in lives that truly excite us, that demand more from us than we had ever imagined."
Jodi Picoult, Princeton University: “Do what you love, not what pays the most. Be kind. Be grateful. Don't just fall in love — stay in love. Adopt a dog. And finally: Be true to your moral compass. Don't let anyone convince you that just because something's always been done a certain way, it must be right.”
Vivek Murphy (U.S. Surgeon General): University of Arizona: “The world is moving at a dizzying pace. And it only seems to be getting faster. That is why I also wish for you moments of pause where you can stop, rest and reflect. The world won’t automatically give us those moments to pause – we have to create them. But it is those moments of calm when we gather ourselves and set forth with a clear mind and renewed heart.”
David Gergen, Elon University: "You may think…you can't make a difference. Think again. Please don't stay on the sidelines as America struggles to find the best path forward. Come off the bench and get into the arena…Embrace the fact that change is hard. Find a way you can make a positive difference."
Matt Damon, M.I.T.: "Before you step out into our big, troubled world, I want to pass along a piece of advice that Bill Clinton offered me a little over a decade ago: Turn toward the problems you see….And don’t just turn toward them. Engage with them. Walk right up to them, look them in the eye ... then look yourself in the eye and decide what you’re going to do about them. There are potentially trillions of human beings who will someday exist whose fate, in large part, depends on the choices you make ... on your ideas ... on your grit and persistence and willingness to engage.”
Darren Walker (President of the Ford Foundation): "Stand for something. And never stop asking yourself the question: 'What might I achieve that goes beyond myself? How will my life serve the cause of justice?'"
William Foege (Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient): Emory University: "In the book Cutting for Stone, there is an unforgettable line, and may this phrase stick with you forever: “Home is not where you are from. Home is where you are needed.”
Seth Meyers, Northwestern University: "Don’t let older generations blame you for what they see as the problems of the world. You’re too young for any of this to be your fault. You have a good decade before any of this is on you, so my only advice is — use those 10 years well."
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.