Graduation speeches can be wonderful and inspiring and important reminders about living your best life, even if you don’t have a mortar board and aren’t getting a diploma. I find the very best ones meet the three criteria Jim Valvano had for a really good day: it makes you laugh, think and cry.
Robert F. Smith made headlines by saying in his graduation speech to grads at Morehouse College. Not all speeches make headlines, but they often give some great advice. Here are some great graduation speeches of 2019 commencement season.
Houston Texan JJ Watt delivered the commencement speech at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Favorite line: “When you go through those tough days and when you go through those difficult times, remember to learn something from them. Remember that you can rise above them. And remember that there is an opportunity to grow.”
Jennifer Garner returned to her alma mater, Denison University, to receive an honorary doctorate and deliver the commencement address.
Favorite line: “Happiness is your own responsibility so attack it.”
But I also really loved her mom moments, including saying “don’t smoke and don’t vape” and her advice on Halloween costumes.
Sutton Foster shared words of wisdom with graduates at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Favorite line: “You are enough. You are unique and singular and the only person you need to compare yourself to is who you were yesterday.”
Oprah Winfrey gave the commencement address at Colorado College
Favorite line: “The truth is, you cannot fix everything. But what you can do, here and now, is make a decision, because life is about decisions. And the decision is that you will use your life in service; you will be in service to life. You will speak up. You will show up. You will stand up. You will sit in. You will volunteer. You will vote. You will shout out. You will help. You will lend a hand.”
Actor and physician Ken Jeong returned to his hometown of Greensboro, NC to share some wisdom with graduates of UNC Greensboro
Favorite line: They say everything happens for a reason. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know everything happens and it’s up to you to maximize the reality of your situation.
Kristen Bell shared some laughs and life advice at the USC School of Dramatic Arts undergraduate commencement (FYI – there’s some language six minutes in)
Favorite line: “When you respect the idea that you are sharing the earth with other humans, and when you lead with your nice foot forward, you’ll win, every time. It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but it comes back to you when you need it.”
Not all graduation speakers are famous. Jacob Zelenski was a student speaker at Marquette University. The text of his speech has gone viral, and it’s worth watching, too.
Favorite line: “Before you today, with a cap and gown and broken heart, I am filled with hope and joy as I aim to catapult myself into exactly who I am called to be. Something HUGE had to happen so that I could really see the god of tiny beautiful things in my life… but this grace was there all along; Something huge doesn’t have to happen and hearts don’t have to break.”
What other great graduation speeches of 2019 did you find inspiring?