12 Powerful Quotes From Inspiring Commencement Speeches

UPDATED: May 23, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 4, 2018

On graduation day, you experience a lot of emotions: Pride because you’ve finally made it. Fear because you don’t know what’s next. And everything in between.

Except you don’t have to be wearing a cap and gown to feel these things. If anything is true in this world, it’s that nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re all just figuring it out as we go.

So when somebody successful is willing to share their advice, you take it and you run with it and you do everything humanly possible to make your own mark with it.

Here are some of our favorite quotes from some of the most inspirational commencement speeches by some of the most inspirational people to help you get started:

12 Powerful Quotes From Inspiring Commencement Speeches

1. “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” –J.K. Rowling, Harvard University

2. “To those of you graduates sitting out there who have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to do with your life, congratulations. For many of you who maybe don’t have it all figured out, it’s OK. That’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result. Trust your gut, keep throwing darts at the dartboard. Don’t listen to the critics and you will figure it out.” –Will Ferrell, University of Southern California

12 Powerful Quotes From Inspiring Commencement Speeches

3. “The trick is to listen to your instinct, grab the opportunity when it presents itself and then give it your all. You will stumble and fall, you will experience both disaster and triumph, sometimes in the same day, but it’s really important to remember that like a hangover, neither triumphs nor disasters last forever. They both pass and a new day arrives. Just try to make that new day count.” –Helen Mirren, Tulane University

4. “Be present. I would encourage you with all my heart just to be present. Be present and open to the moment that is unfolding before you. Because, ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future.” –Jessica Lange, Sarah Lawrence College

12 Powerful Quotes From Inspiring Commencement Speeches

5. “You can go slow. Allow your dreams and goals to change, but live an intentional life.” –Kumail Nanjiani, Grinnell College

6. “Sometimes you find out what you are supposed to be doing by doing the things you are not supposed to do.” –Oprah Winfrey, Howard University

12 Powerful Quotes From Inspiring Commencement Speeches

7. “I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.” –Maya Angelou, University of California, Riverside

8. “The most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and to not give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not.” –Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University

12 Powerful Quotes From Inspiring Commencement Speeches

9. “Don’t be afraid of fear. Because it sharpens you, it challenges you, it makes you stronger; and when you run away from fear, you also run away from the opportunity to be your best possible self.” –Ed Helms, Knox College

10. “You will be so many things, and the one thing that I wish I’d known and want to say is, don’t just be yourself. Be all of yourselves. Don’t just live. Be that other thing connected to death. Be life. Live all of your life. Understand it, see it, appreciate it. And have fun.” –Joss Whedon, Wesleyan University

12 Powerful Quotes From Inspiring Commencement Speeches

11. “I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. You’ve got to take risks. You will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose. You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. Never be discouraged. Never look back. Give everything you’ve got. And when you fall throughout life, fall forward.” –Denzel Washington, University of Pennsylvania

12. “But my dear graduates, let me be frank, the best years are very much ahead of you. And they can be whatever you want them to be… As much as you’ve changed during your time here, more change is coming. You’re going to continue to evolve in unforeseen ways. You are full of complexities and wonders that haven’t even begun to surface. Life’s unpredictability will draw these out and what defines you now will be mere shades and hues of a more vibrant you over the next five, 10, 50 years. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more liberating than that, knowing that life will look differently than you think it will.” –Octavia Spencer, Kent State University

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