6 Inspiring Commencement Speeches
Whether you’re a student walking across the graduation stage for a diploma or someone bravely starting a new chapter in life, these commencement speech excerpts deliver the motivation to keep pushing forward.
Stanford University, 2005
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going [after being fired from Apple] was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
Harvard University, 2000
“What I wish for all of you—the bad as well as the good. Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be. And remember that the story is never over…. I will go now to make bigger mistakes and to embarrass this fine institution even more.”
To view part two: Conan O’Brien’s Speech to the Harvard Class of 2000 (Pt 2)
University of Pennsylvania, 2004
“The world is more malleable than you think, and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape. Now if I were a folksinger, I’d immediately launch into “If I Had a Hammer” right now, get you all singing and swaying. But as I say I come from punk rock, so I’d rather have the bloody hammer right here in my fist. That’s what this degree of yours is, a blunt instrument. So go forth and build something with it…. This is the time for bold measures. This is the country, and you are the generation.”
Harvard Business School, 2013
“Look for opportunities; look for growth; look for impact; look for mission. Move sideways; move down; move on; move off. Build your skills, not your résumé. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job. Don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb. If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career.”
Stanford University, 2008
“What I’ve found is that difficulties come when you don’t pay attention to life’s whisper, because life always whispers to you first. And if you ignore the whisper, sooner or later you’ll get a scream. Whatever you resist persists. But if you ask the right question—not why is this happening, but what is this here to teach me—it puts you in the place and space to get the lesson you need.”
Tulane University, 2009
“As you grow, you’ll realize the definition of success changes. For many of you today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and not to give in to peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not, to live your life as an honest and compassionate person, to contribute in some way. So to conclude my conclusion, follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that.”
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.