6 Meaningful, Moving and Memorable Graduation Speeches

With graduation season underway, commencement speakers are giving students one last lesson before entering the work force. The most effective speakers share their own life experiences and offer the graduates and their families 15 minutes of uplifting, often humorous and personal observations about what it takes to succeed in life.

Toastmasters International, which has helped millions of people learn to speak with confidence and poise in front of audiences, shared 6 speeches with me, as among some of the most memorable commencement speeches.

  • As he was facing his battle with cancer, Apple founder Steve Jobs reminded Stanford’s graduating class of 2005 to follow their hearts. “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

 

  • Speaking at Harvard in 2008, famous author J.K. Rowling relayed her experiences of failure and encouraged graduates to pursue their goals. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.”

 

  • When educator Erin Gruwell, founder of Freedom Writers Foundation, gave her commencement speech to the University of California, Irvine School of Humanities in 2012, she addressed the anxiety of embarking on a new journey. “Each and every one of you get to rewrite your own ending. Some of you knew from the womb what you were going to do. And some of you are sitting there right now, thinking ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do starting tomorrow?’ I was that person. I’m still that person.”

 

  • While speaking at Knox College in 2013, actor and comedian Ed Helms advised the graduates to embrace taking risks. “So long as your desire to explore is greater than your desire to not screw up, you’re on the right track. A life oriented toward discovery is infinitely more rewarding than a life oriented toward not blowing it.”

 

  • Returning to Harvard, her alma mater in 2014, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg addressed the issue of gender inequality. “The first time I spoke out about what it was like to be a woman in the workforce was less than five years ago. That means that for 18 years, from where you sit to where I stand, my silence implied that everything was OK. You can do better than I did, and I mean that so sincerely.”

 

  • While speaking at Maharishi University of Management in 2014, actor Jim Carrey urged the graduating class to not let a fear of the unknown cause them to settle. “So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it.”

 

Reprinted with permission by Toastmasters International. 

Showing 2 comments
  • Bill hawthorn

    “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
    Great quote and great article

    • Suzannah Baum

      Thanks for your comments, Bill!

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