21 Totally Awesome Commencement Speech Quotes

Here’s the thing about commencement speeches: a college will get some luminary from stage, screen, publishing or education and ask him or her to throw on a robe and a mortarboard and to give the graduates an uplifting and inspirational speech. This does not always go according to plan. Sometimes the speeches are dull, sometimes they are dramatic, but every now and then they are awesome, and truly do inspire. The ones in the “awesome” category stand the test of time and aren’t just inspirational to those young adults about to go out and conquer the world; they are inspirational for us all.

In honor of all those who have just graduated, are graduating, and really, all of us, here are 21 totally inspiring, amusing, and, yes, awesome quotes from past commencement speeches.

  • 21 Awesome and Inspirational Commencement Speeches 1 of 22
  • Steve Jobs 2 of 22

    Steve Jobs: Stanford University, 2005

    "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

    And quite the remarkable life he led indeed.



    You can watch his speech right here.

  • Ellen DeGeneres 3 of 22

    Ellen DeGeneres: Tulane University, 2009

    "The definition of success changes. Success is to live your life with integrity and not give in to peer pressure to be something you're not. Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else's path; unless you're you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path, then by all means, you should follow that."

    Ellen has lived by her advice, especially when she is lost in the woods.

    You can check out her speech here.


  • Jon Bon Jovi 4 of 22

    Jon Bon Jovi: Monmouth University, 2001

    "Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate. The world doesn't need any more gray. On the other hand, we can't get enough color. Mediocrity is nobody's goal and perfection shouldn't be either. We'll never be perfect. But remember these three P's: Passion + Persistence = Possibility."

    The three P's worked for this Jersey boy!

    You can read his entire speech here.

  • Stephen Colbert 5 of 22

    Stephen Colbert, University of Virginia, 2013

    "You may learn sooner than most generations the hard lesson that you must always make the path for yourself...There is no secret society out there that will tap you on your shoulder one night and show you the way."

    So true, but don't you wish there was?


    You can watch his speech right here.


  • Joss Whedon 6 of 22

    Joss Whedon, Wesleyan University, 2013

    Director Joss Whedon started his speech saying, "you are all going to die." But it got a bit more upbeat. "Don't just be yourself. Be all of yourself. 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."



    You can check out his speech here.

  • Eric Idle 7 of 22

    Eric Idle, Whitman College, 2013

    Monty Python star Eric Idle was very blunt in his speech, "Life has a very simple plot: First you're here and then you're not."

    Yup, that's a fact.

    You can check out his speech here.

  • Neil Gaiman 8 of 22

    Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts in Philadelphia, 2012

    Author Neil Gaiman said in his speech, "And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art."

    A perfect message for graduating art students.

    You can see his speech right here.


  • Aaron Sorkin 9 of 22

    Aaron Sorkin,Syracuse University, 2012

    Television creator Aaron Sorkin added, ""Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt."

    Very true.

    You can watch his speech here.



  • Ira Glass 10 of 22

    Ira Glass, Goucher College, 2012

    The This American Life host added, "Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while and look at people's faces." A message kids for sure need to hear.

    You can watch his speech here.

  • Conan O’Brien 11 of 22

    Conan O'Brien, Darmouth College, 2011

    Late night host Conan O'Brien had some hilarious things to say during his speech, and he ended it on a high note. "And finally, wearing colorful Converse high-tops beneath your graduation robe is a great way to tell your classmates that this is just the first of many horrible decisions you plan to make with your life."

    You can watch his speech here.


  • Arianna Huffington 12 of 22

    Arianna Huffington, Sarah Lawrence College, 2011

    The Huffington Post head honcho had a very "turn lemons into lemonade" type message. Which we, of course, love.

    You can watch her speech here.

  • Meryl Streep 13 of 22

    Meryl Streep, Barnard, 2010

    Meryl Streep can act. She can win Oscars. And apparently she can give a great speech.

    You can see her speech here.

  • Lisa Kudrow 14 of 22

    Lisa Kurdrow, Vassar, 2010

    This Friends star, gave some great advice...on how to keep out of prison.

    You can check out her speech here.

  • Katie Couric 15 of 22

    Katie Couric, Williams College, 2007

    Katie with some very wise words on how no one and nothing is perfect.

  • Alan Alda 16 of 22

    Alan Alda, Connecticut College, 1980

    Beloved actor Alan Alda spoke of being brave, something we all should do. You can read more of his speech right here.

  • Rachel Maddow 17 of 22

    Rachel Maddow, Smith College, 2010

    The MSNBC host basically wants everyone to go out and do cool stuff. Awesome.

    You can check out the video of her speech here.

  • David McCullough Jr. 18 of 22

    David McCullough Jr., Wellesley High School, 2012

    High school teacher David McCullough Jr., made news for his "you're not special" speech.

    "I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don't bother with work you don't believe in any more than you would a spouse you're not crazy about… Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer."

    You can see the speech here.

  • Jerry Zucker 19 of 22

    Jerry Zucker, University of Wisconsin,  2003

    The director gave a moving speech, with the big message saying, don't sit around waiting.

  • David Foster Wallace 20 of 22
  • New Item 20 21 of 22

    Winston Churchill, Harrow School, 1941

    "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense."

    Winston Churchill gave a very strong worded speech to the graduates. You can check out the whole speech here.
  • Maria Shriver 22 of 22

    Maria Shriver: USC Annenberg School of Communication, 2012

    "I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember—The Power of the Pause. Pausing allows you to take a beat—to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite. Remember to pause and reflect."

    This is something we should ALL remember to do.



    You can see her speech here.


Photo Source: PR Photos

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