Top 10 Commencement Speeches
These are truly inspirational graduation speeches worth reading from the beginning to the end. It is not easy to select just ten speeches. Truth be told, I love each and every commencement address I collected on this site. I believe you can’t go wrong with any of these graduation speeches.
If you need help, my article How to Write a Graduation Speech takes an in-depth look at commencement speeches topics and it is the best available guide to learn how to write an outstanding commencement address.
1. Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple Inc.
Commencement Address at Stanford University, 2005
2. David Foster Wallace, Author
Commencement Address at Kenyon Collge 2005
Is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (which may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.
Commencement Address at University of Texas Austin, 2014
If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
4. J.K.Rowling, Author
Commencement Speech Harvard University, 2008
I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
5. David McCullough Jr., High School Teacher
Commencement Address at Wellesley High School, 2012
The great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.
6. Jennifer Lee, Director (Frozen animated film)
Graduation Speech at University of New Hampshire, 2014
When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better, because you don’t have your defenses up, you can accept the criticism. You don’t become so preoccupied with that failure that you forget how to learn from it, you forget how to grow. When you believe in yourself, you succeed better. Hours spent questioning, doubting, fearing, can be given over to working, exploring, living .
7. Ellen DeGeneres, Comedian
Commencement Address at Tulane University, 2009
Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.
8. Bradley Whitford, Actor
Commencement Address at University of Wisconsin, 2004
Take action. Every story you’ve ever connected with, every leader you’ve ever admired, every puny little thing that you’ve ever accomplished is the result of taking action. You have a choice. You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life.
9. George Saunders, Author
Commencement Address at Syracuse University, 2013
Err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
10. Jim Carrey, Actor
Graduation Speech at Maharishi University of Management, 2014
Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.
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.
MORE BEST GRADUATION SPEECHES
Here are more of the best graduation speeches, out of the more than 200 commencement speeches I collected so far.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, right here, right now, in this single, solitary, monumental moment in your life– is to decide, without apology, to commit to the journey, and not to the outcome.
Graduation Speech at Juilliard School, 2014
Ease up on yourselves. Have some compassion for yourself as well as for others. There’s no such thing as perfection, and life is not a race.
Graduation Speech at Durham Academy, 2005
As I get older, the only thing that speeds up is time. But as much as it’s true that time is a thief, time also leaves something in exchange. With time comes experience – and however uncertain you may be about the rest of the world, at least about your own work you will be sure.
Commencement Address at Connecticut College, 1980
You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is arrogance and pride. Failure can lead to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.
Commencement Address at Darmouth College, 2015
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.
Graduation Speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, 2012
Respect people with less power then you. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.
Commencement Address at University of Western Australia, 2013
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.
Commencement Address at Knox College, 2013
It doesn’t matter that your dream came true if you spent your whole life sleeping. So get out there and go for it, but don’t be caught waiting. It’s great to plan for your future. Just don’t live there, because really nothing ever happens in the future. Whatever happens happens now, so live your life where the action is — now.