Commencement speech

speech given to graduating students

A commencement speech or commencement address is a speech given to graduating students, typically given by a notable figure in the community or famous authors, celebrities, politicians, or other notable people.

President Barack Obama delivers the commencement speech for the U.S. Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., (2012)
Germanna Community College President Janet Gullikson at the school's Winter Commencement (2017)
Cynthia Tyler student speaker at Germanna Community College' Winter Commencement (2017)
Lesley University Commencement (2018)
Cornell commencement (2008)


  • You don't need to be the smartest person to be the most effective. Being effective means not just mastering the facts but – figuring out how to move your agenda forward... Change happens only when you could educate and inspire others. When you could use facts to create faith in what's possible... The easy part will be to write papers for your peers... The harder part, and the one you should think about, is how are you going to explain inconvenient truths to people who may not want to hear them. How are you going to rouse an audience to action?...The measure of a life is not time or money. It’s the impact you make serving God, your family, community, and country. Your report card is whether you leave the world a better place.
  • I’ve watched how, in a blink of an eye, technology went from products used by the very few, to ending up in the pockets of billions, bringing social change and corporate disruption...Only a few generations have been granted the role of determining whether a revolution in communication will allow our better angels – or our darker angels – to win. You leave here with incredible opportunity, but also with immense responsibility. Your brains have been rewired to process all this Net-based information. Your brains are dealing with the world in a different way than humans ever have. That kind of profound shift has occurred only six times in the entire 200,000-year history of Homo Sapiens. And you, here today, are the vanguard of the seventh wave... Will you let darker angels win as you add fire to the flame, or will you seek out and spread real news? The question is whether you'll tell your children that this decade was the beginning of a new dark age, or whether it was the time of something new and wonderful. Light a path for the better angels. The world is counting on you.
  • Now that I have presented some of the bad news, the good news is that there really is a solution. And the solution is each and every one of you. Because you will become the new editorial gatekeepers, an ambitious army of truth seekers who will arm yourselves with the intelligence, with the insight and the facts necessary to strike down deceit. You’re in a position to keep all of those who now disparage real news, you all are the ones that are going to keep those people in check. Why? Because you can push back and you can answer false narratives with real information and you can set the record straight.
  • This moment in time... anywhere you turn people are talking about how bad things are, how terrible it is...everybody is meeting hysteria with more hysteria... and it’s getting worse... We’re not supposed to match it or even get locked into resisting or pushing against it. We’re supposed to see this moment in time for what it is. We’re supposed to see through it and then transcend it. That is how you overcome hysteria... how you overcome the sniping at one another, the trolling, the mean-spirited partisanship on both sides of the aisle, the divisiveness, the injustices, and the out-and-out hatred. You use it. Use this moment to encourage you, to embolden you, and to literally push you into the rising of your life... To borrow a phrase from my beloved mentor Maya Angelou: Just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, you will rise.
    .. I hope that every one of you contributes to the conversation of our culture and our time. And to some genuine communication, which means, you have to connect to people exactly where they are; not where you are, but where they are. And I hope you shake things up.
    And when the time comes to bet on yourself, I hope you double down. Bet on yourself. I hope you always know how happy and how incredibly relieved everybody is in this room is that you’ve made it to this place, at this time, on this gorgeous day. 
  • Today I want to talk about purpose. But I’m not here to give you the standard commencement about finding your purpose. We’re millennials. We’ll try to do that instinctively. Instead, I’m here to tell you finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.
    One of my favorite stories is when John F. Kennedy visited the NASA space center, he saw a janitor carrying a broom and he walked over and asked what he was doing. The janitor responded: “Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
    Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.
  • You’re graduating at a time when this is especially important. When our parents graduated, purpose reliably came from your job, your church, your community. But today, technology and automation are eliminating many jobs. Membership in communities is declining. Many people feel disconnected and depressed, and are trying to fill a void.
    There are people left behind by globalization across the world. It’s hard to care about people in other places if we don’t feel good about our lives here at home. There’s pressure to turn inwards.
    This is the struggle of our time. The forces of freedom, openness and global community against the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism, and nationalism. Forces for the flow of knowledge, trade and immigration against those who would slow them down. This is not a battle of nations, it’s a battle of ideas. There are people in every country for global connection and good people against it...
    Before you walk out those gates one last time, as we sit in front of Memorial Church, I am reminded of a prayer, Mi Shebeirach, that I say whenever I face a challenge, that I sing to my daughter thinking about her future when I tuck her into bed. It goes: ”May the source of strength, who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” I hope you find the courage to make your life a blessing.
  • In many ways, this isn't advice for those graduates getting ready to spend the weekend getting obliterated at parties—this is advice for those of us bitterly hearing it long after the fact. Maybe you're 10, 20, 40 years out of school and you need some shot of inspiration, professionally, creatively, or otherwise—these are the words for you.
    -Ellen DeGeneres...Tulane University....Most inspiring quote: "It was so important for me to lose everything because I found what the most important thing is. The most important thing is to be true to yourself."
    -Kanye West... Los Angeles Trade Technical College... "When you're the absolute best, you get hated on the most."
    -Jane Lynch... Smith College...: "Life is just one, big improvisation."
    -Amy Poehler, School: Harvard University..."Try putting your iPhones down every once in awhile and look at people's faces."
    -Elizabeth Warren... Suffolk University,... "Knowing who you are will help you when it's time to fight. Fight for the job you want, fight for the people who mean the most to you and fight for the kind of world you want to live in. It will help when people say that's impossible or you can't do that. Look,... if you fight for what you believe in, I can promise that you will live a life that is rich with meaning."
    -Stephen Colbert... Northwestern University..."If everybody followed their first dreams in life, the world would be ruled by cowboys and princesses."

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