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10 graduation speeches that got it right

With so many students graduating from universities this month, at both the graduate and undergraduate level, a new generation of movers and shakers are ready to take on the world. This also means that commencement speech season is upon us! There is a long list of incredibly accomplished politicians, scientists, philanthropists, actors, entrepreneurs and so on giving amazing life advice to recent grads.

Here is a roundup of some of my favorite inspiring quotes and moments so far for all of you global citizens out there:  

1. Shiza Shahid - Social Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of the Malala Fund - Northwestern University in Qatar  

Shiza Shahid .jpgImage: Community Table

Making the world a better place through social entrepreneurship was a key message at Northwestern University in Qatar’s graduation ceremony. Keynote speaker Shiza Shahid encouraged students to take risks when facing challenges, saying “The truth is there are no superheroes, there’s just us.” 

2. Michelle Obama - First Lady of the United States of America - Tuskegee University  

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If you rise above the noise and the pressures that surround you, if you stay true to who you are and where you come from, if you have faith.. then you will keep fulfilling your duty to people all across this country." 

3. Bill Nye the Science Guy - Scientist and Climate Change Activist - Rutgers University  

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Bill Nye got real with Rutgers students about the importance of mitigating climate change: “We are now deep in the most serious environmental crisis in human history. The oncoming trouble is climate change. It is going to affect you all in the same way the Second World War consumed people of my parents’ generation. They rose to the challenge and so will you.’’

4. Matthew McConaughey - American Actor - University of Houston 

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“The sooner we become LESS IMPRESSED — with our life, our accomplishments, our career, the prospect in front of us. As soon as we become LESS IMPRESSED — and MORE INVOLVED with these things, the sooner we get a whole lot better at doing them."

5. Stephen Colbert - Political News Satirist - Wake Forest University 

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Speaking about his own transitions and similarities to what Wake Forest graduates must be feeling, Colbert said, "I just spent many years learning how to do one thing really well. I got so comfortable with that place, that role, those responsibilities that it came to define how I saw myself. But now that part of my life is over. It's time to say goodbye to the person we've become, we've worked so hard to perfect, and to make some crucial decisions in becoming who we're going to be.” 

6. Neil deGrasse Tyson - Astrophysicist - University of Massachusetts Amherst 

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"I think on some level, role models are overrated. Growing up in the Bronx, had I required, as a prerequisite, that another black man from the Bronx had become an astrophysicist for me to become one, I'd still be in the Bronx." Instead, NDT suggested that students create role models a la carte, putting together pieces from many different inspiring people to form your own identity instead of looking for one idol to trace the path. 

7. Dr. Paul Farmer - Humanitarian - Duke University 

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Dr. Farmer encouraged graduates to serve their communities and to make an impact on the world. He advised them to use their “knowledge, empathy and patience” to solve issues like poverty and to correct social ills. 

8. Colin Powell - Retired General & Former Secretary of State - Rice University 

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“My young friends, go through life being totally selfless, always helping others. If you do that, if you act selfless and people can see that’s all that drives you, that will take you to the top. It’s the selfish ones who look good at the moment but will fail.” 

9. Maya Rudolph - American Actress and Comedian - Tulane University 

In addition to a Beyonce rendition of the National Anthem and a hilarious Oprah impersonation, Maya Rudolph talked to Tulane students about the importance of a rule in improvisation known as "Yes And." She explained, "the term YES AND: to say yes, and not just yes, but to add information. In the adding of information you don't negate the other persons idea - but you build on it. So if I must give you any advice it would be Say Yes. Say Yes, And.. and create your own destiny."

10.   Madeleine Albright- Former US Secretary of State- Tufts University 

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“To succeed, you will require the kind of knowledge that extends way beyond mere facts to knowledge of self..from this day forward, you will have to rely not on grades or guidance from professors to tell you how you’re doing and where you stand. You will have to rely, instead, on an inner compass; whether that compass is true will determine whether you become a drifter who is blown about by every breeze; or a doer, an active citizen determined to chart your own course, question your assumptions, and, when necessary, sail unafraid against strong winds.

When I tell you that the world needs you, I really, really do mean it. For we are living in a time that is more unsettled, more complicated, and more in need of a new generation of leaders than any that I can recall.” 


Congrats to all of the graduates out there!! The world is ready for you to make a difference!