10 Inspiring Graduation Speeches From Very Smart and Successful People

With commencement in the rearview, we recall some very inspiring graduation speeches that were given by some very smart and very successful people, such as Stephen Colbert, who dropped the word 'brothel' into his commencement speech.

With commencement in the rearview, we recall some very inspiring graduation speeches that were given by some very smart and very successful people, such as Stephen Colbert, who dropped the word ‘brothel’ into his commencement speech.

With the higher education commencement season in the rearview mirror, college graduates are entering the world with the inspiring words of ceremony speakers still fresh in their minds. The words spoken by these highly successful people are meant to motivate young charges into action in the great world beyond the sheltered halls of academia.

At very-old colleges and universities, there have been hundreds of speakers dating back to the institutions’ founding. Without time or space to go back through the best graduation speeches of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, here are the most inspiring commencement addresses since the dawn of the new millennium in 2000.


At Stanford University in 2005, the man who helped change the world — twice — through the personal computer and then the iPhone, talked about how truly limited our time is and how therefore we must take advantage of every second. The Apple cofounder has since passed away, but his words continue to inspire.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”


At his alma mater William & Mary in 2004 Stewart — in college, Leibowitz — was funny, irreverent and instructive on how life really begins after college.

“College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success.”


At the University of Texas in 2014, McRaven urged fellow Longhorns to go out and change the world. He advised they should never give up by describing the harsh training he struggled through to become a Navy SEAL.

“In SEAL training there is … a brass bell. All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. … If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”


The fearless New Orleans native built a successful career with humor, and her speech at Tulane University in 2009 was both funny and heartfelt as she touched on the power of staying true to individuality.

“For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity, and not to give into peer pressure … to live your life as an honest and compassionate person.”


In 2004, the Irish rock star and global activist told University of Pennsylvania graduates that the future is not fixed, it is malleable, and they can alter the world if they try.

“Every era has its defining struggle and the fate of Africa is one of ours. It’s a proving ground … for the idea of equality. But whether it’s this or something else, I hope you’ll pick a fight and get in it.”


The former Harvard dropout began his speech in 2007 by joking that he finally returned to earn his degree and can now put it on his resume. One of the most brilliant, wealthiest men on the planet certainly didn’t need a piece of paper to become a success, but he advised the graduates that with great ability comes great responsibility.

“I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue – a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. … Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists.”


The Google cofounder told University of Michigan graduates in 2009 to follow their dreams and think big, as he did when he thought up Google — in a dream.

“I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. … The best people want to work the big challenges.”


The Huffington Post founder spoke to graduates of Sarah Lawrence College in 2011 about the power of fearlessness and not letting rejection discourage them.

“In life, the things that go wrong are often the very things that lead to other things going right. … A key component of wisdom is fearlessness, which is not the absence of fear, but rather not letting our fears get in the way.”


In 2011, this funnyman and former host of “The Colbert Report” told graduates of his alma mater Northwestern University that the power of service to others is perhaps the best of human contributions, before returning to what made him famous, being funny.

“I’d like to apologize for being predictable. The New York Times has analyzed the hundreds of commencement speeches given so far in 2011, and found that ‘love,’ and  ‘service’ were two of the most used words. I can only hope that because of my speech today, the word ‘brothel’ comes in a close third.”


The comedian told graduates at University of California, San Diego in 2013 that a sense of humor can be a special skill that will serve them well throughout life.

“(It is) a life preserver in what could definitely be a veil of tears. Relish it. Cultivate it. It will keep you sane in the midst of the madness you will encounter nearly every day of your life. It is vital to your existence.”

Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.

One Comment

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.