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Pearls of Wisdom

A generation or two from now, when members from the Class of 2020 have teenaged children of their own, the question will be asked, “What was your graduation ceremony like?” And the reply will be, “Well, Covid, that’s an interesting story…” But although the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on our graduation celebrations, the accomplishments of our graduates are no less impressive or meaningful. And now these young men and women are ready to take the next exciting step in their life journey. We’ve collected some snippets from notable graduation commencement speeches from the past. These are great words to live by!


“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point you are bound to stumble because if you’re constantly doing what we do, raising the bar. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, higher the law of averages not to mention the Myth of Icarus predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do I want you to know this, remember this: there is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” – Oprah Winfrey, 2013

“For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and not to give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not, to live your life as an honest and compassionate person, to contribute in some way.” – Ellen DeGeneres, 2009

“To those of you graduates sitting out there who have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to do with your life, congratulations. For many of you who maybe don’t have it all figured out, it’s okay. That’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result. Trust your gut, keep throwing darts at the dartboard. Don’t listen to the critics and you will figure it out.” – Will Ferrell, 2017

“You guys are all at the start of your story, of your film. And you guys are finishing up act one of your film and your story. Just asking you guys an open ended question: what is your Act 2? Everyone here has a different timeline. Everyone here has a unique story. Figure out what your Act 2 is and embrace the change, embrace the twists and the unexpected turns. There will be good and there will be bad, but embrace that, because you never know what happens.” – Ken Jeong, 2019

“Remember this, nothing worth doing ever, ever, ever came easy. Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage to do what is right. And they know what is right, but they don’t have the courage or the guts or the stamina to take it and to do it. It’s called the road less traveled.” – President Donald Trump, 2017

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers.” – Steve Jobs, 2005
“You can’t control if your boss will like you or not, but you can control if your boss respects you or not. And how can you do that? By being the first one to work and the last one to leave.” – Earvin “Magic” Johnson, 2010

“Every remedial chore, every boss who takes credit for your idea — that is going to happen — look for the lessons because the lessons are always there. And the number one lesson I could offer you where your work is concerned is this: Become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.” – Oprah Winfrey, 2018

“Of course, any standards worth having will be a challenge to meet. And most of the time, you will fall short. But what is nice about having your own set of standards is that from now on, you fill out your own report card. So do yourself a favor: Be an easy grader. Score yourself on a curve. Give yourself extra credit. You have the power. You are your own professor now.” – Stephen Colbert, 2015

“Today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.” – Conan O’Brien, 2011

“Everyone you’ll ever meet knows something you don’t. Everyone. Farmers know things about plants that most of us, even botanists, never will. Bricklayers have an intimate knowledge of what it takes to lay bricks. Cooks know how to use copper bowls to control egg proteins, and that’s cool. Respect that knowledge and learn from others. It will bring out the best in them, and it will bring out the best in you.” – Bill Nye, 2019

“But we cannot expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question someone’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism.” – President Barack Obama, 201o

“Every ball that comes to me is a decision. Do I slice it, do I hit cross-court, do I hit topspin, do I hit sidespin, do I lob? What do I do? But I have to accept responsibility for that. And that’s where sports teaches us to put it on the line, so to speak, and live it. And here remember one thing. It’s everyone’s responsibility to lead, to honor, and to fight, for everyone’s basic rights, for equality.” – Billie Jean King, 2000

“When you listen as fiercely as you want to be heard, when you respect the idea that you are sharing the Earth with other humans, and when you lead with your nice foot forward, you will win, every time. It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but it comes back to you when you need it. We live in an age of instant gratification, of immediate likes, and it is uncomfortable to have to wait to see the dividends of your kindness, but I promise you it will appear exactly when you need it.” – Kristen Bell, 2019

“Now is the time to consider all the infinite possibilities with introspection, deliberation and thoughtfulness. Visualize the road ahead. Think about what excites you, what really gets your engine going. Engage in some real soul searching. Take a good, hard look at your strengths and weaknesses. A fulfilling professional life can be found at the intersection of what you love and what you’re good at. And when you think you’ve discovered it, go at it full throttle.” – Katie Couric, 2015

“Fall forward. This is what I mean: Reggie Jackson struck out 2,600 times in his career, the most in the history of baseball. But you don’t hear about the strikeouts. People remember the home runs. Fall forward. Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments. Did you know that? I didn’t know that because the 1,001st was the light bulb. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.” – Denzel Washington, 2011

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