I’m known among my friends for always sharing uplifting advice and optimistic views. I’ll tag them in inspirational posts on Instagram, force them to check out motivating reads, and ultimately do my best to push my positivity onto them—but my efforts are typically met with laughter. My friends like to reject my optimism, but I am convinced I affect them more than they like to let on. With that being said, it’s fairly easy to tell when something I share with them is extraordinarily powerful. Because that’s when they let the tears fall and their true feelings out.
I was very much looking forward to our college graduation, or more specifically the commencement speeches (of course), and was excited to hopefully share a profound moment with my typically emotionless friends. But unfortunately, my parade was quite literally rained on and we didn’t get to experience what I was hoping. We were instead focused on our sopping caps and gowns and hurried out of the stadium before the speech was even over. So, upon reflection of this wet, gloomy day that was meant to send us on to the rest of our lives, I stand determined to give them, as well as everybody else, some motivation in the form of stimulating commencement speeches. And if these can elicit an emotional response from my heartless friends, I’m convinced they’ll do the same for you. So take a look at the five most inspirational commencement speeches in history (in my humble opinion of course) and tell me they didn’t move you to tears:
1) Naval Admiral William H. McRaven at University of Texas at Austin, 2014
Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, returned to his former university to deliver a heartfelt speech to the 2014 graduating class, which was inspired by all that he learned in the Navy. And what started as the simple advice to make their bed, turned into a moving lesson the graduating students and many others will carry with them for the rest of their lives. He closed out the powerful speech with:
“Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here will indeed have changed the world—for the better.”
2) Steve Jobs at Stanford University, 2005
Steve Jobs was a renowned entrepreneur and inventor, as well as the co-founder of Apple Inc. He joined Stanford University, “one of the finest universities in the world”, as he called it, for their 2005 commencement and gave the graduating students a speech which involved a few narratives and a few pieces of respectable, life-changing advice:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut,
destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference.”
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it.”
3) J.K. Rowling at Harvard University, 2008
J.K. Rowling: the creative mastermind that wrote Harry Potter, which first emerged on a handful of paper scraps. Rowling is looked up to around the world not only for her literary genius, but for using her platform for good. Harvard was happy to have her as an honorary guest and public speaker at their 2008 commencement ceremony.
“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”
“Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”
4) Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University, 2009
Ellen DeGeneres proves time and time again not only to be hilarious but a truly loving individual. She certainly proved this during the commencement speech she gave at Tulane University. What opened with a few light-hearted jokes (of course), became an inspiring speech that was the perfect send-off for the class of 2009.
“It was so important for me to lose everything because I found out what the most important thing is, is to be true to yourself. Ultimately, that’s what’s
gotten me to this place. I don’t live in fear, I’m free; I have no secrets and I know I’ll always be okay, because no matter what, I know who I am.”
“For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and not 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. So to conclude my conclusion, follow your passion, stay true to yourself.”
5) Jim Carrey at Maharishi University of Management, 2014
Jim Carrey is another one of our favorite comedians and actors, so Maharishi University of Management scored big time by getting him to speak at their 2014 commencement ceremony. Like Ellen, he opened his speech with a couple jabs here and there, but ultimately gave the graduating students critical advice that served to “inspire [them] to move forward in life with enthusiastic hearts and a clear sense of wholeness,” according to Carrey.
“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.”
“What’s yours? How will you serve the world? What do they need that your talent can provide? That’s all you have to figure out. As someone who has done what you are about to go do, I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”