The 17 Best Pieces of Advice from Flawless Graduation Speeches
“Never be discouraged. Never look back. And when you fall, fall forward.”
Steve Jobs: Stanford University, 2005
“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 in my life.”
Ellen DeGeneres: Tulane University, 2009
“The definition of success changes. Success is to live your life with integrity and not give in to peer pressure to be something you’re not. Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path; unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, then by all means, you should follow that.”
Denzel Washington: University of Pennsylvania, 2011
“I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. You’ve got to take risks. You will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose. You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. Never be discouraged. Never look back. Give everything you’ve got. And when you fall throughout life, fall forward.”
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Leonard Nimoy: Boston University College of Fine Arts, 2012
“I drove a taxi at night so that I could be available for auditions during the day. One night I picked up Jack Kennedy at the Bel Air Hotel. Yes, that Jack Kennedy. Senator from Massachusetts at the time and future president. We chatted about careers, politics and show business, and we agreed that both had a lot in common. Maybe too much in common. He said, ‘Lots of competition in your business, just like in mine,’ And then he gave me this. ‘Just remember there’s always room for one more good one.’ Words to live by, and I did.”
Shonda Rhimes: Dartmouth, 2014
“You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else.”
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Tim Minchin: University of Western Australia, 2013
“Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you…you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”
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George Saunders: Syracuse University, 2013
“Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality—your soul, if you will—is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.”
Arianna Huffington: Vassar College, 2015
“We have, if we’re lucky, about 30,000 days to play the game of life. And trust me, that’s not morbid. In fact, it’s wisdom that will put all the inevitable failures and rejections and disappointments and heartbreaks into perspective.”
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J.K. Rowling: Harvard University, 2008
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Neil Gaiman: University of the Arts in Philadelphia, 2012
“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to bean author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words—was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”
Joss Whedon: Wesleyan University, 2013
“In a world where debate has kind of fallen away and given way to shouting and bullying, the best thing is not just the idea of honest debate, the best thing is losing the debate, because it means that you learn something and you changed your position. The only way really to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite. That doesn’t mean the crazy guy on the radio who is spewing hate, it means the decent human truths of all the people who feel the need to listen to that guy. You are connected to those people. They’re connected to him. You can’t get away from it.”
Amy Poehler: Harvard University, 2011
“I moved to Chicago in the early 1990s and I studied improvisation there. I learned some rules that I try to apply still today. Listen, say yes, live in the moment, make sure you play with people who have your back, make big choices early and often. Don’t start a scene where two people are talking about jumping out of a plane. Start the scene having already jumped. If you are scared, look into your partner’s eyes. You will feel better…I cannot stress enough that the answer to a lot of your life’s questions is often in someone else’s face.”
Bill Watterson: Kenyon College, 1990
“We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running…letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.”
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Maria Shriver: USC Annenberg School of Communication, 2012
“I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember—The Power of the Pause. Pausing allows you to take a beat—to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite. Remember to pause and reflect.”
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Jon Bon Jovi: Monmouth University, 2001
“Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate. The world doesn’t need any more gray. On the other hand, we can’t get enough color. Mediocrity is nobody’s goal and perfection shouldn’t be either. We’ll never b perfect. But remember these three P’s: Passion + Persistence = Possibility.”
Frank McCourt: Syracuse University, 2007
“Last year in San Francisco a young woman told me she was about to become a teacher, and did I have any advice for her. The only thing I could think of at that moment—I think I knew it all along —was to find what you love, and do it. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re dead. Take out insurance. You’re dead.”
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