You’ve undoubtedly heard graduation speech examples with the following themes:
“Follow your dreams/passion”
“Never give up”
“Look inside you”
“It’s the journey not the destination”
“Hard times make you a better person”
“Choose the road less traveled”
“Oh the places you’ll go”
“Think outside the box”
Pick any theme above and you’ll undoubtedly find it in 95% of the graduation speeches ever given. These tired themes turn graduation speeches into 30-minute self-help seminars that audiences forget about 5 seconds after the speaker’s last line.
But there are other messages out there that don’t take the typical tack and end up giving timeless advice that’s actually worth a damn.
Here are my top 5 graduation speech examples that are worth listening to even if you aren’t graduating from college. Each one is just a bit different from the usual commencement fare—and that’s a good thing.
- Neil Gaiman: University of the Arts, 2012
“Make good art.
I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Make it on the good days too.”
- David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College, 2005
“But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.”
- Robert Krulwhich, UC-Berkeley, 2011
“Suppose, instead of waiting for a job offer from the New Yorker, suppose next month, you go to your living room, sit down, and just do what you love to do. If you write, you write. You write a blog. If you shoot, find a friend, someone you know and like, and the two of you write a script. You make something. No one will pay you. No one will care, No one will notice, except of course you and the people you’re doing it with. But then you publish, you put it on line, which these days is totally doable, and then… you do it again.”
- Joss Whedon, Wesleyan, 2013
“This is a good commencement speech because I’m figuring it’s only going to go up from here. It can only get better, so this is good. It can’t get more depressing. You have, in fact, already begun to die. You look great. Don’t get me wrong. And you are youth and beauty. You are at the physical peak. Your bodies have just gotten off the ski slope on the peak of growth, potential, and now comes the black diamond mogul run to the grave. And the weird thing is your body wants to die. On a cellular level, that’s what it wants. And that’s probably not what you want.”
- Amy Poehler, Harvard, 2011
“Even though, as a class, you are smart, you are still allowed to say, “I don’t know.” Just because you are in high demand, you are still allowed to say, “Let me get back to you.” This will come in handy when your parents ask when you plan to move out of their basement and you answer, “I don’t know. Let me get back to you.” Which leads me to my final thought: would it kill you to be nicer to your parents? They have sacrificed so much for you, and all they want you to do is smile and take a picture with your weird cousins. Do that for them. And with less eye-rolling, please. And so, class of 2011, it is time to leave. Oprah has spoken.”
Find a graduation speech example that you like? Want a similar graduation speech or help preparing? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org