Like many people, I spend time online searching for inspiration and advice sometimes. Pinterest has been known to suck me in for an entire afternoon at times just hopping from great quote to great quote. But, this time of year, when graduation speeches begin to fill the air in auditoriums or outdoor arenas, are probably my favorite time of year. Each time one pops up I wonder, “Do I have the 15 or so minutes to devote to this?” and I am pleasantly surprised when I find the time and push play on something that comes highly recommended.
To close our our month of meaningful messages and commencement speeches, I am sharing some of the best speeches I have had the pleasure of hearing. Sending off our graduates with inspiring words is always the goal, but you’ll notice that many of these speakers admit that they can’t remember who spoke or what was said at their own graduations. At first glance, this can seem disheartening. But then I remember that we hear what we need when we need it. Sometimes, it’s not the graduate truly hearing those words. It’s the parents or support group for a child walking across the stage. Sometimes, it’s for those of us educators who sit there to celebrate the achievements of our students. Yet, hopefully, and I am full of hope at all of these, they are for those of us who simply were ready to hear the words.
Jay Bilas, an ESPN broadcaster, begins the Queens University of Charlotte undergraduate commencement speech by capturing the attention of the graduates by using a quote from his favorite urban philosopher, a rapper named Young Jeezy. I love that he does this because now he knows that they’re listening (a favorite tactic of some excellent educators I know!). However, he goes on to talk about choices we make and how that affects us in life.
A memorable quote from this speech:
“Don’t fear failure in your career. Fear failure with your family. When it comes to your family I don’t have time is not a good enough excuse. Make time. You won’t regret it. If you don’t make time, that you will regret.”
Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University is epic. He tells 3 stories from his life and begins by reminding these students that he neither finished nor did he graduate college. After dropping out and worrying about wasting the money his parents were spending on college, Steve began taking a calligraphy class. Don’t miss his three main points in this speech: connecting the dots, love and loss, and death. They are powerful life lessons.
Sandra Bullock gave a surprise commencement speech in New Orleans recently. She gave practical advice that comes from how she parents her son and my favorite is the third thing she shares about how they start their mornings. Every day, she begins by playing music really loudly and dancing. “You have to dance a little bit every morning before you step out in the world because it changes the way you walk out in the world.”
William McRaven, a U.S. Navy Admiral, gave one of the best speeches I have ever heard and he does it in a way that belies his life experience, vastly different from my own, but that makes me relate to him. He tells the graduates to make their beds every day. Just watch this one because he weaves a story well and will make you want to make your bed.
These are just a few of my favorites and some others include writers such as Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling (linked here for your ease!) that remind us of taking failure and turning it into something wonderful. Do you have any favorites?