Part of the “pomp and circumstance” of graduating is the commencement speech. When all is said and done, that speech is something you are likely to remember forever — either because it is good, or because it is bad. The best commencement speeches are inspiring, giving you encouragement as you prepare to move into the next phase of your life.
There are a number of great commencement speeches out there, many of them delivered by political and cultural luminaries. If you are interested in finding inspiration, garnering valuable insight, and getting ready to face the world, you should consider the following 25 commencement speeches:
- John F. Kennedy: President John F. Kennedy delivered the commencement address at American University in 1963. His remarks on the nature of true peace — and how we can strive to achieve it — are words to last forever.
- George Marshall: This policy maker and big thinker delivered a commencement address at Harvard in 1947. In it, he moved from trite analogies and outlined a plan to rebuild Europe.
- Barbara Pierce Bush: Another example of great American rhetoric, former First Lady Barbara Bush delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College in 1990, speaking on the importance of priorities.
- Winston Churchill: Nearly everyone knows Churchill’s “Never give in” speech. He gave it to Harrow School’s class of 1941. One of the most inspiring speeches of all time.
- Barak Obama: While later commencement speeches included faux paus, President Barak Obama delivered an inspiring speech at Wesleyan in 2008, while he was still running.
- James Carville: This political strategist offered some great remarks, helpful advice, and truly insightful observations during his 2008 commencement speech at Tulane.
- John Boehner: Speaker of the House, John Boehner’s Catholic University of America commencement speech in 2011 was all about faith, patience and humility. An insightful look at what it means to be a true leader, and how you can improve yourself by practicing your spiritual qualities.
- Hillary D. Rodham: Before she became Hillary Rodham Clinton, she was Hillary D. Rodham, delivering the student commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1969. A great speech about finding who you are and standing firm.
A number of business leaders have also delivered commencement speeches. These business leaders know about setbacks, and overcoming some of life’s troubles. You can find plenty of inspiration from these leaders, and some good advice for successful.
- Bill Gates: Success isn’t much more obvious than Bill Gates. And he gave a great commencement address at Harvard.
- Steve Jobs: One of the leading businessmen of our time is Steve Jobs. He gave an inspiring speech about look for opportunities in life’s setbacks at Stanford in 2005.
- Charlie Munger: Investment manager Charlie Munger is the Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, and is a close friend of Warren Buffett’s. This successful businessman had some great words of wisdom during the 2007 USC Law commencement.
- Eric Schmidt: At the University of Pennsylvania, the CEO of Google gave a great commencement address in 2009. Schmidt also spoke at Carnegie Mellon University.
- Jeff Bezos: The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, provided a great commencement address on the difference between choices and gifts. It’s a great speech about the choices we make in life, delivered to the Princeton class of 2010.
- Michael Dell: Business leader Michael Dell offered an inspiring speech about walking the path not well-traveled at the University of Texas at Austin in 2003. A great look at opportunities, and doing your own thing.
- Sheryl Sandberg: Facebook’s COO delivered an upbeat commencement address in 2011 at Barnard. She spoke on the importance of deciding what you want to do, and recognizing the fortunate circumstances of your life. A fun and inspiring speech.
- Biz Stone: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone offered four great lessons in his commencement speech in 2011 at Babson College. One of the great lessons was to fail spectacularly. Learning from your mistakes is an important of success.
Many cultural leaders also make great commencement speakers. Many of them have overcome challenges to get to where they are today. Additionally, many cultural leaders have plenty to say about following your dreams.
- J.K. Rowling: Best-selling author of the Harry Potter series delivered a great commencement speech at Harvard in 2008, talking about how failure can lead to success.
- Bono: Rock star Bono talked about the power of big ideas and change during his U Penn commencement address in 2004. An inspiring speech challenging you with the question: “Why are you here?”
- Stephen Colbert: This commencement speech at Knox College in 2006 featured some funny moments, as well as some great advice about overcoming cynicism and learning to say “yes.”
- Tom Brokaw: Well-known TV anchor and cultural icon, Tom Brokaw, gave a 2006 commencement address at Stanford. His speech was a reminder to strive to leave a legacy, and contribute to society in a meaningful way.
- Conan O’Brien: Class Day 2000 featured Conan O’Brien sharing witty remarks, as well as expounding on the value of failure, and the pitfalls of needing to succeed.
- Oprah Winfrey: This media giant delivered the commencement address at Stanford University in 2006. She spoke about finding happiness and learning success from failures. An inspirational speech.
- Bradley Whitford: Known for his character on The West Wing, Bradley Whitford was known, after his 2004 commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin, as an interesting and inspirational speaker.
- Randy Pausch: One of the most inspiring cultural figures ever is Randy Pausch. And he returned to Carnegie Mellon in 2008 to deliver a truly amazing commencement speech.
- Ellen DeGeneres: Cultural icon and gay rights maven Ellen offered a great and inspirational address at Tulane in 2009, to the “Katrina class.” An awesome and inspirational speech that anyone can learn from.