The 10 Best Graduation Speeches of All Time

Top 10 Graduation Speeches

Ahhhhh, graduation season! That time of year when we take our youngest and brightest and kick them out of the academic nest and into the real world. Before they go forth, flapping and squawking into the world, we usually send in one of our top leaders of business, politics or pop music to offer some words of inspiration and wisdom to guide their flight path – or at least entertain them while they flail. And so, without further ado, here are the 10 Best Graduation Speechs of All Time -- from Will
Photo: Inti St. Clair | Photodisc | Getty Images

Ahhhhh, graduation season! That time of year when we take our youngest and brightest and kick them out of the academic nest and into the real world.

Before they go forth, flapping and squawking into the world, we usually send in one of our top leaders of business, politics or pop music to offer some words of inspiration and wisdom to guide their flight path – or at least entertain them while they flail.

And so, without further ado, here are the 10 Best Graduation Speechs of All Time -- from Will Ferrell to Steve Jobs!

By Cindy Perman
Posted 13 May 2010

Michael Dell, CEO, Dell Computers

University of Texas at Austin (2003)Michael Dell, who founded Dell Computers with $1,000 and the idea to sell computers directly to customers, says there’s not much to learn from success. “As you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own … “[D]on’t spend so much time trying to choose the perfect opportunity, that you miss the right opportunity. Recognize that there will be failures, and acknowledge that there will be obstacle
Source: Marsha Miller | UT Office of Public Affairs

University of Texas at Austin (2003)

Michael Dell, who founded Dell Computers with $1,000 and the idea to sell computers directly to customers, says there’s not much to learn from success.

“As you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own …

“[D]on’t spend so much time trying to choose the perfect opportunity, that you miss the right opportunity. Recognize that there will be failures, and acknowledge that there will be obstacles. But you will learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others, for there is very little learning in success.”

Read The Full Transcript

Will Ferrell, Actor & Comedian

Will Ferrell took the Class of 2003 on a wild verbal ride, touching on everything from the Berlin Wall to that guy voted most likely to eat nachos in his car – and even managed to fire an assistant in the process! “You're about to enter into a world filled with hypocrisy and doublespeak, a world in which your limo to the airport is often a half-hour late. In addition to not even being a limo at all; often times it's a Lincoln Towncar. You're about to enter a world where you ask your new assistan
Source: Getty Images

Harvard (2003)

Will Ferrell took the Class of 2003 on a wild verbal ride, touching on everything from the Berlin Wall to that guy voted most likely to eat nachos in his car – and even managed to fire an assistant in the process!

“You're about to enter into a world filled with hypocrisy and doublespeak, a world in which your limo to the airport is often a half-hour late. In addition to not even being a limo at all; often times it's a Lincoln Towncar. You're about to enter a world where you ask your new assistant, Jamie, to bring you a tall, non-fat latte. And he comes back with a short soy cappuccino. Guess what, Jamie? You're fired. Not too hard to get right, my friend...

“I’m sorry, graduates. But this is a world where you aren't allowed to use your cell phone in airplanes, during live theater, at the movies, at funerals, or even during your own elective surgery. Apparently, the Berlin Wall went back up because we now live in Russia…

“One of you, specifically John Lee, will spend most of your time just hanging out in your car eating nachos. You will all come back from time to time to this beautiful campus for reunions, and ask the question, ‘Does anyone ever know what happened to John Lee?’ At that point, he will invariably pop out from the bushes and yell, ‘Nachos anyone?!’ "

Watch The Commencement Speech
Read The Full Transcript

Bill Gates, CEO, Microsoft

Bill Gates shows just how level the playing field can be: After dropping out of Harvard, he went on to found Microsoft and become one of the wealthiest men in the world. “I’ve been waiting more than 30 years to say this: “Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree. I want to thank Harvard for this honor. I'll be changing my job next year and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume! … “We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more cr
Source: Getty Images

Harvard (2007)

Bill Gates shows just how level the playing field can be: After dropping out of Harvard, he went on to found Microsoft and become one of the wealthiest men in the world.

“I’ve been waiting more than 30 years to say this: “Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree. I want to thank Harvard for this honor. I'll be changing my job next year and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume! …

“We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism – if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities. ...

“You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer.”

Watch The Commencement Speech
Read the full transcript

Bono, Rock Star, U2

Bono has given several commencement speeches at different universities and never fails to delight, from talking about “wearing a mirror-ball suit” the last time he was in this particular arena to admitting to he once slept with an economics professor. Oh, he also has some good advice! ”I saw something in the paper last week about Kermit the Frog giving a commencement address somewhere. One of the students was complaining, ‘I worked my ass off for four years to be addressed by a sock?’ You have w
Source: Getty Images

University of Pennsylvania (2004)

Bono has given several commencement speeches at different universities and never fails to delight, from talking about “wearing a mirror-ball suit” the last time he was in this particular arena to admitting to he once slept with an economics professor. Oh, he also has some good advice!

”I saw something in the paper last week about Kermit the Frog giving a commencement address somewhere. One of the students was complaining, ‘I worked my ass off for four years to be addressed by a sock?’ You have worked your ass off for this. For four years you've been buying, trading, and selling, everything you've got in this marketplace of ideas. The intellectual hustle. Your pockets are full, even if your parents' are empty, and now you've got to figure out what to spend it on. …

”So, my question I suppose is: What's the big idea? What's your big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University of Pennsylvania?

“[M]y point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”

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Stephen Colbert, “The Colbert Report”

Colbert, in his classic dead-pan style, admits that he’s not sure if he graduated from college after four years at Northwestern but then reminds the class of just how successful his is. He also offers some great advice on everything from the real world to getting a job. “I recovered from that slow start. And I was recently named by Time magazine one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World! Yeah! Give it up for me! Basic cable—THE WORLD! I guess I have more fans in Sub-Saharan Africa than
Photo: Getty Images

Knox College (2006)

Colbert, in his classic dead-pan style, admits that he’s not sure if he graduated from college after four years at Northwestern but then reminds the class of just how successful his is. He also offers some great advice on everything from the real world to getting a job.

“I recovered from that slow start. And I was recently named by Time magazine one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World! Yeah! Give it up for me! Basic cable—THE WORLD! I guess I have more fans in Sub-Saharan Africa than I thought. I'm right here on the cover between Katie Couric and Bono. That's my little picture—a sexy little sandwich between those two. …

“They are playing for KEEPS out there, folks. My God, I couldn't wait to get here today just so I could take a breather from the real world. I don't know if they told you what's happened while you've matriculated here for the past four years. The world is waiting for you people with a club. …

“[I]f someone does offer you a job, say ‘yes.’ You can always quit later. Then at least you'll be one of the unemployed as opposed to one of the never-employed. Nothing looks worse on a resume than nothing.”

See The Commencement Speech
Read The Full Transcript

Winston Churchill, Former UK PM

Source: Central Press | Hulton Archive | Getty Images

Harrow (1941)

Winston Churchill, one of the most widely quoted men in the world, never ceases to inspire with his timeless prose.

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. …

“Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.”

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Woody Hayes, Former Football Coach, Ohio State

Woody Hayes, who won three national titles and 13 Big Ten championships in 28 years as head coach at Ohio State, offered some sage advice from the field on toughening up – and facing your worst enemy. “In football we always said that the other team couldn't beat us. We had to be sure that we didn't beat ourselves. And that's what people have to do, too--make sure they don't beat themselves. “... you'll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime. As a matter of fact, I never saw a foo
Source: Ohio State

Ohio State (1986)

Woody Hayes, who won three national titles and 13 Big Ten championships in 28 years as head coach at Ohio State, offered some sage advice from the field on toughening up – and facing your worst enemy.

“In football we always said that the other team couldn't beat us. We had to be sure that we didn't beat ourselves. And that's what people have to do, too--make sure they don't beat themselves.

“... you'll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime. As a matter of fact, I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face. Never.”

Read The Full Transcript

Charlie Munger, VP, Berkshire Hathaway

Warren Buffett’s long-time partner and VP of Berkshire Hathaway shares some insider inspiration on business – and life. “You want to deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end. … “You’re not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave here.”
Photo: Getty Images

University of Southern California Law School (2007)

Warren Buffett’s long-time partner and VP of Berkshire Hathaway shares some insider inspiration on business – and life.

“You want to deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end. …

“You’re not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave here.”

Watch The Commencement SpeechRead The Full Transcript

Mary Schmich, Columnist, Chicago Tribune

Source: Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune (1997)

Perhaps one of the most famous commencement speeches wasn’t a commencement speech at all, but a column by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, titled “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young.” (aka, “The Wear Sunscreen Speech.”) It is often miscredited as having been given by author Kurt Vonnegut.

“Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now. …

“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

“Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”

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Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple

Steve Jobs went there, addressing death in a 2005 speech to Stanford, which was after his 2004 cancer diagnosis. Gradspot.com gave it an award for the “Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone
Source: Jacob Botter

Stanford (2005)

Steve Jobs went there, addressing death in a 2005 speech to Stanford, which was after his 2004 cancer diagnosis. Gradspot.com gave it an award for the “Best Ironically Uplifting Comment About Death.”
“Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary… Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

Watch The Commencement SpeechRead The Full Transcript