Make It New Grads

Graduation speeches by Steve Jobs and J.K. Rowling are the most spectacular, say experts

Steve Jobs
Photo by Justin Sullivan

Commencement speeches are meant to impart useful, inspiring wisdom to hundreds or thousands of graduates making the transition from school to the professional world. And every year, super successful people speak at colleges across the country.

This year, graduates can look forward to hearing from some of the best and the brightest, including Mark Zuckerberg, Hillary Clinton and Tim Cook.

But according to international communication organization Toastmasters International, some speakers do it better than others.

There is no reason not to follow your heart.
Steve Jobs
co-founder and CEO, Apple

A graduation speech should last about 15 minutes, according to Toastmasters. It should be funny at times and the speaker should share personal stories. The speech should leave graduates with advice on how to be successful.

So which famous figures have given the best speeches? Toastmasters highlighted the following six as the most memorable. Here are some of the best quotes from each speech.

Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple
Stanford, 2005
"[A]void the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

J.K. Rowling, author of the bestselling Harry Potter series
Harvard, 2008
"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default."

Erin Gruwell, founder of Freedom Writers Foundation
University of California, Irvine School of Humanities, 2012
"Each and every one of you get to rewrite your own ending. Some of you knew from the womb what you were going to do. And some of you are sitting there right now, thinking 'Oh my God, what am I going to do starting tomorrow?' I was that person. I'm still that person."

Ed Helms, actor and comedian
Knox College, 2013
"So long as your desire to explore is greater than your desire to not screw up, you're on the right track. A life oriented toward discovery is infinitely more rewarding than a life oriented toward not blowing it."

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
Harvard, 2014
"The first time I spoke out about what it was like to be a woman in the workforce was less than five years ago. That means that for 18 years, from where you sit to where I stand, my silence implied that everything was OK. You can do better than I did, and I mean that so sincerely."

Jim Carrey, actor and comedian
Maharishi University of Management, 2014
"[Decisions] are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I'm saying, I'm the proof that you can ask the universe for it — please!"

The lessons from Bill Gates’ Harvard address Mark Zuckerberg should steal
The lessons from Bill Gates’ Harvard address Mark Zuckerberg should steal