People & Inspiration

In Focus: 10 Motivating Grad Commencement Speeches—Famous Folk Address The New Workforce

In Focus: 10 Motivating Grad Commencement Speeches—Famous Folk Address The New Workforce

When it comes to school if you're done, you're done, but only with that chapter. You are now set at the rudder of the huge vessel that is your life, and in moments like this you sometimes need the wisdom of those who have sailed on ahead and have made a big, positive impression on a lot of people and impacted the world. A lot of them, whether you know it or not, have been through and experienced several stages of failure and hardship in their lives and have steered a self-charted course for themselves out of that. Many of them admit to not knowing "exactly" what to do in the actual moment as a next step out of a challenge but the will to just keep going actually got them somewhere.

 

1. Director Steven Spielberg, Harvard University 2016. "But look, if your family’s not always available, there’s backup. Near the end of It’s a Wonderful Life—you remember that movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? Clarence the Angel inscribes a book with this: “No man is a failure who has friends.” And I hope you hang on to the friendships you’ve made here at Harvard. And among your friends, I hope you find someone you want to share your life with. I imagine some of you in this yard may be a tad cynical, but I want to be unapologetically sentimental. I spoke about the importance of intuition and how there’s no greater voice to follow. That is, until you meet the love of your life. And this is what happened when I met and married Kate, and that became the greatest character-defining moment of my life."

 

2. Actor Matthew McConaughey, University of Houston 2015. "The first step that leads to our identity in life is usually NOT 'I know who I am,' but rather 'I know who I AM NOT.' Process of elimination. Defining ourselves by what we are NOT is the first step that leads us to really KNOWING WHO WE ARE. You know that group of friends you hang out with that really don’t bring out your best? They gossip too much, or they’re kind of shady, and they really aren’t gonna be there for you in a pinch? Or how about that bar we keep going to that we always seem to have the worst hangover from? Or that computer screen that keeps giving us an excuse not to get out of the house and engage with the world and get some HUMAN interaction? Or how about that food we keep eating? Tastes so good going down but makes us feel like crap the next week when we feel lethargic and keep putting on weight? Those people, those places, those things? STOP giving them your TIME and ENERGY."

 

3. Author, Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts, Philadelphia. "...when you start out, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick-skinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: Appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back."

 

4. Game of Thrones Actor Peter Dinklage, Bennington College 2012. "I waited a long time out in the world before I gave myself permission to fail. Please don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it. Do it."

 

5. Actor/Comedian Jim Carrey, Maharishi University of Management 2014. "Your job is not to figure out how it’s going to happen for you, but to open the door in your head and when the doors open in real life, just walk through it. Don’t worry if you miss your cue. There will always be another door opening. They keep opening."

 

6. Actor Tom Hanks, Yale College 2011. "Your rising from bed every morning will give fear its chance to grow stronger just as it will afford faith its chance to blossom. You will make the choice to react to one or create the other and because you are smart enough to earn your place on this college day at Yale University you will sense the moment and you will know what to do."

 

7. Actor James Franco, Cornell University 2016. “Find your gang. Life is better when it is in the company of others. If you’re a loner, that’s fine, I was a loner once, too. But you will only get better at whatever it is you do if you have a group of similarly engaged people. They will give you feedback, inspire you, and hopefully do better work than you, and push you to rise to their level.”

 

8. Actor Robert De Niro, NYU Tisch 2015. "Rejection might sting, but my feeling is that it often has very little to do with you. When you’re auditioning or pitching the director or producer or investor might just have something or someone different in mind, that’s just how it is."

 

9. TV Producer/Writer Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal), Dartmouth 2014. "Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change. So, Lesson One, I guess is: Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you're paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn't matter. You don't have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn't have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just... do."

 

10. Actor Denzel Washington, University of Pennsylvania 2011. "I walked out of there to prepare for the next audition, and the next audition, and the next one. I prayed and I prayed, but I continued to fail, and I failed, and I failed. But it didn’t matter. Because you know what? You hang around a barbershop long enough—sooner or later you will get a haircut. You will catch a break. Last year I did a play called Fences on Broadway and I won a Tony Award. And I didn’t have to sing for it, by the way. And here’s the kicker—it was at the Court Theater, the same theater where I failed that first audition 30 years prior. The point is, every graduate here today has the training and the talent to succeed. But do you have guts to fail?  Here’s my second point about failure: If you don’t fail… you’re not even trying."

ALSO READ: In Focus: 5 Things You Didn't Know About Rihanna, Harvard University's Humanitarian Of The Year

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