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GREAT LEADERS

14 Inspiring Quotes About Graduations and Opportunity

Nobody has better advice for today's graduates than the true entrepreneurs among us--those who seize opportunities and make great things happen. Here are 14 of the most inspiring things they've shared at commencement ceremonies since the dawn of the century.
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The best, most inspiring advice you can give anyone graduating this year is to become an entrepreneur in his or her own life. That's because the true definition of entrepreneurship has to do with the pursuit of opportunity, as opposed to simply running a business.

For the class of 2014, therefore, and for everyone facing the excitement of a new beginning this spring, here are 14 of the most inspiring quotes from graduation and commencement speeches in the 21st Century (with a special focus on the advice offered by successful entrepreneurs).

1. "People talk about getting lucky breaks in their careers. I'm living proof that the 'lucky breaks' theory is simply wrong. You get to make your own luck. ... The world is run by those who show up...not those who wait to be asked." --Steve Blank, Philadelphia University, 2011

2. "What I want to talk to you about today is the difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy--they're given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you're not careful, and if you do, it'll probably be to the detriment of your choices." --Jeff Bezos, Princeton, 2010

3. "It doesn't matter how far you might rise. At some point you are bound to stumble. ... If you're constantly pushing yourself higher ... the law of averages, not to mention the Myth of Icarus, predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction." --Oprah Winfrey, Harvard 2013

4. "I often hear from new graduates that it's better to wait until you have more experience ... [b]ut I'm a big believer in the power of inexperience. It was the greatest asset I had when I started TFA. If I had known at the outset how hard it was going to be, I might never have started. The world needs you before you stop asking naïve questions and while you have the time to understand the true nature of the complex problems we face and take them on." --Wendy Kopp, Boston University, 2013

5. "They said, we have education, but what about jobs? So I started telling them, you should be taking a pledge, and the pledge should be: 'I'm not a job seeker; I'm a job giver.' Prepare yourself to be a job giver." --Muhammad Yunus, Duke University, 2010

6."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." --Charlie Munger, University of California Law School, 2007

7. "A lot of the time the experts, the people who are supposed to be able to tell you what to do, will tell you that you can't do something even when you know you can. And a lot of the time it's your friends ... who tell you you can do it." --Mark Zuckerberg, Belle Haven Elementary School (yes, really), 2011

8. "You should also know that there are external forces out there that are holding you back from really owning your success.  ... I've experienced this firsthand.  When I first joined Facebook, there was a well-read blog out in the Valley that devoted some incredibly serious pixels to trashing me.  ... [I]n the end, my best and only response was just to do my job and do it well.  When Facebook's performance improved, the trash talk went away." --Sheryl Sandberg, Barnard College, 2011

9. "I wish I could tell you the secret to being forever young, but no one's figured that out yet. But if you see the glass half full, simplify your life, and give yourself to a worthy cause, you will be forever happy." --Bert Jacobs, University of New Hampshire, 2010

10. "As you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own." --Michael Dell, CEO, Dell Computers, University of Texas at Austin, 2003

11. "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." --Bill Gates, Harvard, 2007

12.   "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? ... [T]he world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape." --Bono, University of Pennsylvania, 2004

13. "If you believe in what you're saying, if you believe in what you're doing, you'll be more effective, more passionate and more authentic in everything you do." --Seth Goldman, American University, 2010

14. "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." --Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: May 5, 2014

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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