From coast to coast, graduation season is coming to a close. Undergrads, graduate students, and honorary PhDs are wrapping up their celebrations of student achievement.

To mark the occasion, universities and colleges invited well-known luminaries to share pearls of wisdom with the graduating classes at convocation ceremonies. These gems are my favorite inspirational and motivational quotes from this year's batch of commencement speeches:

1. Oprah Winfrey: Stand up for the truth.

The Queen of Media, Oprah Winfrey herself, gave the keynote commencement speech at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She called on the students to become an "ambitious army of truth seekers who will arm themselves with the intelligence, the insight, and the facts necessary to strike down deceit." 

Begging the students to stand up for the truth, Oprah articulated that the journalism graduates' job is to challenge opinions while reporting on the facts truthfully:

The truth exonerates and it convicts. It disinfects and it galvanizes. The truth has always been and will always be our shield against corruption, our shield against grief and despair. The truth is our saving grace. You are here to tell it, to write it, to proclaim it, to speak it, and to be it. Be the truth. Be the truth.

2. Michael Keaton: Don't be afraid to take risks.

The Batman of the '80s, Michael Keaton, gave the commencement address at Kent State University. He infamously ended with the declaration "I'm Batman," but what's more powerful is an earlier statement from the 20-minute keynote:

You have to take risks. I am going to ask you to take risks whenever you can. Put yourself on the line. Don't be afraid to look foolish. Make mistakes, take chances. It's one of the best things you can do.

3. Chadwick Boseman: Purpose is more important than job descriptions.

The Black Panther star, who spoke at Howard University, empowered the graduates with:

When you are deciding on next steps, next jobs, next careers, further education, you should rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you.

4. Cynthia Nixon: Never doubt your ability to make a difference.

The actress, more known for her role in Sex in the City than for her campaign to become governor of New York, shared this tidbit with the class of 2018 at the Helene Fuld College of Nursing:

When you stand up with courage, what you can achieve may surprise even you. And that's what I want to share with you here today: Never doubt that you can make a space big enough for yourself in this world.

5. Tim Cook: It's always the right time to do right.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, now long out of Steve Jobs's shadow, spoke this year at Duke University. Cook's message, which included nods to Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr., included a few noteworthy lines of encouragement:

  • "Dare to think different."
  • "In every way, at every turn, the question we ask ourselves is not 'What can we do?' but 'What should we do?'"
  • "The time is always right to do right."

6. Justin Trudeau: Reach out to people different than you are.

Canada's prime minister headed south to speak to the graduating class at New York University. Trudeau focused his keynote on fighting nationalism and divisive politics. He touched on diversity and inclusion and encouraged a rejection of fearmongering. The leader of the northern nation made this request to graduates:

As you go forward from this place, I would like you to make a point of reaching out to people whose beliefs and values differ from your own. I would like you to listen, truly listen, and try to understand them.

7. Sheryl Sandberg: People are more important than technology.

Speaking to the graduating class at MIT, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, urged graduates to remember:

The most difficult problems and the greatest opportunities we have are not technical. They are human. In other words, it's not just about technology. It's about people.

8. Al Gore: Find the will to succeed.

The environmental activist, best-selling author, and former vice president of the United States addressed this year's graduating class at the University of Maryland. His best line combined his love for America with his desire for a better tomorrow:

Your generation has a mission ahead of it. I hope that you will find the will to succeed. In America, the will to succeed is, in fact, a renewable resource.

Published on: Jun 21, 2018
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