Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along.

American Comedian and Television Host Stephen Colbert delivered a hilarious and inspiring speech to the Northwestern University’s 2011 graduating class. Colbert spoke about following your bliss, living your truth, and becoming a person of service; after the speech, he got a standing ovation from the graduating students.

Stephen Colbert’s 2011 Northwestern University Commencement Speech Transcript

Good morning. Thank you president schapiro, and my thanks chairman of the board of trustees william osborn and provost dan linzer-

And thank you, parents! (claps) of course, if you don’t thank them now, you’ll have plenty of time to thank them tomorrow when you move back in with them.

And since it’s father’s day weekend, let’s show some special love to all the dads out there. (claps) do something nice for dad today- like before you introduce your boyfriend, ask him to remove his tongue ring.

And thank you to the class of 2011. (clap)

You are what some have called “The greatest generation”. Not many – but some – so far just me. And I’m counting on you to not make me look like an idiot for saying that. So be great -no pressure.

I am humbled to be standing here with today’s other honorary degree recipients. William schabas, human rights champion. Who is here to invistigate northwestern for cruelly allowing you to graduate into this job market. Doctor barbara liskov – the first woman to earn a p-h-d in computer science – I don’t know how she could concentrate surrounded by all those notoriously sexy male programmers – and opera legend jessye norman, though that’s actually kind of a disappointment- I normally start the speeches by singing schubert’s ave maria, but I dont want to steal anybody’s thunder. So I’m not going to do it today.

And like improv, you cannot win your life.

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 (CEO of Amazon) delivered the baccalaureate remarks to the Princeton University graduating class of 2010.

Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.
How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

Err in the direction of kindness.

George Saunders Group 88, professor of English and author of The New York Times best-seller Tenth of December  delivered the following speech at The Syracuse College of Arts and Sciences’ undergraduate convocation ceremony on Saturday, May 11, 2013, in the Carrier Dome. George implored the graduating students to err in the direction of kindness.

Success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it, and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended. 

“We can learn to live without the sick excitement, without the kick of having scores to settle.”

American Writer, Kurt Vonnegut who is most famous for his darkly satirical, bestselling novel Slaughterhouse-Five(1969), delivered a very thought-provoking speech to the 1999 graduating students of Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia. He tried to answers the question that Freud asked, but never could figure out: “What do women want?” For good measure, he also reveals what men really want.

Texas native Matthew McConaughey, an Academy Award-winning actor, delivered a very inspiring and thought-provoking commencement speech to the 2015 graduating students of the University of Houston at TDECU Stadium on Friday, May 15.

Matthew McConaughey’s 2015 University of Houston Commencement Speech Transcript

Can you hear me? Can you hear me? You hear me? Okay. Congratulations class of 2015. You guys and girls, and young men and women are the reason I’m here. I’m really looking forward to talking with you all tonight. You heard my dad played football here and I believe he even graduated from here. That was some extra incentive for me to come. Short and sweet or long and salty? A sugar doughnut or some oatmeal?

Now, out of respect for you and your efforts in getting your degree, I thought long and hard about what I could share with you tonight. Did I want to stand up here at a podium and read you your rights? Did I want to come up here and just share some funny stories. I thought about what you would want, I thought about what you might need. I also thought about what I want to say and what I need to say. Hopefully, we’re both going to be happy on both accounts. As the saying goes, take what you like, leave the rest. Thank you for having me

So before I share with you some what I do knows, I want to talk with you about what I don’t know. I have two older brothers. One was in high school in the early 1970s. And this was a time when a high school GED got you a job, and the college degree was exemplary. My other brother, Pat, was in high school in the early 80s.

And by this time, the GED wasn’t enough to guarantee employment. He needed a college degree. And if you got one, you had a pretty good chance of getting the kind of job that you wanted after you graduated. Me, I graduated high school in 1988. Got my college degree in 1993. And that college degree in ’93 did not mean much. It was not a ticket. It was not a voucher. It was not a free pass go to anything. So I asked the question, what does your college degree mean?

It means you got an education, means you have more knowledge in a specific subject, vocation, means you may have more expertise in “what your degree” is in.

But what is it worth? In the job market? Today?

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

Jim Carrey delivered this commencement speech to the Maharishi University of Management’s class of 2014. The speech is very inspiring yet funny as Jim shares stories from his childhood, following his dream, courage, faith, among other skills needed to get to the top and other limiting behaviors that could lead to self-sabotage such as fear and ego.

As someone who’s done what you’re about to go and do, I can tell you from experience the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. Because everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart.

Jim Carrey’s 2014 Maharishi University of Management Commencement Speech Transcript

“I stopped trying to make my life perfect, and instead tried to make it interesting.”

Drew Houston CEO of Dropbox, 2005 graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a degree in Computer Science where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. It was there that he met Arash Ferdowsi who would later go on to be co-founder and CTO of Dropbox. 

Drew delivered the speech at MIT’s 147th Commencement held June 7, 2013.

If you were to look at my cheat sheet, there wouldn’t be a lot on it. There would be a tennis ball, a circle, and the number 30,000. 

Drew Houston’s 2013 MIT Commencement address Speech

“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there.

You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.” 

John William Gardner was the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) under President Lyndon Johnson. He was recipient of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom and became known as “the father of campaign finance reform”. John delivered the “Personal Renewal” Speech at McKinsey & Company on November 10, 1990. 

Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves.

“Personal Renewal” Speech Transcript

I’m going to talk about “Self-Renewal.” One of your most fundamental tasks is the renewal of the organizations you serve, and that usually includes persuading the top officers to accomplish a certain amount of self-renewal. But to help you think about others is not my primary mission this morning. I want to help you think about yourselves. 

Art Williams delivered the Just Do It Speech at the 1987 National Religious Broadcaster Convention.

Just Do It Speech Transcript

I was asked to talk to you about how to win in business. I think it’s a good subject for you to think about because I believe business in America is in a crisis situation today. All you have to do is read the paper, and every month see our trade deficit, and it’s just a very depressing situation.

Charlie Munger delivered this speech at Harvard University in June 1995. Munger spoke about a framework for decision making with an emphasis on factors contributing to human misjudgments. The Psychology of Human Misjudgment is talk eleven in Poor Charlie’s Almanack, a collection of speeches and lectures by Charlie Munger, compiled by Peter D. Kaufman. The speech is based on the concepts he read from Robert Cialdini’s great book. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Munger was so impressed by Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, after reading the book, Munger wrote in Poor Charlie’s Almanack:

“Cialdini had made himself into a super-tenured “Regents Professor” at very young age by  devising, describing, and explaining a vast group of  clever experiments in which man manipulated man to his detriment, with all of this made possible by  man’s intrinsic thinking flaws. ”

I immediately sent copies of Cialdini’s book to all my children. I also gave Cialdini a share of Berkshire stock [Class A] to thank him for what he had done for me and the public. Incidentally, the sale by Cialdini of hundreds of thousands of copies of a book about social psychology was a huge feat,  considering that Cialdini didn’t claim that he was going to improve your sex life or make you any money. “

I immediately sent copies of Cialdini’s book to all my children. I also gave Cialdini a share of Berkshire stock [Class A] to thank him for what he had done for me and the public.

The Psychology of Human Misjudgement Transcript

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”—Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch delivered his “Last Lecture”, titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams“, at Carnegie Mellon on September 18, 2007. This talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical “final talk”, i.e., “what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?”

On September 19, 2006, Pausch underwent a pancreaticoduodenectomy to remove the malignant tumor from his pancreas. In August 2007, after doctors discovered that the cancer had recurred, Pausch was given a terminal diagnosis and was told to expect a remaining three to six months of good health.

Randy Pausch later expanded on his last lecture speech into a book format, co-authored with Jeffrey Zaslow. | Order on Last Lecture on Amazon.

“The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every man who has ever
been successful — lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures
don’t like to do.”

The speech was first given by Mr Gray at the 1940 annual convention of The National Association of Life Underwriters, now the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), Albert E. N. Gray was an official of the Prudential Insurance Company of America. 

Several years ago I was brought face to face with the very disturbing realization that I was trying to supervise and direct the efforts of a large number of men and women who were trying to achieve success, without knowing myself what the secret of success really was. And that, naturally, brought me face to face with the further realization that regardless of what other knowledge I might have brought to my job, I was definitely lacking in the most important knowledge of all.

Of course, like most of us. I have been brought up on the popular belief that the secret of success is hard work, but I had seen so many people work hard without succeeding and so many people succeed without working hard that I had become convinced that hard work was not the real secret even though in most cases it might be one of the requirements.

Hard work was not the real secret even though in most cases it might be one of the requirements.

Wisdom acquisition is a moral duty. It’s not something you do just to advance in life.

As a corollary to that proposition which is very important, it means that you are hooked for lifetime learning.

And without lifetime learning, you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you learn after you leave here.

Charlie Munger
delivered the 2007 Commencement Address to the graduating students at the University of Southern California Law School on May 13, 2007.

Charles Thomas Munger (born January 1, 1924) is an American investor, businessman, former real estate attorney, architectural designer, and philanthropist. He is vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate controlled by Warren Buffett.

Iron Prescription: “I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people do who are supporting it.”

Charlie Munger 2007 USC Law School Commencement Address Transcript:

Well, no doubt many of you are wondering why the speaker is so old. Well, the answer is obviously he hasn’t died yet.

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important questions with acuity and emotional force.

The Speech was compiled into a book: VERY GOOD LIVES presents J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?

Transcript J.K. Rowlings 2008 Harvard University Commencement Speech