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“Sometimes, the only way to discover who you are or what life you should lead is to do less PLANNING and more LIVING — to burst the double bubble of comfort and convention and just DO stuff.”

Author and cultural critic Daniel Pink addressed the 2014 graduating class at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences; Pink is a 1986 linguistics graduate of the University and holds a J.D. from the Yale Law School.

Top-rated television show host and New Orleans native Ellen DeGeneres was the keynote speaker at Tulane University’s 2009 Commencement. This was the graduation of the “Katrina Class” that entered in Fall 2005.

As you grow, you’ll realize the definition of success changes. For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and not to give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not, to live your life as an honest and compassionate person, to contribute in some way. So to conclude my conclusion, follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that.

Sometimes the circumstances at hand force us to be braver than we actually are, and so we knock on doors and ask for assistance.

Author Ann Patchett delivered the commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater, in 2006. Her speech was expanded to a book – What Now? Which contains essays on hope and inspiration for anyone at a crossroads, whether graduating, changing careers, or transitioning from one life stage to another.

If all fairy tales begin “Once upon a time,” then all graduation speeches begin “When I was sitting where you are now.” We may not always say it, at least not in those exact words, but it’s what graduation speakers are thinking. We look out at the sea of you and think, Isn’t there some mistake? I should still be sitting there. I was that young fifteen minutes ago, I was that beautiful and lost. For me this feeling is compounded by the fact that Sarah Lawrence was my own alma mater.

“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen was supposed to deliver the commencement address to the graduating students at Villanova University on Friday, 23 June 2000. She withdrew as commencement speaker because of a planned staged protest against her strong liberal views, especially her support for abortion rights. Quindlen later distilled the speech into a book: A Short Guide to a Happy Life

“I don’t think you should have to walk through demonstrators to get to your college commencement,”

Anna Quindlen’s 2000 Commencement Address Transcript:

“The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.”

On May 20, 1990, American cartoonist and the author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson, delivered an inspiring and thought-provoking speech at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, the 1990 graduating class.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Bill Watterson’s 1990 Kenyon College Commencement Speech Transcript:

 ‘I wish you luck, because what lies ahead is no picnic for the prepared and the unprepared alike, and you’ll need luck’ 

Russian-American poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky delivered the 1988 winter commencement speech to the graduating students on December 18, 1988. Joseph Brodsky was a Soviet dissident and poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature the year before this speech. He was an American poet laureate in 1991. He died in 1996.

Joseph Brodsky’s University of Michigan 1988 Commencement Speech Transcript

Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room. 

Michael S. Dell, chairman and chief executive officer of Dell, the computer company he founded in 1984 with $1,000 and built into a multibillion-dollar global corporation, delivered the commencement address for the 120th spring commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17 2003

 I’m talking about never measuring your success based on the success of others – because you just might set the bar too low.

Michael Dell’s 2003 University of Texas Commencement Speech Transcript

Carol Bartz is an American business executive, former president and CEO of the internet services company Yahoo!, and former chairman, president, and CEO at architectural and engineering design software company Autodesk. Carol delivered a great speech to the graduating class of UW Madison with core themes like embracing failure, communication, and hanging with the right crowd.

Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values. But you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons.

Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman ’03 addresses graduating seniors at Harvard’s Senior Class Day ceremony on May 27, 2015 at Tercentenary Theatre.

Conan O’Brien, American television host, comedian, writer, podcaster, and producer. He is best known for hosting the late-night talk shows Late Night with Conan O’BrienThe Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and since 2010, Conan on the cable channel TBS. Before his hosting career, he was a writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons.

Conan delivered the Commencement Address to the 2011 graduating students at Dartmouth.

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

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English teacher David McCullough Jr. delivered a witty and thought-provoking speech ‘You Are Not Special’ to the 2012 graduating students at Wellesley High School. You Are (Not) Special is a love letter to students and parents as well as a guide to a truly fulfilling, happy life.

You are not Special Book

In You Are (Not) Special, McCullough elaborates on his now-famous speech exploring how, for what purpose, and for whose sake, we’re raising our kids. With wry, affectionate humor, McCullough takes on hovering parents, ineffectual schools, professional college prep, electronic distractions, club sports, and generally the manifestations, and the applications and consequences of privilege.

We don’t beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well and living fully, for the Reaper will come for all of us.

Professor Randy Pausch made a surprise return to Carnegie Mellon University to deliver an inspirational speech to the Class of 2008 at the Commencement ceremony on May 18, 2008. Pausch was included in TIME Magazine’s 2008 list of the world’s 100 most influential people. His book, “The Last Lecture,” co-written by Jeff Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal and based on Pausch’s now-famous talk “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” is a New York Times #1 bestseller.