Top Books Inspired by Commencement Speeches

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Yearly graduating students listen to a prepared commencement address by a notable figure in the society such as politicians, business leaders, writers, creatives, or other famous individuals; the graduates can learn a thing or two. Some of the commencement speeches eventually become distilled in book form.

Here are some of the top books inspired by commencement speeches:

In 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas, in a video which immediately went viral. He shared the 10 life lessons he had learned during his Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his long Naval career, but also throughout his life.

Make your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven | Transcript | Video | Amazon

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace delivered this commencement speech at Kenyon College on May 21, 2005. In 2009, the address was published as a book; This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.

The speech captures Wallace’s electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend. 

This Is Water: Some by  David Foster Wallace Transcript | Video | Amazon

Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.

In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, in which he shared his thoughts about creativity, bravery, and strength. He encouraged the fledgling painters, musicians, writers, and dreamers to break rules and think outside the box. Most of all, he encouraged them to make good art.

The book Make Good Art, designed by renowned graphic artist Chip Kidd, contains the full text of Gaiman’s inspiring speech.

Neil Gaiman | Make Good Art | 2012 University of the Arts Keynote Address | Transcript | Video | Amazon

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. 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?

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.

J.K. Rowling | The Fringe Benefits of Failure | 2008 Harvard University Address | Transcript | Video | Amazon

Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders

Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of The New York Times, where its simple, uplifting message struck a deep chord. Within days, it had been shared more than one million times. Why? Because Saunders’s words tap into a desire in all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives. Powerful, funny, and wise, Congratulations, by the way is an inspiring message from one of today’s most influential and original writers.

Congratulations, by the way by George Saunders Transcript | Video | Amazon

Son, if you’re going to do a job, do it right.

Good enough isn’t good enough if it can be better, and better isn’t good enough if it can be best.

Wisdom will come to you in the unlikeliest of sources, a lot of times through failure.

When you hit rock bottom, remember this. While you’re struggling, rock bottom can also be a great foundation on which to build and on which to grow.

Rigsby’s father, Roger Marion Rigsby, was the inspiration for his book, Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout. The senior Rigsby left school in the third grade to help out on the family farm and taught himself to read and write. Later, worked as a cook at Cal Maritime. 

Dr. Rick Rigsby gave a very inspiring commencement speech at the California State University Maritime Academy in 2017. The lecture was titled: Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout. Rick wrote a book inspired by his dad: Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout: How the Timeless Wisdom of One Man Can Impact an Entire Generation.

 Dr. Rick Rigsby | The Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout | Transcript | Video | Amazon

Kurt Vonnegut’s 1999 Agnes Scott College Commencement Speech.

“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.

Kurt Vonnegut’s | Agnes Scott College Commencement Speech. | Transcript | Video

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It  by Lauren Graham

Whatever path you choose, whatever career you decide to go after, the important thing is that you keep finding joy in what you’re doing, especially when the joy isn’t finding you.

In this expansion of the 2017 commencement speech she gave at her hometown Langley High, Lauren Graham, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, reflects on growing up, pursuing your dreams, and living in the here and now. In her hilarious, relatable voice, Graham reminds us to be curious and compassionate, no matter where life takes us or what we’ve yet to achieve. Grounded and inspiring—and illustrated throughout with drawings by Graham herself—here is a comforting road map to a happy life.

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It  by Lauren Graham Transcript | Video | Amazon

Now Go Out There: (and Get Curious) by Mary Karr

Don’t make the mistake of comparing your twisted up insides to other people’s blow-dried outsides, the most privileged person in this stadium suffers the torments of the damned just going about the business of being human

In Now Go Out There, Karr explains why having your heart broken is just as—if not more—important than falling in love; why getting what you want often scares you more than not getting it; how those experiences that appear to be the worst cannot be so easily categorized; and how to cope with the setbacks that inevitably befall all of us. “Don’t make the mistake of comparing your twisted up insides to other people’s blow-dried outsides,” she cautions. “Even the most privileged person in this stadium suffers the torments of the damned just going about the business of being human.”

Now Go Out There: (and Get Curious) by Mary Karr Transcript | Video | Amazon

All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Lifelong Learner | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategist at Reputiva LLC | Marathoner | Bibliophile -info@lanredahunsi.com | lanre.dahunsi@gmail.com

1 Comment

  1. This is an inspiring compilation, no doubt! Well researched.