Commencement Speeches 2013: 5 Greatest Speakers in Graduation History

Oprah is going to deliver the commencement address at Harvard University's graduation ceremony on May 30. This will not be Oprah's first rodeo when it comes to commencement speeches -- she gave the Stanford commencement address in 2008. 

Harvard's president, Drew Faust told the Harvard Gazette, “Oprah’s journey from her grandmother’s Mississippi farm to becoming one of the world’s most admired women is one of the great American success stories. She has used her extraordinary influence and reach as a force for good in the world, with a constant focus on the importance of educational opportunity and the virtues of serving others.”

Even though commencement ceremonies are more than two months away for most schools, the Oprah announcement got me to drum up a few of my favorite quotes from commencement speeches past (along with videos of the speeches available):

1. Steve Jobs – Stanford University, 2005


On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

2. Conan O’Brien – Dartmouth College, 2011


No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you. In 2000 — in 2000 — I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.

3. Ellen DeGeneres – Tulane University, 2009


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.

4. Aaron Sorkin – Syracuse University, 2012


Make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You’re a group of incredibly, well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You’re barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they’re a-coming for ya. It’s a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.

5. Ted Geisel a.k.a "Dr. Seuss" – Lake Forest College, 1977


My uncle ordered popovers

from the restaurant’s bill of fare.

And, when they were served,

he regarded them

with a penetrating stare

Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom

as he sat there on that chair:

‘To eat these things,’

said my uncle,

‘you must exercise great care.

You may swallow down what’s solid

BUT

you must spit out the air!

And

as you partake of the world’s bill of fare,

that’s darned good advice to follow.

Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.

And be careful what you swallow.’

The above text is Dr. Seuss' commencement speech in its entirety. Please read this charming story of the speech, as told by Lake Forest President Emeritus Eugene Hotchkiss III.

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Liam Boylan-Pett

Liam is a culture writing intern at PolicyMic. His work has appeared in "Running Times" and other running publications. He is also a professional middle-distance runner for the New Jersey-New York Track Club. After graduating from Columbia University with his bachelor's degree, he earned a Master's of Professional Studies in Journalism from Georgetown University. Originally from Bath, Mich, he spends his time watching TV, reading longform journalism, and thinking about who is going to be in the NCAA basketball tournament's Final Four.

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