Commencement Speeches 2012: 5 Most Inspiring Quotes from This Year's Famous Speakers

With the spring semester coming to a close, graduating seniors face the reality of putting on their cap and gown and taking the first steps into the adult world. Before they move their tassels, however, they will be greeted, congratulated, and encouraged by some of the greatest and most influential political figures, authors, and comedians. Below are five inspirational, motivating, and humorous quotes from commencement speakers thus far in 2012.

1. Condoleezza Rice, Southern Methodist University

“There are many people in this world who are just as intelligent, just as hard working, just as deserving of success, but for whatever reason did not enjoy the opportunities that you have. As [college graduates], you have been summoned to the ideals of compassion and charity for the less fortune.”

Despite her comic belief that none of the graduates will remember a word of her speech, it will be difficult to forget her encouragement to students to urgently give back to their community. She conveys that while entitlement is often the traveling partner to educated individuals, and it is those individuals’ responsibility to free themselves of those ideas and remember those who have not been as lucky as they were.

2. Jane Lynch, Smith College

“My advice to you: live in the moment. Stay fluid and roll with those changes. Life is just a big extended improvisation. Embrace the ever changing, ever evolving world with the best rule I’ve ever found. Say “YES AND.”

Jane Lynch gave one of the more humorous speeches of this commencement season, but was able to encourage the Smith ladies to answer every opportunity thrown their way with a “yes, and?” attitude. It is important to embrace what you have been given and what you will accomplish, she notes: “If life gives you lemons, grab it by the horns and drive.”

3. Barack Obama, Barnard College

“Now more than ever, America needs what [you] have to offer. And if you fight for your seat at the table, and you set a better example, and you persevere in what you decide to do with your life, I have every faith not only that you will succeed, but that, through you, our nation will continue to be a beacon of light for men and women, boys and girls, in every corner of the globe.”

In terms of commencement speeches, having Barack Obama speak to your graduating class is like winning the Super Bowl. Although Obama’s speech was politically heavy and focused mainly on the gender gap, he encouraged the Barnard graduates to “fight for the head of the table” and to claim what is theirs’ through hard work, dedication, and persistency.

4. Brian Williams, George Washington University

“You don't actually have to build a rocket or go into space, but please take us somewhere. Please keep us moving. Push us, lift us up. Make us better.”

Although Brian Williams never made it to his own GW graduation, or any college graduation (he left after only one semester) , he confesses to wishing he was able to approach his life and career with a college education. Although it is impossible to do everything, he admits to the graduates that it is important that they take their knowledge and utilize it to innovate and better our country and our society.

5. Ira Glass, Goucher College

“Commencement is in itself ridiculous: to inspire at a moment which needs no inspiration. Something incredible is happening to you right now. The whole world is opening to you. You have completed something difficult that took persistence and probably you questioned yourselves again and again. What can words add to that except delay the moment you get your diploma?”

Sometimes the best words are the words left unsaid, even for a professional public speaker like Ira Glass. Nothing can take away from your moment, 2012! Go out and set the world on fire.