It’s that time of year. I could probably find the definition for “commencement” and say something profound—make my own graduation speech.
But I won’t do that.
I love hearing commencement speeches during this time of year. They always fill me with pride, introspection, and a desire to be better than I am.
And honestly, tears.
I usually become a puddle on the floor when I start watching or reading commencement speeches.
Well, grab the tissues because I’m going to share my 6 favorite commencement speeches (in no particular order).
Years after I had graduated with my undergraduate and I was slogging through my masters degree program while working a full-time job (which I was good at, but didn’t feel like it was taking me down a true career path), I read Sheryl Sandberg’s speech to graduates at Barnard college.
So, what advice can I give you to help you achieve this goal? The first thing is I encourage you to think big. Studies show very clearly that in our country, in the college-educated part of the population, men are more ambitious than women. They’re more ambitious the day they graduate from college; they remain more ambitious every step along their career path. We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap. But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in. Leadership belongs to those who take it. Leadership starts with you.
Of course, this is the beginning of her “Lean In” book and it spoke to me. It’s actually changed how I make decisions and I chose my jobs and my career path. I no longer feel that I need to make based on some possibility in my future. And I can honestly say I’m probably more happy because of that.
Just last year, I listened to this speech at a ninth-grade graduation. And it was fantastic. I mean, it’s Chief Justice John Roberts so I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s just so eloquent.
From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.
I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.
Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.
I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.
And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.
I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.
I know. I just keep going to back to Sheryl Sandberg, but she just shares such good stuff. This one is the precursor to her “Option B” book. And once again, she gave this speech at the moment I needed it:
I hope that you live your life—each precious day of it—with joy and meaning. I hope that you walk without pain—and that you are grateful for each step.
And when the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.
Build resilient communities. We find our humanity—our will to live and our ability to love—in our connections to one another. Be there for your family and friends. And I mean in person. Not just in a message with a heart emoji.
Lift each other up, help each other kick the shit out of option B—and celebrate each and every moment of joy.
Octavia Spencer is one of my favorite actresses. I love the characters she plays. From Minny Jackson in The Help to Dorothy Vaughan of Hidden Figures to Roberta in Gifted, I think I would love to be her characters friend or at least in the same room as her. But I was moved when I read her speech from 2017:
Define success and define your best years by every day that you work hard towards achieving your goals. Your talent and efforts got you here today and that talent will continue to open doors for you. And luck will play its part too. But a strong work ethic is vital and it will get you farther than talent and luck ever could, trust me, I know. Little talent, lot of hard work.
So keep moving forward. And don’t be frustrated when your path gets messy because it will get messy. You’ll fall and you’ll fail along the way. Wildly. Embrace the mess. Say it with me, embrace the mess, as Nora Ephron used to say. Get ready for it. And don’t let the potential to fail stop you from moving forward.
Now don’t you feel empowered? Ready to move forward and work harder?