12 of the Most Inspirational Commencement Speeches of All Time

Now and then we all need something to pick us up when we’re feeling down, to give us clarity when we’re confused, to inspire us when we don’t feel motivated.

These lines, excerpted from a dozen of the best commencement speeches in recent years, can help.

1. President Barack Obama, Rutgers University
“So don’t lose hope if sometimes you hit a roadblock. Don’t lose hope in the face of naysayers. And certainly don’t let resistance make you cynical. Cynicism is so easy, and cynics don’t accomplish much. As a friend of mine who happens to be from New Jersey, a guy named Bruce Springsteen, once sang, ‘They spend their lives waiting for a moment that just don’t come.’ Don’t let that be you. Don’t waste your time waiting.”

2. Sheryl Sandberg, The University of California, Berkley
“It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude-gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children. My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude-not just on the good days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it.”

3. Michelle Obama, Eastern Kentucky University
“If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do-we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose.”

4. Mindy Kaling, Harvard University
“I’m supposed to give you advice and I thought, ‘What advice could I give you guys?’ … So then I was thinking, ‘Well then, who should be giving advice?’ The answer is people like you. You’re better educated and you’re going to go out there in the world and people are going to listen to what you say … I look at all of you and see America’s future … Understand that one day you will have the power to make a difference, so use it well.”

5. Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth
“Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change….Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just … do.”

6. Denzel Washington, Dillard University
“In this text, tweet, twerk world that you’ve grown up in, remember that just because you’re doing a lot more, doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done.”
7. Jim Carrey, Maharishi University of Management,
“Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.”

8. Bo Jackson, Auburn University
“I have a plaque in my kitchen that says: ‘If you don’t think you can, you can’t. You’ve already failed.’ Step outside of that box. You may have to step outside that box a couple times. But you know something? In the long run, you will reap the benefits of stepping outside that box.”

9. David Brooks, Darmouth College
“You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is arrogance and pride. Failure can lead to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.”

10. Matthew McConaughey, University of Houston
Don’t choose anything that will jeopardize your soul. Prioritize who you are, who you want to be, and don’t spend time with anything that antagonizes your character. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid! It tastes sweet today but it will give you cavities tomorrow.”

11. Robert De Niro, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts
“There will be times when your best isn’t good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best you’ll be OK.”

12. Steve Jobs, Stanford University
“Sometimes life hits you on the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going [after being fired from Apple] was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Commencement means a beginning, a start, to launch- when you need something to motivate you or inspire you, allow these words to energize and empower you.


N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R


What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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