Distinguished Guests, and Undistinguished Guests

The speech given at my college graduation came from a former naval officer who threatened our class with widespread disease, global injustice, and terrorism. He went on to tell us that while we could not really help these things, we must all face them, and he wished us good luck. From beginning to end, the gentleman’s ‘pep talk’ offered no humor and generally confused and frightened everyone in cap and gown.

In light of recent commencement activities and my misfortunate send-off, I have decided to offer you a collection of tidbits from several keynote speech-makers. Some will inspire and some will make you laugh, but all should encourage you to move positively forward.

(Follow the attached links to read/hear/see these speeches in action.)


Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005:

“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. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle”.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary”.



Winston Churchill at Harrow School in 1941:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense”.



Steve Carrell at Princeton in 2012:

“We have lost touch with our simpler selves, and by “we” I mean you. You are young … and because of that, you are wrong”.



John F. Kennedy at American University in 1963:

“And that is the most important topic on earth: peace… I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time”.



Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) at Lake Forest College in 1977:

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.



Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane in 2009:

“I mean, it was so important for me to lose everything because I found out what the most important thing is, is to be true to yourself. Ultimately, that’s what’s gotten me to this place. I don’t live in fear, I’m free, I have no secrets. and I know I’ll always be ok, because no matter what, I know who I am”.



Salman Khan at Rice in 2012:

“You can validate others, empower others, increase the net happiness, the positivity in the world”.



Dalai Lama at Emory in 1998:

“A good person means someone with a good heart, a sense of caring for the welfare others, a sense of commitment, a sense of responsibility. Education and the warm heart, the compassion heart-if you combine these two, then your education, your knowledge, will be constructive. Then you are yourself then becoming a happy person”.



Denzel Washington at University of Pennsylvania in 2011:

“…the chances you take… the people you meet… the people you love…the faith that you have—that’s what’s going to define your life”.

“Never be discouraged. Never hold back. Give everything you’ve got. And when you fall throughout life—and maybe even tonight after a few too many glasses of champagne—fall forward”.



Andy Samberg at Harvard in 2012:

“Class of 2012. You are graduating from college. That means this is the first day of the last day of your life – no that’s wrong – this is the last day, of the first day, of school – no! That’s worse. Ppppph ah – this is a day”.



Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.



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  • Great quotes! I like the mix of serious inspirational advice and humor.

    • haleyb

      Thank you for the encouraging words, Noel!