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Top Pieces of Advice From Commencement Speeches

Across the country, millions of students are taking one of the biggest walks of their life to accept their diplomas. Whether it’s high school, college, or even kindergarten, graduation is a wonderful rite of passage that signifies hope for the future. It’s also a time when politicians, writers, and celebrities speak to those graduating in the hopes of inspiring the next generation.

Here are just a few powerful messages from commencement speeches throughout the years.

Jim Carrey - Maharishi University of Management, 2014

​​"So many of us chose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn't believe that was possible for him. So, he made a conservative choice, and instead he got a job as an accountant. When I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job. Our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which is that you can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

President Barack Obama - Howard University, 2016

"You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. I’ll repeat that. I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. Not just hashtags, but votes."

Chadwick Boseman - Howard University, 2018

“Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” Howard University, 2018

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Wellesley College, 2015

“Do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you.” Wellesley College, 2015

Steve Jobs - Stanford University, 2005

“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."

Admiral William T. H McRaven - University of Texas-Austin, 2014

“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right,” McRaven said. “And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

Neil Gaiman - University of the Arts, 2012

“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain…” he said. “My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”

Stephen Spielberg - SGN Graduation, 2020

“Dreams are a great test. Because a dream is going to test your resolve, and you’re going to know a dream from a pipe dream. You’re going to know a dream from a casual brush with something that you got excited about, and then it evaporates. A real dream is something that not only hangs on to you but you will hang onto it. And it will power you through every obstacle that people and your environment will throw against you. Because if we’re in service of our dreams versus our dreams being in service to us it becomes something greater. It allows us to be game and it allows us to get over our fear to go forward no matter what obstacles are thrown in our path”

Aaron Sorkin - Syracuse University, 2012

“Decisions are made by those who show up. Don't ever forget that you're a citizen of this world. Don't ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day: civility, respect, kindness, character. You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance — and since you're walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy. … Don’t ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.”

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