• Shelley Oto

Commencement Speeches are Treasure Chests of Gems to Walk Anyone Into Any Stage of Life



Graduation season means caps, gowns and words of wisdom shared by some of the greatest leaders of our time. Come May and June, in the early morning hours, I enjoy reading and listening to commencement speeches, where trailblazers of this era share encouraging and thoughtful words of wisdom that gently thrust the next generation out the door and into the next stage of their life. I have tried to find commonalities among these leaders, that first began as a long list, turned short. There is an acquired resilience (practiced or inherited) they have learned to rise from failure. They are unquestionably dedicated, view obstacles as an opportunity to learn, resist the urge to take time for granted, see their fears and move through them and, above all, trust and listen closely to their own intuition. Quite frankly, wisdom fit, for any age group, to learn from. Unveiling the treasure chest of takeaways stashed in every great speech brings me joy to read and share with you. Here are some gems shared from Oprah, Gretchen Rubin and Tim Cook in 2018, and a treasure trove of gems from years past.


“Approval from the people we admire is sweet, but it’s not enough to be the foundation of a happy life.” – Gretchen Rubin


“There will be some days when you just might be bored. Other days you may not feel like going to work. Go anyway.” – Oprah


“When you discover you were wrong about something, don’t fight it. Treasure the moment: you’ve learned something.” – Oprah


“Avoid all house-price talk, route talk, diet talk, name-dropping and current-affairs clichés. Over a lifetime, this can save you years.” – Oprah


“Whatever drives your passion, be the last to accept the notion that the world you inherit cannot be improved. Be the last to accept the excuse that says that’s just how things are done here.” – Tim Cook


"Fearlessness means taking the first step, even if you don't know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause," explained Cook. "It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart, more than when you stand with the crowd." – Tim Cook


To quote from a modern-day writer of epic stories, J.K. Rowling, “You have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently.” – Christine Lagarde



The treasure chest doesn’t end here, more gems from commencement speeches from years past.


Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth

"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... Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer… My dreams did not come true. But I worked really hard. And I ended up building an empire out of my imagination.


Octavia Spencer, Kent State University

"Ignore the stilly 30-Under-30 list that the internet throws at you before you’ve even had your morning cup of coffee. Those will be the bane of your existence post-graduation, trust me. Trust me. Comparing yourself to other’s success only slows you down from finding your own."



Lin-Manuel Miranda, University of Pennyslvania

"There will be blind alleys and one-night wonders and soul-crushing jobs and wake-up calls and crises of confidence and moments of transcendence when you are walking down the street and someone will thank you for telling your story because it resonated with their own."


Arianna Huffington, Vassar College

"We have, if we're lucky, about 30,000 days to play the game of life. And trust me, that's not morbid. In fact, it's wisdom that will put all the inevitable failures and rejections and disappointments and heartbreaks into perspective."


Steve Jobs, Stanford University

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life... Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."


Jim Carrey, Maharishi University of Management

"So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality… You can fail at what you don't want. So you might as well take a chance on doing what you love."


Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University

"Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else's path. Unless you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path, then by all means you should follow that… Be true to yourself and everything will be fine."


Hillary Clinton, SUNY Buffalo

"Life is not easy for anyone. Sometimes you don't see the challenges on the outside, but every single one of us has both those and everything that goes on inside as well. Give it your all. Dare to be all you can be."


Oprah, Stanford University

"And how do you know when you're doing something right? How do you know that? It feels so. What I know now is that feelings are really your GPS system for life. When you're supposed to do something or not supposed to do something, your emotional guidance system lets you know. The trick is to learn to check your ego at the door and start checking your gut instead."


Alice Walker, Author of The Color Purple,Naropa University

"Be compassionate to everyone. Don't just search for whatever it is that annoys and frightens you — see beyond those things to the basic human being. Especially see the child in the man or woman. Even if they are destroying you, allow a moment to see how

lost in their own delusion and suffering they are."


Gloria Steinem, Feminist Rights Leader, Smith College

"Your generation has made giant strides into public life, but often still says: How can I combine career and family? I say to you from the bottom of my heart that when you ask that question you are setting your sights way too low. First of all, there can be no answer until men are asking the same question. Second, every other modern democracy in the world is way, way ahead of this country in providing a national system of child care, and job patterns adapted to the needs of parents, both men and women. So don't get guilty. Get mad. Get active. If this is a problem that affects millions of unique women, then the only answer is to organize.”


Madeleine Albright, Knox College

"When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he said that 'the dogmas of the... past are inadequate... as our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.' Heed that lesson, and you will have all the ammunition you need to prevail in the battle of ideas. You will have the courage to confront the axis of evil: arrogance, ignorance, and hate. And you will have the wisdom to recognize the best in others while always demanding the best from yourselves. In so doing, you will earn the highest grade on the test that really matters.”


Whoopi Goldberg, Montclair State University

"If you're willing to stand for what you believe in ... you won't need advice from me, because you will be able to handle whatever comes."


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