A good commencement speaker is key for a successful graduation ceremony. Otherwise, the audience tends to tap away at their phones as they listen to three hours of names getting mispronounced.
The following classes of graduates (mostly Harvard graduates, as you'll notice) got lucky with these captivating celebrity speakers, who delivered addresses that totally nail the feeling of realizing the fun's over and real life's about to begin. You'll feel inspired to start gunning for the dreams of your idealistic youth all over again, despite the mountains of college loans still preventing you from achieving them.
1. Conan O’Brien - Dartmouth College, 2011
Today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.
2. Maya Rudolph - Tulane University, 2015
If I could give my 21-year-old self any advice it would be to take as many bikini photos as you can now because your body's smokin' hot.
3. Elle DeGeneres - Tulane University, 2009
By the time I was your age, I really thought I knew who I was, but I had no idea. Like for example, when I was your age, I was dating men. So what I’m saying is when you’re older, most of you will be gay.
4. Ed Helms - University of Virginia, 2015
As you go out in the world, you'll find that people are always quick to define you, to pigeonhole you, to whittle you down to their preconceived notions-- which brings me to my point: Never let others define you. Define yourselves.
5. J.K. Rowling - Harvard University, 2008
It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all-in which case, you fail by default.
6. Tom Hanks - Yale University, 2011
Please, do not turn off your electronic devices. Leave your iPhone, your iPad, your Sidekicks, your Droids, your Blackberries powered up, recording, photographing, texting out all that emerges from this stage over the next few minutes. Later on today you can compare your tweets and your Facebook comments with those of others to figure out if anything memorable went down. Hey, you know what, tweet that last sentence I just said. It will give you something to do and let your friends know where you are today. Take this speech and set it to music and maybe insert some crazy kooky graphics. Star in that video yourself and post on the web, and if it becomes a viral sensation you’ll be equal to any cat playing with a paper bag or any set of twin toddlers talking gibberish to each other, as popular as that cute girl that sings about Fridays.
7. Sandra Bullock - Warren Easton Charter High School, 2014
Go find your joy. It's what you're going to remember in the end. It's not the worry; it's not the what-ifs. It's the joy that stays with you.
8. Stephen Colbert - Northwestern University, 2011
Whatever your dream is right now, if you don't achieve it, you haven't failed, and you're not some loser. But just as importantly — and this is the part I may not get right and you may not listen to — if you do get your dream, you are not a winner. Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what's going to happen next and you are mostly just making things up as you go along. And like improv, you cannot win your life.
9. Jon Stewart - William and Mary College, 2004
Life is something you experience. So don't worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong...
Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.
10. Mindy Kaling - Harvard Law School, 2014
You are entering a profession where, no matter what the crime, you have to defend the alleged perpetrator. Across the campus, Harvard Business School graduates are receiving diplomas, and you will have to defend them.
11. Amy Poehler - Harvard University, 2011
Take your risks now, as you grow older you become more fearful and less flexible. And I mean that literally. I hurt my knee this week on the treadmill, and it wasn’t even on.
12. Andy Samberg - Harvard University, 2012
You are graduating from college. That means that 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. Nope, that's worse. This is a day.
13. David Foster Wallace - Kenyon College, 2005
The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race"-the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
14. Aaron Sorkin - Syracuse University, 2012
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. Unless they went to Georgetown, in which case, they can go to hell.
15. Will Ferrell - Harvard University, 2003
As you set off into the world, don’t be afraid to question your leaders. But don’t ask too many questions at one time or that are too hard because your leaders get tired and/or cranky.
16. Neil DeGrasse Tyson - University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2015
I think on some level, role models are overrated. If you require a role model who looks just like you to be something you wanna be and you can’t find one, is that a reason to not be what you wanna be? No!
17. Steve Jobs - Stanford University, 2005
Remembering that you are going to die is the beset way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart...
...Stay foolish, stay hungry.
18. Robert DeNiro - New York University Tisch School of the Arts, 2015
Tisch graduates, you made it…and, you’re fucked.