Top 10 Best Graduation Commencement Speeches Ever

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Top 10 Best Graduation Commencement Speeches Ever

6/13/2022 By University Frames

Top 10 Best Graduation Commencement Speeches Ever

Some of the most powerful and motivating thoughts are spoken during graduation commencement speeches which are made by leaders we admire. Graduation speeches delivered by celebrities, entrepreneurs, authors, and other notable thinkers are motivating, inspiring, and thought-provoking and may cause you to reach for a tissue.

After all, some speeches have the potential to change people's lives. A perfect example is Morehouse College alumnus and billionaire businessman Robert Smith who offered to repay the student loan debts of his audience of over 400 graduates in 2019, providing $34 million to the historically Black college in Atlanta, Georgia.

In these hard times, when we could all use some inspiration, we've compiled a compilation of the finest wisdom from the greatest commencement speeches of all time.

Here are 10 of the greatest commencement speeches. 

Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

When we talk about the greatest commencement speeches of all time, Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford University is right up there. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier and stressed the fact that the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

Key Quote: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

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Chadwick Boseman, Howard University, 2018

Before succumbing to colon cancer last year, Chadwick Boseman was a global icon and inspiring symbol of black power. In one of the best commencement speeches ever, he displayed his wisdom and grace by emphasizing the significance of finding a purpose and being able to speak up for yourself and others.

Key quote: “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."

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Michelle Obama, Tuskegee University, 2015

While addressing the class of 2015 at Tuskegee University - a historically black university in Tuskegee, Alabama, the First Lady Michelle Obama emphasized Tuskegee's rich past, highlighting several famous alumni who had previously walked the university's halls. She encouraged the present generation of graduates not to be intimidated by the legacy of their predecessors or the expectations of others.

Key quote: "I've found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind knowing that all of the chatter, the name-calling, the doubting...all of it was just noise. It did not define me, it didn't change who I was, and most importantly, it couldn't hold me back."

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J. K. Rowling, Harvard University, 2008

The Harry Potter creator talked about the dark period she experienced before achieving success. She shared that when she was at the bottom, she realized that her life went on, and she decided to keep moving forward and trying until she achieved success. 

Key Quote: "I stopped pretending to be anything more than what I was. My greatest fear had been realized. I had an old typewriter and a big idea. Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College, 2005

In his now-famous "This Is Water" speech, the famous novelist challenged graduates to be a bit less arrogant and confident about their convictions. Wallace asked his graduating audience to demonstrate their educated ways by obtaining "true" independence via consciousness and sympathy.

Key Quote: “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated.”

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wellesley College, 2015

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been acclaimed for her intelligent and incisive writing throughout her career. Her 2015 graduation speech was no less inspiring, as she encouraged graduates to live truly and not be afraid to exist in their greatest potential.

Key Quote: "As you graduate, as you deal with your excitement and your doubts today, I urge you to try and create the world you want to live in. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get your hands dirty way."

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Muhammad Ali, Harvard University, 1975

The greatness of Muhammad Ali didn’t just lie in his boxing skills but also in his persona outside the ring. In 1975, at Harvard University, ‘The Greatest’ delivered one of the greatest commencement speeches of all time about the importance of friendship. 

Key Quote: “If a man extracts in return all he does for a friend, then it is business, not true friendship. The greatness of a man depends on his heart, not on his education or wealth.”

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Will Ferrell, University of Southern California, 2017

Comedian Will Ferrell, well known for his appearances in films such as "Anchorman," "Elf," and "Talladega Nights," gave a contemplating commencement speech to USC's 2017 graduating class. He even ended his speech with an emotionally moving enaction of the Whitney Houston classic, "I Will Always Love You."

Key Quote: "No matter how cliché it may sound, you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. For many of you who maybe don't have it all figured out, it's okay. That's the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result."

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Barack Obama, Howard University, 2016

In his last commencement speech as the President of the United States, Barack Obama underlined the need to bring about change through action and not just words. 

Key Quote: " Change requires more than just speaking out -- it requires listening, as well. In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree and being prepared to compromise. 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."

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John F Kennedy, American University, 1963

Finally, any list comprising of best commencement speeches ever is incomplete without mentioning John F Kennedy’s vintage speech at the American University. Amid the turmoil of the early 1960s, Kennedy inspired graduates to strive for what may be the most important goal of all: World Peace.

Key Quote: “Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable — that mankind is doomed — that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. Our job is not to accept that. Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants."

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These graduation day speeches are surely inspiring and memorable. However, do you know what’s more memorable? Your graduation degree and picture. Commemorate your graduation day moments with University Frames customized diploma frames to relive your memories whenever you want. Order your personalized diploma frame today!


University Frames

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Category: Graduation

Tags: Graduation