May 23, 2017

7 Life Lessons from Graduation Speeches


Many commencement addresses are laden with clichés about how this is the first day of the rest of your life and the importance of finding your passion. Let’s be honest, though; most graduates already know that. Still, sometimes a graduation speaker imparts wisdom that’s worth repeating and remembering. Here are seven of the most valuable life lessons offered by graduation speakers.

Lesson #1: It’s okay to fail

“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.” – J.K. Rowling at Harvard University, 2008

Lesson #2: Face your fears

“Fear is good because it’s our brain’s way of identifying the things about which we are ignorant. Knowing this, we should look at our fear not as a reason to avoid the things that frighten us, but as a reason to engage them.” – Ed Helms at Knox College, 2013

Lesson #3: Dreaming of greatness is not enough to achieve it

“Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But 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.” – Shonda Rhimes at Dartmouth, 2014

Lesson #4: 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.” – Steve Jobs at Stanford University, 2005

Lesson #5: Be yourself

“I want you all to stay true to the most real, most sincere, most authentic parts of yourselves. I want you to ask those basic questions: Who do you want to be? What inspires you? How do you want to give back? And then I want you to take a deep breath and trust yourselves to chart your own course and make your mark on the world.” – Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University, 2015

Lesson #6: Preparation is more important than planning

“Don’t bother to have a plan. Instead, have some luck. Success is really about being ready for the good opportunities that come before you. It’s not to have a detailed plan about everything you’re going to do, you can’t plan innovation or inspiration, but you can be ready for it. And when you see it, you can jump on it, and you can make a difference as many people here today have already done.” – Eric Schmidt at University of Pennsylvania, 2009

Lesson #7: Stay positive

“Too often, cynicism can be the fellow traveler of learning, and I understand why. History is full of much cruelty and suffering and darkness, and it can be hard sometimes to believe that a brighter future is indeed dawning. But for all our past failings, for all our current problems, more people now enjoy lives of hope and opportunity than ever before in all of human history. This progress has been the concerted effort not of cynics, but of visionaries and optimists, of impatient patriots who have dealt with our world as it was but never lost sight of the world as it should be.” – Condoleezza Rice at Southern Methodist University, 2012


Author: Beth Braverman

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