Top 15 Commencement Speeches Ever!

It’s that time of the year again! While on one end congratulates are being over poured, on the other end lies a dark mystery of the unknown future of life ahead of college. Its Graduation time! Who doesn’t love the graduation/convocation day attire with that dark rayon academic gown, a mortar board hat on top and with a degree in hand, set to face real life for the first time.

Real life might not be as easy as shown in movies for most of the people. And for that very reason, colleges arrange for commencement speakers on the graduation day of students to provide them insights about real life from the experienced lot! Commencement speeches are basically a revealing of harsh truth in a pleasant and inspirational manner for students to give a hint of what’s coming ahead.

Commencement speeches have become a collegiate tradition in graduation schools worldwide and now are beginning to take place in Indian graduation schools also. We have made this wonderful list of the top 15 Commencement speeches ever as inspiration for the graduates of the academic year 2014! Here’s to all those graduates coming out of college this year!

Top 15 Commencement speeches of all time

John F Kennedy, Former President of USA – American University (1963)

In this commencement speech, John F Kennedy asks the graduates to re-examine their attitudes towards peace. He was quoted as saying, “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.”

John F. Kennedy’s commencement speech stands at the top of the time Commencement speeches ever, simply due to his persuasive speech.


“I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war…But we have no more urgent task.”

Bill Gates, Former CEO of Microsoft – Harvard (2007)

Bill Gates starts off his commencement speech with some humor and talks about being a bad influence on students, taking the example of getting Steve Ballmer to drop out of college and join him. He dropped out of Harvard and went on to found Microsoft and become the World’s wealthiest man.


“I’ve been waiting more than 30 years to say this: “Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree. I want to thank Harvard for this honor. I’ll be changing my job next year and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume! …”

“You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer.”

Stephen Colbert, Comedian/Host – Northwestern University (2011)

The comedian and TV Host told the graduates of Northwestern University that life is an improvisation and not something that could be figured out. The actor advises to take life as an acting stage and just keep trying to be the better version of yourself each day!


“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.”

Bono, Rock Star, U2 – University of Pennsylvania (2004)

Bono of the band U2 is one cool guy to take advice from! Bono has given commencement speeches at different colleges talking about his life and never fails to delight his audience.


“What’s the big idea? What’s your big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University of Pennsylvania?

“My point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”

Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook – Harvard Business School (2012)

Sheryl Sandberg advises the graduate students of Harvard’s Business school not to overthink when opportunities knock your door! The Facebook COO and author of ‘Lean In’ has some serious advice to students about avoiding overdoing of thought and data processing and rather get on the opportunity bandwagon and have the ride of your life!


“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” 

Barack Obama, President of USA – Barnard college (2012)

The current President of the USA gives this heartwarming and reality-touch commencement speech at the Barnard college. He talks about the economic crisis, recession, lay-off’s and women empowerment in his commencement speech.


His advice for the women graduates:

1) “Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

2) “Never underestimate the power of your example. The very fact that you are graduating, let alone that more women now graduate from college than men, is only possible because earlier generations of women — your mothers, your grandmothers, your aunts — shattered the myth that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be where you are.”

J.K.Rowling, Author of Harry Potter series – Harvard (2008)

J.K.Rowling, the best-selling author of the Harry Potter series gave this heart-touching commencement speech of never putting your chips down fearing failure and instead embrace it and achieve success. She told the students about her long grim days of rejections before going on to become a best-selling author.


“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. 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.”

Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon – Princeton University (2010)

Jeff Bezos, the co-founder of Amazon, gave this commencement speech at Princeton talking about the importance of being kind over being intellectual. Jeff Bezos gives some information about his childhood with his grandparents and goes on to give impetus to the value of being kind in this world.


“There’s a difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice.”

Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul – Stanford (2008)

Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul talks about being able to trust your gut and go with it fearlessly. She talks about your feelings being as the GPS system for your life, driving you through it. She also talks about not sacrificing satisfaction and happiness for money.


“If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. That’s the lesson. And that lesson alone will save you, my friends, a lot of grief.”

David Foster Wallace, Author – Kenyon College (2005)

David Foster Wallace, the bestselling author talks about the importance of life, the bigger picture and they are a part of a much greater existence. He advises graduates to be less arrogant and less certain about their beliefs.


“This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.”

Michael Lewis, Author – Princeton University (2012)

Michael Lewis, author of bestselling books including Liar’s Poker, Flash Boys, The Big Short and Moneyball talks about him dabbling in writing and being unsure of what to write about!

Lewis talked about him leaving his day job at Wall Street that would soon nurture him millions and instead became an author for an advance of $40,000 and wrote the bestseller – Liar’s Poker.


“What did you think of the writing?” Lewis asked his professor. “Put it this way: Never try to make a living at it,” the professor replied.

“All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.”

Ellen DeGeneres, TV Show Host – Tulane University (2009)

Ellen De Generes, the famous TV Host, and the one with the recent world-famous selfie at the Academy awards 2014, talks about what being successful in life means. She goes on to say that being successful is a state of mind – that true success is being true to oneself!


 “For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and not to give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not, to live your life as an honest and compassionate person, to contribute in some way.”

Conan O’Brien, Comedian/Host- Dartmouth College (2011)

Conan O’Brien the famous comedian and TV show host talks about being flexible in life – adapting to changes and willing to adapt your dreams accordingly. He also sheds some light over his fight with pancreatic cancer and that everyone should live each day of his life as his last one and go pursue their dreams!


“It [Referring to ‘The Tonight Show’] was the Holy Grail, and like many people I thought that achieving that goal would define me as successful. But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you.

“Well I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change. And that’s okay”.

Larry Page, Co-founder of Google – University of Michigan (2009)

Larry Page, co-founder of the world’s most valuable company – Google shares some of his thoughts about his homecoming to Michigan – the same school his dad, brother, and mom went to. He talks about dreams and making them real!


“You know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid dream? And you know, if you don’t have a pencil and pad by the bed to write it down, it will be completely gone the next morning?

Well, I had one of those dreams when I was 23. When I suddenly woke up, I was thinking: what if we could download the whole web, and just keep the links and… I grabbed a pen and started writing! Sometimes it is important to wake up and stop dreaming. The idea of building a search engine wasn’t even on the radar. But, much later, Google was born. When a really great dream shows up, grab it!”

Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple  – Stanford University (2005)

And last, but definitely not the least – Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University to the class of 2005. He persuades the students not to settle down and rather fight each day and live it like it was their last one. He gives away some valuable thoughts and that makes this commencement speech a must watch for graduates.


“The only way to do great work is to 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.”

 “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.”


What did you think of the amount of inspiration over here for fresh graduates coming out of college this year? Feel free to shout out your thoughts and messages in the comments section below. Here are few more selected articles to keep your inspirational mind up and running: