10 Powerful Quotes from Famous Graduation Speeches
While many of us may not remember the commencement addresses we heard as we waited to officially graduate from high school or college, some of the most famous graduation speeches given over the years have become timeless words of wisdom that all may draw upon for inspiration and encouragement, at any season of life!
While many of these inspiring quotes convey familiar truths, such as the importance of perseverance, resilience, and kindness, they also offer a unique perspective and practical life lessons that will help kids and adults alike.
So here are excerpts from some of the most critically acclaimed and popular graduation speeches from the past several years:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. … 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. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
“If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change.”
J.K. Rowling’s 2011 Harvard Commencement Address
“Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
“It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.”
David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address
“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.”
Sheryl Sandberg’s 2016 University of California, Berkeley Commencement Address
“You have a choice. You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life. Action is the antidote to apathy and cynicism and despair. You will inevitably make mistakes. Learn what you can and move on. At the end of your days, you will be judged by your gallop, not by your stumble.”
Bradley Whitford’s 2004 University of Wisconsin-Madison Commencement Address
“My last piece of advice—this is simple, but perhaps most important: Persevere. Persevere. Nothing worthwhile is easy. No one of achievement has avoided failure—sometimes catastrophic failures. But they keep at it. They learn from mistakes. They don’t quit.”
“The future is not fixed, it’s fluid. You can build your own building, or hut or condo, whatever; this is the metaphor part of the speech by the way. But my point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”
Bono’s 2004 University of Pennsylvania Commencement Address
“You can be as earnest and ridiculous as you need to be, if you don’t attempt it in isolation. The ridiculously earnest are known to travel in groups. And they are known to change the world. Look at you. That could be you.”
Barbara Kingsolver’s 2008 Duke Commencement Address
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. ….And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.”
Life after school can be full of challenges, but holding on to wise words such as those found in graduation speeches can be helpful reminders of what is really important!
Elizabeth Street is a writer and managing editor for Learning Liftoff. For the past 20 years, she has written newsletter and website content for nonprofit and corporate organizations on such topics as the plight of children of prisoners worldwide, the lack of prenatal care for mothers in developing countries, and child mentoring programs. She has a particular interest in the importance of providing all children with a quality education regardless of their family’s financial status or background. A native of Virginia, Elizabeth is a graduate of James Madison University and loves animals, with particular fondness for her two cats, Oscar and Emmy.