It’s graduation season, and the air is crackling with advice. Throughout the country, at nearly every academic level, commencement speeches are being delivered by everyone from congressmen to comedians, from company presidents to presidents of the United States. Is there any other time of year when so many home truths are spoken to so many young and captive ears?
Some of it is played for laughs; much of it is worth remembering, even if it is being spoken to an audience already giddy with anticipation of a newly printed diploma, fresh independence and the unfolding possibilities of The Real World.
It’s exalting and terrifying at the same time. And when the last note of “Pomp and Circumstance” fades, the cap-and-gown crowd takes a look around and asks the same question each year: Now what?
Here are some answers, taken from a selection of commencement speeches rom this year and the recent past:
“Don’t treat your heart like an action figure wrapped in plastic and never used.”
“Nobody else is paying as much attention to your failures as you are… To everyone else, it’s just a blip on the radar screen, so move on.”
“To be your own person, you need good friends. Friends are the treasure of your life.”
“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course… We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night, and we watch television.”
“You will never see a U-haul behind a hearse. You can’t take it with you.”
“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”
“So, what’s it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that I don’t recommend it.”
“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 finally, wearing colorful Converse high-tops beneath your graduation robe is a great way to tell your classmates that this is just the first of many horrible decisions you plan to make with your life.”
“We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism—if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities… You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer.”
“You know, you don’t have to be famous, you just have to make your mother and father proud of you. And you already have.”
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
“There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
“Your families are extremely proud of you. You can’t imagine the sense of relief they are experiencing. This would be a most opportune time to ask for money.”
“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.”
“What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.”
“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”