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A screeengrab from a YouTube video of Ellen Degeneres's commencement speech at Tulane University in 2009. (YouTube)

A screeengrab from a YouTube video of Ellen Degeneres's commencement speech at Tulane University in 2009.

(YouTube)

Some of the best commencement speeches ever Add to ...

YouTube

David Foster Wallace
Kenyon College, 2005

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down....This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

YouTube

Barbara Kingsolver
Duke University, 2008

Community is our native state. You play hardest for a hometown crowd. You become your best self. You know joy. This is not a guess, there is evidence. The scholars who study social well-being can put it on charts and graphs....what if someone had dared you, three years ago, to show up to some public event wearing a big, flappy dress with sleeves down to your knees. And on your head, oh, let’s say, a beanie with a square board on top. And a tassel! Look at you. You are beautiful. The magic is community. ...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.

YouTube

Steve Jobs
Stanford University, 2005

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

YouTube

Ellen Degeneres
Tulane University, 2009

I’m here because I love New Orleans. I was born and raised here, I spent my formative years here, and like you, while I was living here I only did laundry six times. When I finished school, I was completely lost and by school, I mean middle school, but I went ahead and finished high school anyway. And I really, I had no ambition; I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did everything from: I shucked oysters, I was a hostess, I was a bartender, I was a waitress, I painted houses, I sold vacuum cleaners; I had no idea and I thought I’d just finally settle in some job and I would make enough money to pay my rent, maybe have basic cable, maybe not, I didn’t really have a plan, my point is that, by the time I was your age, I really thought I knew who I was but I had no idea. Like for example, when I was your age, I was dating men. So what I’m saying is, when you’re older, most of you will be gay. Anyone writing this stuff down? Parents?

YouTube

George Saunders
Syracuse University, 2013

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.

YouTube

Neil Gaiman
Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, 2012

People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

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