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Memorable Commencement Speeches – Excerpts & Videos

By Martie Hevia | Blue Beach Song™

[Updated: June 15, 2010 | 9:00 a.m. PST]

For all the new and old-er graduates, I have collected some powerful and inspirational excerpts and videos from a few memorable commencement speeches.

I will continue to add to this list (below) over time, and I encourage you to share any of your favorite excerpts from commencement speeches, as well.

After all, we all need a little inspiration from time to time.


Wishing the graduates all the success in the world.


[ Based on my blog post, The Power of Words & Commencement Speeches. ]

Martie Hevia © 2010 | All Rights Reserved

Protected by Copyscape Website Copyright Protection

Memorable Commencement Speeches – Videos

    Ellen DeGeneres, Commencement Speech, Tulane University, 2009

    Steve Jobs, Commencement Speech, Stanford University, 2005

    John Legend, Commencement Speech, University of Pennsylvania, 2009

    Ken Burns, Commencement Speech, Penn State University, 2010

    Ronald Reagan, Commencement Speech, Notre Dame, 1981

    Randy Pausch, Commencement Speech, Carnegie Mellon University, 2008

    Barack Obama, Commencement Speech, Wesleyan University, 2008

    Wynton Marsalis, Commencement Speech, Northwestern University, 2009

    George H. Bush & William Clinton, Commencement Speeches, Tulane University, 2006

Memorable Excerpts from Commencement Speeches

  • “But we cannot expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism… For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we will become more polarized, more set in our ways. That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country. But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from.” [Barack Obama, Commencement Speech at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 1, 2010 – URL: ]
  • “Replace cynicism with its old-fashioned antidote, skepticism. Don’t confuse success with excellence… Insist on heroes. And be one. Read. The book is still the greatest man-made machine of all — not the car, not the TV, not the computer. Write. Write letters. Keep journals. Besides your children, there is no surer way of achieving immortality. Serve your country. Insist that we fight the right wars… Do not let your government outsource honesty, transparency, or candor. Do not let your government outsource democracy. Steel yourselves. Your generation will have to repair this damage. And it will not be easy. Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of our country — they just make our country worth defending. Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means, ‘God in us.'” [Ken Burns, Documentary Filmmaker, Commencement Speech at Georgetown University, Washington D.C., May 20, 2006 – URL: ]
  • “Here’s the point: when we don’t pay close attention to the decisions made by our leaders; when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day; when we choose not to make our voices and opinions heard, that’s when democracy breaks down. That’s when power is abused. That’s when the most extreme voices in our society fill the void that we leave. That’s when powerful interests and their lobbyists are most able to buy access and influence in the corridors of Washington – because none of us are there to speak up and stop them.” [Barack Obama, Commencement Speech at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 1, 2010 – URL: ]
  • “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. 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.” [Steve Jobs, Commencement Speech at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, June 12, 2005 – URL: ]
  • “Forget old definitions. They were based on the idea that what happened to men was politics, and what happened to women was culture. That division was just a way of keeping certain parts of life immune to change. In fact, the personal is very often political. And revolutions, like houses, get built from the bottom up, not the top down.” [Gloria Steinem, Commencement Speech at Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, May 17, 1987 – URL: ]
  • “Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. You need to take up the challenges that we face as a nation and make them your own. Not because you have a debt to those who helped you get here, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate than you, although I do think you do have that obligation. It’s primarily because you have an obligation to yourself. Because individual salvation has always depended on collective salvation. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.” [Barack Obama, Commencement Speech at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, June 4, 2005 – URL: ]
  • “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And 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.” [Steve Jobs, Commencement Speech at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, June 12, 2005 – URL: ]
  • “At a time when our security and moral standing depend on winning hearts and minds in the forgotten corners of this world, we need more of you to serve abroad…At a time when our ice caps are melting and our oceans are rising, we need you to help lead a green revolution…At a time when a child in Boston must compete with children in Beijing and Bangalore, we need an army of you to become teachers and principals in schools that this nation cannot afford to give up on…At a time when there are children in the city of New Orleans who still spend each night in a lonely trailer, we need more of you to take a weekend or a week off from work, and head down South, and help rebuild…At a time of war, we need you to work for peace. At a time of inequality, we need you to work for opportunity. At a time of so much cynicism and so much doubt, we need you to make us believe again.” [Barack Obama, Commencement Speech at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, May 28, 2008 – URL: ]
  • “So I know that the decisions that I made after college worked out. But at the time I didn’t know that they would. See college is not necessarily predictive of your future success. And it’s the kind of thing where the path that I chose obviously wouldn’t work for you. For one, you’re not very funny. So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this. You won’t. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience. … But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this. College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a different story. Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.” [Jon Stewart, Commencement Speech at The College of William & Mary College, May 20, 2004 – URL: ]

Senior 2010 Products by Blue Beach Song

Senior 2010 - Shirt shirt
Senio 2010 - Cap & Diploma - Mug mug
Senior 2010 - Shirt shirt
Senior 2010 - Hooded Sweatshirt shirt
Senior 2010 - Mousepad mousepad
Senior 2010 - Square Magnet magnet
Senior 2010 - Square Button button
Senior 2010 - Hat hat
Senior 2010 - Skateboard skateboard
Senior 2010 - Bumper Sticker bumpersticker
Senior 2010 - Keds Shoes kedsshoe
Senior 2010 Mascot Dog Shirt petshirt
Senior 2010 - Avery Binder binder
Senior 2010 Tie tie
Senior 2010 Postage stamp

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 2010-May-24 3:10 AM

    loved ellen you always write the most creative posts

    • 2010-May-24 8:55 PM

      Thanks, Tania. Loved Ellen’s speech, as well. She kept it interesting with humor. She’s great. -M

  2. 2010-May-22 12:25 PM

    I’m glad you think so, Martie.
    Maybe one day. I need to write a few more stories first, probably.
    FB has been great for finding current artists. You know…just in case.

    Have a great weekend! UT

  3. 2010-May-22 6:49 AM

    What’s not to like about this?
    A great idea, Martie! There are so many good ones,
    I would be hard-pressed to guess the best.

    Steve Jobs in 2005 hits the mark, for sure.

    Stay cool, Smartie pants! 🙂 UT

    • 2010-May-22 11:20 AM

      Thanks, UT. (What about publishing your stories – through a traditional publisher of hard bounds, or an on-demand-publisher, or via e-books? I think you would be very successful selling your stories, they lend themselves to beautiful imagery and illustrations.) (c: -M

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