May 6, 2019 | Leadership

This is the time of the year that many of us attend the Pomp and Circumstance processional at graduation ceremonies across the country. I’ve curated six of the best commencement speeches for advice that could be applied by both freshly minted graduates and senior executives:

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1. David Foster Wallace, Author

Kenyon College, Class of 2005

Read the transcript

“It is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.”


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 2. J. K. Rowling, Author

Harvard University, Class of 2008

Watch it here

“I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”



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3. Ellen DeGeneres, Comedian

Tulane University, Class of 2009

Watch it here

“Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.”




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4. Jim Carrey, Comedian

Maharashi University of Management, Class of 2014

Watch it here

“The decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect so we never ask the universe for it.”

“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”




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5. John McCain, Former United States Senator

Liberty University, Class of 2006

Watch it here

“Our country doesn’t depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf.”






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6. Barack Obama, Former United States President

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2009

Watch it here

“The major threats we face in the 21st century—whether it’s a global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease—these things do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups. Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and greater understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.”

To the graduates of the Class of 2019, I wish for you a career that positively impacts others, and a lifelong journey of lessons that enable you to gain insight before you press the elevator button back down for those who follow.

Question: What would you tell yourself on graduation day?


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