10 Quotes from Graduation Speeches to Inspire the Class of 2020
Graduation speeches have taken a different course this year for the Class of 2020. While most classes get to sit through a speech in person, many of you have seen your moments of celebration vanish into a social distancing funk.
In the following article, we’ll be looking at 10 of our favorite quotes from this year’s graduation speeches that were given in a variety of different formats. We hope that you will draw some wisdom and inspiration from these. Despite the harsh times we’re living in, the formula for success is still largely the same. Let’s see what these keynote speakers have to say about it.
1. “Be present. I would encourage you with all my heart just to be present. Be present and open to the moment that is unfolding before you. Because, ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future.” – Jessica Lange
Ms. Lange’s words are a reminder that the past is in the past. While it may have influence and the future is uncertain, it’s only what we do with the present that will determine the path we’re going. Use your present wisely!
2. “You’re defined by what you define failure as. It’s not a thing if it leads you to your success. It’s all part of the journey. It’s all part of the journey. You have to appreciate those moments because what happens right after you feel like you failed is who you are and who you will continue to be.” – Justin Timberlake
Mr. Timberlake has a great take on what it means to think you’ve failed. It turns out you have a lot more control over that than you think you do. At the same time, you’re probably going to be the one who pushes yourself the hardest in life, so you’re capable of achieving far more even if you fall short.
3. “As we journey along with the hero of any story, we realize that we too are the lead characters of our own lives. I am here today to remind each of you that you are the heroes of your story and I’m not just referring to your heroic victory over George Town in the 2010 Snowmegedon Snowball Fight. Your life is your story and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.” – Kerry Washington
Ms. Washington uses humor to evoke how trivial our present is, but she also emphasizes that we’re on a journey, making that present all the more important. Look at yourself as the star of your own movie. Make sure you always have a worthwhile destination you’re working towards.
4. “If you have found that thing, that purpose in life that gives you access to maximum enthusiasm, trust that! I’m not talking about a job, nor a career, for that matter. I’m talking about a calling! That thing that forces the metaphorical lampshade from your soul, and mandates that everyone wear sunglasses in your presence because you just that damn bright! This is not a selfish act! Because now, those who fall within your sphere of influence, know that what is possible for you…is possible for them, as well.” – Sterling K. Brown
Mr. Brown could not be more correct. Money is not what you should seek in life. You should seek purpose. If you do this diligently and sincerely, then when you find it, you’ll be fulfilled. The money may or may not come, but you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror and be happy with what you get out of life.
5. “The most important thing I learned is that we are not born with a certain amount of resilience. It is a muscle, and that means we can build it. We build resilience into ourselves. We build resilience into the people we love. And we build it together, as a community. That’s called ‘collective resilience.’ It’s an incredibly powerful force — and it’s one that our country and our world need a lot more of right about now. It is in our relationships with each other that we find our will to live, our capacity to love, and our ability to bring change into this world.” – Sheryl Sandberg
Mrs. Sandberg, a widower and one of the most powerful women in business, knows a thing or two about resilience. She has forged a successful career as one of a handful of female executives of major companies, and no company has had quite the impact on the world as hers (Facebook).
6. “Fearlessness means taking the first step even if you don’t know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart more than when you stand with a crowd. Be fearless. Be the last people to accept things as they are and the first people to stand up and change them for the better.” – Tim Cook
Mr. Cook’s words are a great reminder that when you feel like the oddball, you’re probably on to something. Never be afraid to stand alone. That’s how leaders are made.
7. “I was not someone who should have the life I have now, and yet I do. I was sitting in the chair you are literally sitting in right now and I just whispered, “Why not me?” And I kept whispering it for seventeen years; and here I am, someone that this school deemed worthy enough to speak to you at your commencement. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, but especially not yourself. Go conquer the world. Just remember this: Why not you? You made it this far.” – Mindy Kaling
Lots of people riff on the “don’t let anyone tell you” warning, but Ms. Kaling brings a great deal of sobriety to her remarks by pointing out that we are the most damaging people to ourselves when we get it in our heads that we can’t do something. So don’t ever tell yourself you can’t. Ever.
8. “Most commencement speakers, they’ll get up here and talk in the future tense. ‘You will succeed. You will make us proud. And you will change the world. Most commencement speakers say, ‘You are the future.’ But I’m not gonna say that, because you’re not the future. You’re the present. You are succeeding. You are making us proud. You are changing the world, so keep changing the world and keep making us proud.” – Jimmy Fallon
Mr. Fallon’s remarks are a reminder that your value isn’t waiting to come. You don’t have to wait. You are living life and making a difference now. So keep doing it!
9. “There will be blind alleys and one-night wonders and soul-crushing jobs and wake-up calls and crises of confidence and moments of transcendence when you are walking down the street and someone will thank you for telling your story because it resonated with their own.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
Mr. Miranda’s contribution to this list of graduation speeches reminds students of the gritty realism of the world but the underlying hope in much the same way that his art does. Be prepared for bad things to occur. Have a contingency when they arise, as well as a plan for how to move forward.
10. “Take your risks now. As you grow older, you become more fearful and less flexible…Limit your ‘always’ and your ‘nevers.’ Continue to share your heart with people even if it’s been broken.” – Amy Poehler
Ms. Poehler’s wisdom is something every young person needs to remember. Don’t idle your engines or hold yourself back. Youth allows you to bounce back from failure in a much more resilient manner than age, so take those risks now!
Which Graduation Speeches Are Your Favorites?
We’re pretty big fans of all these graduation speeches, but now we’d like to hear from you. What commencement advice have you heard in the last few weeks that really resonated? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
[Featured Image by Wikimedia Commons]