1. David Foster Wallace, 2005 Kenyon Graduation Speech
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
In this commencement address, Wallace reminds us that we often forget, or take for granted, the most obvious things around us. He acknowledges it’s difficult to stay aware of what’s happening in the world, especially when you’re too busy dealing with the monologue inside your head.
That’s what a college education is about, according to him. It’s learning how to think, exercising some degree of control over your thoughts so you can choose what to pay attention to.
Our thoughts affect our realities, and the ability to choose how you “construct meaning from experience” will determine the lenses from which you see the world and how you react in return.
2. Ellen DeGeneres, 2009 Tulane University
“Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.”
This is one of the funniest graduation speeches ever! All humor aside, this speech shows why it’s better to be true to yourself, instead of trying desperately to be a second-rate version of someone else.
For years, Ellen thought being bisexual might prevent her from being a successful stand-up comedian but it’s just not the case. Ellen proved that you can be successful, whoever you are, if you worked hard and learn from your past experiences— even one as sad as the death of a loved one.
3. Charlie Munger, 2007 University of California Law School
“You’re not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave here.”
Education doesn’t stop after you graduate from college. It doesn’t stop after you finish your MBA or PhD either. Munger says, “Wisdom acquisition is a moral duty. It’s not just something you do to advance in life.” It’s a moral duty because it’s only through continuous learning that we can add to the vast knowledge of man kind. If we stopped learning, progress in all industries—computers, finance, engineering, biology, stops as well.
4. Michelle Obama, 2013 Eastern Kentucky University
“If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do — we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose. ”
As far as inspirational speeches go, Michelle Obama’s speech is very actionable. Her advice is simple (not easy), talk to each other with an open mind. Different religion, race, political stand, it doesn’t matter. We can all learn from one another.
5. Jim Carrey, 2014 Maharashi University of Management
“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an account.”
Carrey’s father lost his accounting job when he was 12, and it was then he realized that failure is inevitable, whether you’re doing what you want or not. If that’s the case, you might as well take a stab at doing something you love.