15 Commencement Speeches That Will Inspire You to Live Your Best Life

Best commencement speeches
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks to graduates during George Washington University's commencement exercises on the National Mall on May 17, 2015 in Washington. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

College graduation season has come and gone, and a new set of young adults is settling into “the real world,” armed with all the knowledge they’ve accumulated over the past four (or five or six) years.

Their journeys have been capped off with grand commencement speeches offering final nuggets of advice as they make their way forward in life.

Whether funny or serious, verbose or succinct, commencement speeches spark hope and motivate graduates to achieve greatness within themselves and their greater communities.

This year’s crop of college graduation speakers urged grads to work hard, give back and not let defeats become a deterrence — advice that anyone can use.

We’ve rounded up some of the best quotes from 15 of the 2017 commencement speeches. Get ready to be inspired.

1. Kenya Barris, TV Producer and Writer, Tufts University

Best commencement speeches

Kenya Barris arrives at the HBO Golden Globes afterparty at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 8, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

“As one should remember, the only person that you really have personal control over of not letting you down is you. The world is gonna try and turn you into someone else. Don’t let it. The idealism, the fear, the honesty that your generation is living with today is a treasure. You can bend, but don’t break. You’re going to hear a lot of different opinions of who you should be and what you should think, but your job is to drown all that out, drown that noise away. Just stick to being you.”

2. Wolf Blitzer, Journalist, High Point University

“As you will learn, graduates, life is about showing up day after day, week after week. People notice when you show up, when you put your head down, when you work hard. You won’t always succeed. You won’t always be the best. But nothing in life comes easy. So show up, be on time, be ready to work.

3. Hillary Clinton, Former Secretary of State, Wellesley College

“Don’t be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams, or even your anger – those are powerful forces. But harness them to make a difference in the world. Stand up for truth and reason.

4. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Best commencement speeches

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks to graduates during George Washington University’s commencement exercises on the National Mall on May 17, 2015 in Washington. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

“Whatever you do in your life… [you] must infuse it with the humanity that each of us is born with. That responsibility is immense, but so is the opportunity. I’m optimistic because I believe in your generation, your passion, your journey to serve humanity. We are all counting on you.”

5. The Dalai Lama, Spiritual Leader of the Tibetan People, University of California – San Diego

You have the opportunity and also the responsibility to create a better world, a happier world. No longer violence. No longer this huge division. You can do that.”

6. Will Ferrell, Comedian and Actor, University of Southern California  

“To those of you graduates sitting out there who have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to do with your life, congratulations. For many of you who maybe don’t have it all figured out, it’s OK. That’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result. Trust your gut, keep throwing darts at the dartboard. Don’t listen to the critics and you will figure it out.”

7. Billie Jean King, Former Tennis Player, Northwestern University

“You can follow the money, money, money, which is not bad, actually, but only if you never lose sight of your moral compass.

8. Helen Mirren, Actress, Tulane University

Best commencement speech

Actress Helen Mirren shows her hands after making impressions at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on March 28, 2011, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Jason Redmond

“The trick is to listen to your instinct, grab the opportunity when it presents itself and then give it your all. You will stumble and fall, you will experience both disaster and triumph, sometimes in the same day, but it’s really important to remember that like a hangover, neither triumphs nor disasters last forever. They both pass and a new day arrives. Just try to make that new day count.”

9. Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist and Author, Washington University in St. Louis

“What you can embrace is a life that feels like it belongs to you, not one made up of tiny fragments of the expectations of a society that, frankly, in most of its expectations, is not worthy of you. And that requires courage, not compliance; passion in lieu of simply plans.”

10. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, Virginia Tech

“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.

11. Howard Schultz, Former Starbucks CEO, Arizona State University

“Summon your compassion, your curiosity, your empathy towards others and your commitment to service. Give more than you receive and I promise you, it will come back to you in ways you can’t possibly imagine.”

12. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Actor and Former Governor of California, University of Houston

Best commencement speeches

Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his way to the stage during Emory University’s 165th commencement on May 10, 2010 in Atlanta, GA. AP Photo/The Atlanta Journal & Constitution, John Spink

“None of us can make it alone. None of us… The whole concept of the self‑made man or woman is a myth.

13. Octavia Spencer, Actress, Kent State University

“But my dear graduates, let me be frank, the best years are very much ahead of you. And they can be whatever you want them to be… As much as you’ve changed during your time here, more change is coming. You’re going to continue to evolve in unforeseen ways. You are full of complexities and wonders that haven’t even begun to surface. Life’s unpredictability will draw these out and what defines you now will be mere shades and hues of a more vibrant you over the next five, 10, 50 years. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more liberating than that, knowing that life will look differently than you think it will.”

14. Donald Trump, U.S. President, U.S. Coast Guard Academy

“Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.”

15. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Co-Founder and CEO, Harvard University

Best commencement speeches

Facebook CEO and Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, center, greets graduating Harvard students as he walks in a procession though Harvard Yard at the start of Harvard University commencement exercises, on May 25, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass. AP Photo/Steven Senne

“It’s good to be idealistic. But be prepared to be misunderstood. Anyone working on a big vision will get called crazy, even if you end up right. Anyone working on a complex problem will get blamed for not fully understanding the challenge, even though it’s impossible to know everything upfront. Anyone taking initiative will get criticized for moving too fast, because there’s always someone who wants to slow you down… In our society, we often don’t do big things because we’re so afraid of making mistakes that we ignore all the things wrong today if we do nothing. The reality is, anything we do will have issues in the future. But that can’t keep us from starting.

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She was unimpressed by the choice of speaker for her college graduation and doesn’t remember anything he said. The year after she graduated, Barack Obama spoke at her alma mater.