5 Inspiring Commencement Speeches
Your graduation is a time of celebration and new beginnings. You took advantage of an opportunity to grow — by your own volition and through your tenacity, you committed to something and saw it through to the end. It’s time to commemorate all the hard work you’ve done to advance your abilities, recognize your persistence in the face of obstacles, and celebrate your achievements and determination. So from us to you, we just want to say: Congratulations! We’re so proud of each of you.
To help you celebrate, we’ve curated a playlist of commencement speeches from past graduation ceremonies. While the speakers may be addressing classes and schools other than your own, their words can still applaud your work and provide motivation to keep applying yourself, advancing, and accomplishing as you head into your new, post-graduation future.
Not graduating quite yet? You’re closer than you think — you’ve already taken the initiative to continue your education. Every assignment you complete, test you take, and course you crush brings you one step closer. These speeches will encourage you to keep taking those steps — and to remember to celebrate your successes on the path to graduation!
So whether you’re at the beginning, middle, or end of this chapter in your education journey, we hope that these commencement speeches will speak to you and bring you whatever you need — inspiration, celebration, or otherwise.
“The Chance to Rescue Success From Failure” — Atul Gawande, MD, MPH
Watch Atul Gawande’s commencement speech at Williams College in 2012.
Gawande’s speech begins at 02:24.
In his commencement speech, surgeon, writer, and public health researcher Atul Gawande tells the story of a hardworking woman admitted to his hospital. Using her case, he explains a medical term called “failure to rescue” and illustrates what his career in medicine has taught him about handling complexity and uncertainty. In medicine, as in life, there is always a risk of failure, but Gawande shows it’s how you deal with failure and respond to it that sets you apart and allows you to succeed. When it comes to taking risks, he sees failure as a necessity and achievement as a result of preparation, adaptability, and confidence: preparation for the potential of failure, adaptability to failure, and confidence in spite of failure.
“This is what distinguished the great from the mediocre: They didn’t fail less — they rescued more.” — Atul Gawande, MD, MPH
“Who Are You Going to Be?” — Michelle Obama
Watch Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at Eastern Kentucky University in 2013.
Obama’s speech begins at 07:35.
In this commencement speech, Michelle Obama — a lawyer, writer, and former first lady of the United States — recalls a conversation she had with her daughter about college and asks graduates three questions about what comes next after graduating. Obama uses those questions as a platform for sharing her advice, urging graduates to make a difference in their communities and embrace diversity, and highlighting the importance of working hard, refusing to make excuses, and displaying resilience.
Looking for more? Watch Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at the City College of New York in 2016.
Obama’s speech begins at 1:58.
In her final commencement address as first lady, Obama speaks to the power of diversity, the hard work and dedication of immigrants, and the determination and sacrifice of students juggling multiple jobs and supporting families while in school. She recognizes the challenges students face outside of their academic lives, and encourages the graduating class to share what they have learned to help others and improve the world.
“You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” — Michelle Obama
“If You Want to Change the World, Start Off by Making Your Bed” — Admiral William H. McRaven, USN
Watch Admiral William H. McRaven’s commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014.
In his commencement speech, retired Admiral William H. McRaven of the U.S. Navy underlines 10 lessons he learned from basic Navy SEAL training that gave him guidance and set him up for success, not only in the military, but throughout his life. Addressing the power of hope, of taking risks, and of perseverance, he demonstrates how a single person who changes the lives of just 10 others can help change the world for generations.
“Changing the world can happen anywhere, and anyone can do it.” — Admiral William H. McRaven, USN
“I Urge You to Try and Create the World You Want to Live In” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s commencement speech at Wellesley College in 2015.
Adichie’s speech begins at 1:18.
In her commencement speech, author and speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie relates short stories about her own family, education history, career path, and experiences in order to share wisdom and advice regarding privilege, feminism, courage, and making the most of your time in this world. She encourages graduates to stay true to themselves in the face of adversity and pressures of all sorts and sources, underscoring the value of recognizing and embodying the real you.
“We cannot always bend the world into the shapes we want, but we can try. We can make a concerted and real and true effort.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Searching for additional inspiration? Look no further than your own peers! Meet four students who have shown persistence in their pursuit of education.
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Opinions shared during commencement addresses are those of the speaker, and don’t necessarily represent the viewpoints of Guild Education.