Top 5 Commencement Speeches for Inspiration

August 04, 2016 - Dom Barnard

These are 5 of our favourite commencement speeches from people who have helped shape the world around us.

1. J.K. Rowling – Harvard University (2008)

J.K.Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series gave this incredible commencement speeches about never fearing failure and learning to embrace it in order to achieve success.

She told the students about her rejections and the dark period she went through, “I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless” before going on to become a best-selling author (Rowling recently released her rejection letters from her recent Robert Galbraith series).

Top Quote

"You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default."

2. Steve Jobs – Stanford University (2005)

Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple Computer and acquirer of Pixar Animation Studios, urges graduates to pursue their dreams, not settle down and live each day as it was their last. Much like J.K. Rowling, Steve highlights the opportunities in life’s setbacks during the university’s 114th Commencement event.

He talks about how he use to cope with important life choices, by remembering that he’ll be dead soon and that his decisions don’t really matter in the long run.

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"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it."

3. Oprah Winfrey – Stanford University (2008)

Oprah Winfrey, global media leader and philanthropist, spoke to the Class of 2008 at Stanford’s 117th Commencement on June 15, 2008. In this commencement speech, she talks about trusting your gut and follow it fearlessly throughout your life, “If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. That’s the lesson. And that lesson alone will save you, my friends, a lot of grief.” She also highlights an important point about not sacrificing satisfaction and happiness for money.

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"And how do you know when you’re doing something right? How do you know that? It feels so… When you’re supposed to do something or not supposed to do something, your emotional guidance system lets you know. The trick is to learn to check your ego at the door and start checking your gut instead."

4. Jeff Bezos – Princeton University (2010)

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO gave the Baccalaureate address to Princeton University’s Class of 2010. Bezos graduated from Princeton in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering.

During this speech, Bezos highlights the importance of being kind in life, mentioning his belief in its importance over intellectual ability. One’s character, he suggested, is reflected not in the gifts one is endowed with at birth but rather by the choices one makes over the course of a lifetime.

Top Quote

"There’s a difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice."

5. Bill Gates – Harvard University (2007)

Bill Gates, business magnate and co-founder of Microsoft, addresses the Harvard Alumni Association in Tecentenary Theater at Harvard University’s 2007 Commencement. In classic Gates style, he starts with some humour, stating that he was a bad influence on students, in particular Steve Ballmer to drop out of college and join him.

He dropped out of Harvard in the mid-1970’s and went on to co-found Microsoft with Paul Allen. He subsequently has committed huge amounts of money to Philanthropy causes, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This commencement speech is definitely worth watching from start to finish.

Top Quote

"Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree. I want to thank Harvard for this honour. I’ll be changing my job next year and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume."