Entertainment And News

15 Best Celebrity Commencement Speeches Of All Time

Photo: Instagram

It is spring and that means graduation season. Thousands upon thousands of  people are being turned loose from high schools and colleges and embarking on their next steps in life. It's exciting and daunting and wonderful and scary all at once. 

Schools try to honor the work of the students and give them one last lesson to take with them after gradation. Many times, they'll invite famous people to come share some wisdom about the world as part of the graduation ceremony. From Oprah to Barbara Bush, these celebrities gave some of the most stirring speeches to new grads.

Without further adieu, the 15 best celebrity commencement speeches of all time:

RELATED: 10 Life Lessons You Won't Learn Until After Graduation

1. Jimmy Fallon

The Tonight Show host went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and spoke to graduates who are all survivors of a recent mass shooting at their school. He said this to them: "The first thing is this: When something feels hard, remember that it gets better. Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you.”

2. J.K. Rowling

In 2008, the Harry Potter author told graduates of Harvard University that failure isn't something to fear, saying "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."

3. Steve Jobs

The Apple CEO and visionary told Stanford University grads not to be trapped by expectations, saying, "Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

4. Michelle Obama

The First Lady summed up the story of American promise when she told students at City University of New York this: "It’s the story that I witness every single day when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, black young women — head off to school waving goodbye to their father, the President of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to America for the same reasons as many of you: To get an education and improve his prospects in life."

5. Oprah Winfrey

In 2008, the queen of self-help told Stanford graduates that wisdom matters more than money saying, "It's being able to walk through life eager and open to self-improvement and that which is going to best help you evolve, because that's really why we're here — to evolve as human beings. I believe that there is a lesson in almost everything that you do and every experience. Getting the lesson is how you move forward, is how you enrich your spirit. And trust me; I know that inner wisdom is more precious than wealth. The more you spend it, the more you gain."

6. Jon Stewart

The Daily Show host returned to his alma mater of William and Mary in 2004 to share this bit of wisdom with graduates, "College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. "

7. Mindy Kaling

The comedienne and TV writer spoke to Harvard Law School grads in 2014, giving the students a dose of humor as well as self-reflection, telling them "Celebrities give too much advice and people listen to it too much. Most of us have no education whatsoever. Who should be giving advice and the answer is people like you. You are better educated and you are going to go out into the world and people are going to listen to what you say, whether you are good or evil, and that probably scares you because some of you look really young.”

RELATED: 50 Best Graduation Caps & DIY Decoration Ideas For Your Graduation Day

8. Tom Hanks

The beloved actor and Academy Award winner struck a serious tone at Yale University in 2011, saying, "Fear has become the commodity that sells as certainly as sex. Fear is cheap, fear is easy, fear gets attention. It's fast, it's gossip and it's just as glamorous, juicy and profitable. Fear twists facts into fictions that become indistinguishable from ignorance."

9. Kerry Washington

George Washington University alumna and Scandal star returned to GWU in 2013 to tell graduates this, "You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that can write the story that you were meant to tell.”

10. Queen Latifah 

Actress and musician Queen Latifah rallied the graduates of Rutgers University in 2018, telling them "Go out there and make a difference. Be that difference.”

11. Ellen DeGeneres

The daytime talk show host, LGBTQ icon and comedienne struck a humorous tone when she spoke to graduates of Tulane University in 2009. She quipped, "When I was your age, I was dating men. So what I'm saying is, when you're older, most of you will be gay."

12. Rachel Maddow

The MSNBC host spoke to Smith College graduates in 2010 and urged them to consider the mistakes of history and think instead of what they wanted to talk about in their their future saying, "So if you might take advice for me I would offer this, hopefully life is long. Do stuff you will enjoy thinking about and telling stories about for many years to come. Do stuff you will want to brag about."

13. Barbara Bush

The First Lady spoke at Wellesely College in 1990 and shared this vision for the future with the graduates of the women's college: "Who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse, and I wish him well."


14. Lin-Manuel Miranda

The creator of Hamilton: An American Story, took to the stage and the University of Pennsylvania and reminded graduates about the importance of all stories saying, "Your stories, are essential. Don’t believe me? In a year when politicians traffic in anti-immigrant rhetoric, there is a Broadway musical reminding us that a broke, orphan immigrant from the West Indies built our financial system. A story that reminds us that at the beginning of the great unfinished symphony, that is our American experiment, time and time again, immigrants get the job done."

15. Katie Couric

The journalist spoke at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and talked about the value of hard work, even when it seems too hard saying, "There may be days when you’ll say to yourself, 'I can’t. I literally can’t even.' But you can! You can even!"
So go forth graduates - and every one else. Live your best life, because as Katie Couric said, you can even. You really can.

RELATED: 50 Best Sentimental Quotes For Graduation

Rebekah Kuschmider is a DC area writer with a background in non-profit management and advocacy Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and is a contributor the book Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox . She is a cohost of the weekly political podcast The More Perfect Union.