2016 Commencement Speech Roundup
With graduation season upon us, high school and college seniors across the United States are leaving institutions of learning for the next step in their lives, whether that be further education, the job market, or something else. What do these young people need to know as they transition to their next chapters?
This year’s commencement speakers offered an array of thoughtful advice in their addresses. Our favorites encouraged graduates to be persistent, reflective, and value-driven. Below, we have chosen a sample of excerpts from speeches especially relevant to the Good Project’s own themes, and we hope that you find them inspirational.
President Drew Faust, Harvard University
"For this morning’s ceremony I wore the traditional Harvard presidential robe—styled on the garment of a Puritan minister and reminding us of Harvard’s origins. Values were an integral part of the defining purpose of the early years of Harvard College, created to educate a learned ministry. Up until the end of the 1800s, most American college presidents taught a course on moral philosophy to graduating students. But with the rise of the research university in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, moral and ethical purposes came to be seen as at odds with the scientific thinking transforming higher education.
But in today’s world, I believe it is dangerous for universities not to fully acknowledge and embrace their responsibilities to values and to service as well as to reason and discovery. There is no value-free science. There is no algorithm that writes itself. The questions we choose to ask and the research we decide to support; the standards of integrity we expect of our colleagues and students; the community we build and the model we offer: All of this is central to who we are."
President Barack Obama, Rutgers University
“Gear yourself for the long haul. Whatever path you choose—business, nonprofits, government, education, health care, the arts—whatever it is, you're going to have some setbacks. You will deal occasionally with foolish people. You will be frustrated. You’ll have a boss that's not great. You won’t always get everything you want—at least not as fast as you want it. So you have to stick with it. You have to be persistent. And success, however small, however incomplete, success is still success. I always tell my daughters, you know, better is good. It may not be perfect, it may not be great, but it's good. That's how progress happens—in societies and in our own lives.
So don’t lose hope if sometimes you hit a roadblock. Don't lose hope in the face of naysayers. And certainly don’t let resistance make you cynical. Cynicism is so easy, and cynics don’t accomplish much. As a friend of mine who happens to be from New Jersey, a guy named Bruce Springsteen, once sang—“they spend their lives waiting for a moment that just don’t come.” Don’t let that be you. Don’t waste your time waiting.”
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, UC Berkeley
“Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strike, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything. I promise you do. As the saying goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.
Build resilient organizations. If anyone can do it, you can, because Berkeley is filled with people who want to make the world a better place. Never stop working to do so—whether it’s a boardroom that is not representative or a campus that’s not safe. Speak up, especially at institutions like this one, which you hold so dear. My favorite poster at work reads, “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.” When you see something that’s broken, go fix it.”
First Lady Michelle Obama, Santa Fe Indian School
“All you have to do is tune in to the news and you’ll see that right now, some of the loudest voices in our national conversation are saying things that go against every single one of the values that you’ve been living at this school. They’re telling us that we should disrespect others because of who they are or where they come from or how they worship. They’re telling us that we should be selfish – that folks who are struggling don’t deserve our help, that we should just take what we can from life and not worry about anyone else. And they’re saying that it’s okay to keep harming our planet and using our land, our air, our water however we wish.
But, graduates, you all know that those are not the values that shape good citizens. Those are not the values that build strong families and communities and nations. You know this. So we desperately need your voices and your values in this conversation reminding us that we’re all connected, we’re all obligated to treat one another with respect, to act with integrity, to give back to those in need.”
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Suffolk University
“You have to figure out who you are. And who you are isn’t about what job you have, or what kind of car you drive. You have to think hard about what really matters to you. What makes your heart flutter and your stomach clinch? What makes you wake up ready to go, and what makes you grind your teeth?
I’m not saying it’s easy. One of the hardest things to do in the world of Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat is to carve out time for yourself. And not just the time you carve out following Selena Gomez on Instagram. I mean making it a priority to know yourself, to know what defines you totally separate from what anybody else thinks. But here’s the thing: if you figure that out, nothing will be more valuable, because knowing who you are is the compass that will help guide you to unexpected opportunity, or when a setback blows your way, knowing who you are is the centerboard that will help steady you when you’re afraid you may capsize.”