Three of Some of the Best Graduation Speeches of All Time

Posted by on Thursday, May 19th, 2016 at 3:35pm.

Graduation season has come upon us. 

With North, Benson and South students already feeling the thrill of graduation and Central, Bryan, Northwest and Burke still to go, we thought it would be fitting to put together a couple of posts pertaining to graduates. Our first entry will focus on some of the greatest graduation speeches of all time, while the next post will give you a few ideas for graduation gifts. 

So, take a moment to cherish your child's development from that little toddler lumbering around your home to the intelligent, motivated graduate they are today. Now, let's get into the speeches!

1. Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2007

No speech list would be complete without the musings of one of America's greatest business leaders. Steve Jobs was well known for his fiery temper and demand for excellence; geniuses rarely are normal.

But Jobs also had a very aspirational and practical side to him as well. But he also had a very practical side as well, and it is from that mix of whimsy and practicality that he penned his 2007 Stanford University graduation speech. 

The most famous nuggets from this well-worded pontification is as follows: 

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. 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." 

Here's a video excerpt of that speech: 


Didn't think the old battle axe that was Steve Jobs had some touchy-feeliness to him, did you? In reality, Jobs was a controversial and hard-nosed figure, but he knew the magic of chasing after a dream so magnificent few people could understand it -- or even knew it was possible. 

2. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Harvard University, 1978

You may remember Solzhenitsyn -- he was the Russian author and activist who received the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature for his short but sobering book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.

Solzhenitsyn was an officer in the Russian army, serving his country faithfully. However, as communist pressure increased and the tyrannical government of Joseph Stalin became more paranoid, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for some subversive statements he wrote in a letter to a friend. 

That experience spurred the creation of Ivan Denisovitch, as well as the widely hailed classic, The Gulag Archipelago. Sadly, he could not accept his Nobel for fear the government would not let him back in the country once he returned from the ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden. 

Solzhenitsyn was eventually banished by the Soviet government and he took up residence in the United States. 

His Harvard commencement address was in Russian. An interpreter translated, revealing this jarring quote about American culture. Here's a video of his speech. Click here for the transcript:

While lacking the whimsical nature of Jobs' quote, it does remind us that our Western tendency to pursue material gain can be damaging:

"The constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to attain them imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition fills all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development."

3. Jim Carrey, Maharashi School of Management, 2014

Though Jim Carrey's on-screen persona is about as silly as you can possibly get (save for A Scanner Darkly), his approach to success is pretty serious. 

When he was 12 years old, his father lost his job. In Carrey's eyes, it was a chance for his dad to chase his dream of wanting to be a comedian. However, fearing failure and wanting to play it safe, his dad chose to pick up another accounting job. 

Fast forward to 2014, when Carrey spoke to the graduating class at India's Maharashi School of Management: 


We'll close with Carrey's best line from that speech: 

"Too many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality." 

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