Top College Commencement Speeches in the Last 50 Years
Graduation marks the end of a number of tough years slogging through readings, essays, exams, lectures and study groups. In return, some universities go the extra mile and bring in a commencement speaker who delivers a speech that's actually memorable. Here are the top 10.
5. Stephen Colbert: Colbert's given more than one commencement speech, but his 2006 delivery at Knox College stands out for his combination of humor and pathos as he talked about his own experiences and advised graduates to be flexible and adaptable.
4. J.K. Rowling: One of the most successful authors of all time spoke at Harvard in 2008, one of her rare public appearances, and wowed every single person. She spoke about using failure to acquire adversity and the importance of imagination, using wit and humor to capture the hearts of her audience.
3. Ellen DeGeneres: America's comedienne sweetheart had the Tulane class of '09 in the palm of her hands when she opened her speech with, "…distinguished guests, undistinguished guests—you know who you are. …I realize most [students] are hungover and have splitting headaches and haven't slept since Fat Tuesday, but you can't graduate 'til I finish, so listen up." She spoke to them, not at them, and had the president in stitches the entire time.
2. President John F. Kennedy: In 1963, American University seniors were treated to a moving speech in which Kennedy spoke about the importance of peace. What made this speech especially powerful was the time period in which he delivered it, as the country was facing crises in the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and tenuous relations with the Soviet Union.
1. Steve Jobs: The graduating class of 2005 at Stanford got to hear one of the most powerful speeches ever, never mind a commencement speech. He spoke about life, death, illness and business, with one of the more poignant parts coming when he said, "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life…[The diagnosis of a rare, yet surgery-curable, form of pancreatic cancer] was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades."
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