Time To Pause, Reflect and Take Stock

I have zero recollection of who spoke at my college or graduate school graduations. Chances are you have no idea who spoke at yours either.

I don’t chalk this up to “it was so many years ago.” I don’t remember remembering who gave the commencement speech even a few years after it happened.

I do remember it was hot, they were boring and full of platitudes. Besides, I was counting minutes to when I could pop the cork and shower a bottle of champagne on the heads of my fellow graduates.

Although my family’s school graduation days are behind us, I enjoy well crafted and spoken messages of optimism, leadership and accountability  that reach us and teach us in the best commencement speeches. Curating the inspiring speeches of the season is one of my favorite round-ups.

Before you say to yourself, “why would I want to subject myself to someone else’s commencement speech,” I invite you to sprinkle a dash of curiosity. It is possible, even likely, that hearing the perspective of commencement speakers who are artists, politicians, corporate leaders, philanthropists and comedians will inform the way you view the world.

As it turns out, they know plenty.

Good commencement speeches cause us to pause, reflect and take stock of how we’re living our lives. Click To Tweet


I was deep in to YouTube research. Watching clips and following suggestions from friends who attended speeches they liked, when I came across 10 of the Best Commencement Speeches of 2017 by Moyers and Company. It contained most of my favorites.

Introduced me to a few I hadn’t heard. Omitted three others that I relished. So I’m adding on those on.

Far from dull or forgettable, this year’s best speeches contain some timely wisdom for graduates (and us) during a politically tumultuous year for the country. Here are some highlights from my favorite commencement speeches this year:

Three Bonus Commencement Speeches

1. Will Ferrell, USC

The comedian and movie star gave a hilarious commencement speech at his alma mater, the University of California, detailing his own failures as he was starting out, and how he is constantly afraid.

“I was just trying to throw as many darts at the dart board, hoping that one would eventually stick. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t extremely confident that I would succeed during this time period, and after moving back to LA there were many a night where in my LA apartment, I would sit down to a meal of spaghetti topped with mustard, with only $20 in my checking account and I would think to myself, ‘Oh well I can always be a substitute schoolteacher.’ And yes, I was afraid. You’re never not afraid. I’m still afraid. I was afraid to write this speech.”

2. Sheryl Sandberg, Virginia Tech

Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, intentionally chose to give a commencement speech at Virginia Tech. Her latest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy details how Sandberg built resilience in the face of her husband’s unexpected death, and how she has moved forward. Virginia Tech suffered its own tragedy 10 years ago, when a mentally ill student shot 32 people on campus before taking his own life in April of 2007. Sandberg acknowledged the unique strength of a community like Virginia Tech, and how these communities don’t just happen, they are built. She tied it back to the students’ graduation day and how resilience will serve them for the rest of their life.

“The most important thing I learned is that we are not born with a certain amount of resilience. It is a muscle, and that means we can build it. We build resilience into ourselves. We build resilience into the people we love. And we build it together, as a community. That’s called “collective resilience.” It’s an incredibly powerful force — and it’s one that our country and our world need a lot more of right about now. It is in our relationships with each other that we find our will to live, our capacity to love, and our ability to bring change into this world.”

3. Adam Grant, Utah State

Grant is the top-ranked professor at Wharton and Sandberg’s co-author for Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

“When I decided to write my first book, my literary agent asked for a proposal. I got so excited about the ideas that I ended up writing the whole book. Over 102,000 words. I sent it over and my agent gently told me that they might interest fellow academics but that was about it. ‘Never give up’ might’ve meant going to another agent or trying my own hand with publishers. Resilience meant having the strength to take the feedback to heart and start over from scratch. Same goal (writing a book about generosity) but different strategy (writing something people might actually want to read). My agent told me to write like I teach. So I started over from scratch. I threw out over a hundred thousand words (there were a few hundred I just couldn’t let go). The book I wrote that time became Give and Take and it’s the reason I’m standing here on this stage. So don’t give up on your values, but be willing to give up on your plans.”

TELL US. Who do YOU think gave the most memorable commencement speech and what’s the message you take away from it? Leave a comment here or on my Facebook Page.

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