Schools Training

Coolest Graduation Speeches Ever

14 MAY 2014

Every year, around this time, graduates all over North America don caps and gowns as they prepare for the next phase in their journey. Graduation speeches have become an important part of graduation ceremonies, with schools reaching out to celebrities, writers and important men and women to do the honours. These speeches receive coverage in school news, Canadian education news and educational articles, among others. Thanks to YouTube, many of these legendary speeches, which will teach you, make you laugh and inspire you, sometimes all at once, are now available online, so that we can all experience what it was like to hear David Foster Wallace’s classic “This is water” speech in person, or Steve Jobs’ heartfelt plea to never settle.

Here’s our list of some of the coolest graduation speeches. No matter what you dream of accomplishing, these speeches will get you excited and make you want to seize the day!

Oprah Winfrey at Spelman College (2005)

Over the course of her career, Oprah Winfrey has delivered multiple graduation speeches, but this one might just be her finest. Addressing the women of the Spelman class of 2005, Oprah spoke of three main subjects: discovering who you are, looking for ways to put your talents to good use, and always doing the right thing, a message that greatly resonated with the graduates.

David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College (2005)

For their 2005 graduation ceremony, Kenyon College enlisted the writer David Foster Wallace, best known for the novel Infinite Jest, to address its graduation class. Wallace’s speech was far from the typical upbeat graduation speech, but touched, with emotion, thoughtfulness and humour, on a number of important problems of adult life, such as the mundane nature of daily existence, or how easy it is to get caught up in our own thoughts. In the end, Wallace reminded the graduates that we are in control of how we choose to think about the world.

 J.K. Rowling at Harvard University (2008)

Another writer, J.R. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, addresses the graduating class of Harvard University in 2005, many of which had no doubt read Rowling’s books growing up, and were now being addressed by the author herself. Rowling, who, before the Potter series’ international success, was a struggling writer, gave a speech that’s both incredibly witty and highly relatable, stressing to her audience two important life lessons: the importance of failure, and the importance of imagination.

Stephen Colbert at Northwestern (2011)

The late-night comedian gave a witty and incredibly funny speech to the graduates of his alma mater, Northwestern, in 2011. While he went to great lengths to make the audience laugh, the strongest portion of the speech probably came when he slowed down and spoke a little more seriously, discussing the role of dreams in our journeys, and how dreams can change as we change. He smartly noted that not achieving your dreams doesn’t mean you’ve failed, just like achieving what you thought was your dream doesn’t mean that you can let go and stop there.

Steve Jobs at Stanford (2005)

Jobs, the genius behind the rise of Apple, spoke a lot about what effect being briefly fired from Apple before being asked to return to the company had on his career. His message: don’t settle. Being away from Apple for a period of time freed him to enter one of the most creative periods of his life. Suddenly, he was a beginner again, and everything was possible.