Graduation speeches can be tiresome because what’s said probably doesn’t matter very much in the end. That’s because unless a commencement speaker says something truly inappropriate very few will ever remember what the speaker said. But then sometimes, someone says something which makes people stand up and pay attention. TopYaps brings you a sampling of top 10 graduation speeches that stand out for being unexpected, funny, or truly memorable.
1. Conan O’Brien (Harvard, 2000)
What’s going to happen to me? Will I find my place in the world? Am I really graduating a virgin?
“Fellow students, as we sit here today listening to that classic Ah-ha tune which will definitely stand the test of time, I would like to make several predictions about what the future will hold: “I believe that one day a simple Governor from a small Southern state will rise to the highest office in the land. He will lack political skill, but will lead to the sheer strength of his moral authority.”
2. Stephen Colbert (Knox College, 2006)
Outsourcing is so easy that I had this speech today written by a young man named Panjeeb from Bangalore.
Today is about you- you who have worked so hard to pack your heads with learning until your skulls are all plump like — sausage of knowledge. It’s an apt metaphor, don’t question it. But now your time at college is at an end. Now you are leaving here. And this leads me to a question that just isn’t asked enough at commencements. Why are you leaving here?
3. J.K. Rowling (Harvard, 2008)
The fringe benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
4. Randy Pausch (Carnegie Mellon, 2007)
How to live your childhood dreams.
“You know, life is a gift, it sounds trite, but if you wait long enough, other people will show you their good side. If there’s anything I’ve [learned] that is absolutely true. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than you might like. But the onus is on you to keep the hope and keep waiting.”
5. Will Ferrell (Harvard, 2003)
I’m not one of you. Okay? I can’t relate to who you are and what you’ve been through.
You know, when Bill Gates first called me to speak to you today, I was honored. But when he wanted me to be one of the Roxbury guys, I — Sorry, that’s Microsoft. I’m sorry about that. Star Trek Convention. No. NRA. NAACP. Dow Chemical. No. But that is a good one.
6. Michael Bloomberg (Tufts, 2007)
Give It To Them Straight
There will be ups, there will be downs, there will be sideways. I can just tell you I have been hired, I have been fired, I have been lauded, I have been vilified. I’ve said some of the most brilliant things that just by accident appeared on my tongue, and I’ve said some of the dumbest things that you could imagine.
7. Oprah Winfrey (Stanford University, 2008)
Even doubt means don’t. This is what I’ve learned.
Now I want to talk a little bit about failings because nobody’s journey is seamless or smooth. We all stumble. We all have setbacks. If things go wrong, you hit a dead end—as you will—it’s just life’s way of saying time to change course. So, ask every failure—this is what I do with every failure, every crisis, every difficult time—I say, what is this here to teach me?
8. Bill Gates (Harvard, 2007)
Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree
I worried that they would realize I was just a student in a dorm and hang up on me. Instead, they said: “We’re not quite ready, come see us in a month,” which was a good thing, because we hadn’t written the software yet. From that moment, I worked day and night on this little extra credit project that marked the end of my college education and the beginning of a remarkable journey with Microsoft.
9. David Foster Wallace (Jest Kenyon College, 2005)
Morning, boys. How’s the water?
There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing.
10. Steve Jobs (Stanford University, 2005)
Stay hungry, Stay foolish
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.