Top 5 Favorite Commencement Speeches

On Sunday, I ran one of my typical loops along the Charles River, a favorite running haunt, with highlights including a gaggle of baby geese crossing my path (they are infinitely cuter than adult geese, much like humans), a hint of kick in my legs (missing of late, and I was heartened to have it back), and the sight of several co-eds in full graduation regalia taking a final stroll with their parents around America’s college town as newly minted members of the real world.

It was hard not to be inspired by the graduates (as opposed to the geese), though they do evoke some of the same themes: growth, leaving the nest, learning to fly, and such.  Each time I darted past a cap and gown and the parents, siblings, or friends who flanked it, I resisted the urge to call out my own piece of commencement advice: follow your heart!  Be bold!  Stay hungry; stay foolish!

Until I realized that the last piece of advice wasn’t me but Steve Jobs, and yelling at people– in the way that one sometimes does too emphatically while wearing headphones and listening to a vintage jam by Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez– might startle more than inspire, especially coming from a weird lady running in this shirt and a scarf around my head like karate kid, the 30-something yogi version.

It's a hot shirt, but pair it with a head scarf and run-yelling, and I may have scared someone.

It’s a hot shirt, designed in the likeness of my Canadian friend Ryan Leier of One Yoga, but pair it with a head scarf and run-yelling, and I might have scared the grads.

So, I contained myself and settled for only giving one Dad a double thumbs up, which he appreciated.  And until I get the call to do my own commencement speech (Loomis Chaffee, University of Richmond… holler at your gal), I’ll refer, instead, to my top 5 favorite commencement speeches of all time– not just for newly minted members of the real world but also us fully formed ones who could always use a loving shove out of the comfy nest, renewed inspiration to fly, and such.

Cue the Pomp and Circumstance (or the J. Lo); these speeches (herewith some favorite excerpts) are the jam.

  1. Anne Lamott at University of California at Berkeley | Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are… Here’s the rest via Salon.
  2. Dick Costolo at the University of Michigan | Be in this moment.  Now, be here in this moment.  Now, be here in this moment… When I was your age, we didn’t have the Internet in our pants… You cannot draw any of your paths looking forward.  You have to figure out what you love to do, what you have conviction about, and go do that… It’s a must-see (above).
  3. Dessa at the University of Minnesota | Failure is a tool we use to demarcate the edges of our abilities… Don’t leave the marking of those failures to speculation.  Go and find out!… Keep your overhead low… If you want a really good speech about how to be successful, google Steve Jobs.  He really killed it… But, first, watch Dessa.  It’s raw and real, and you will love it.
  4. Steve Jobs at Stanford University | Bookmark this one for keeps.    
  5. Kurt Vonnegut who did not write nor deliver the following commencement speech; however, it’s attributed to him and MIT (as if one of the most innovative and prestigious  schools in the world needs an imaginary boost, right?).  Nevertheless, it’s fantastic, written by Mary Schmich, and I’m sure you’ve heard it.  It starts with the sound advice to wear sunscreen, and I’ve played it in yoga classes when the occasion fits.  Just listen.


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