From the Dr. Sean Combs (he received an honorary degree) to the creator of “Frozen,” we listened in on some notable commencement speakers to get inspired by their words of wisdom for the Class of 2014.
Spring is in the air, and you know what that means—seniors are graduating and who better to send them off into the real world than a famous person to fill their heads with stirring words to inspire greatness.
We listened in on some of the most notable commencement speakers from a fired-up “Science Guy” to a newly fired newspaper editor and selected some of their words of wisdom for the Class of 2014.
Sean Combs: “The Power of You”
Rap mogul Sean Combs received an honorary doctorate from Howard University where he fueled up the graduating class with some empowering words.
“I want you to take the craziest dream you ever had, that dream that you’re too embarrassed to tell anyone about. And I want you to go after it. I want you to make it a reality. I don’t want you to dream, I want you to do.”
“For a lot of people, the distance between their dreams and their reality is intimidating, and they get stuck…and the only way forward is to be real about what it’s going to take for you to achieve those dreams.”
“I want you to be fearless, I want you to be decisive, I want you to make a decision right now that when you fail and and you fall to your knees, I want you to remember the power of you, and I want you to get back up on your feet.”
“As you face obstacles that I’m telling you about in your life, if you ever think about stopping, I just want you to think about me singing in your ear, ‘I thought I told you that we won’t stop, I thought I told you that we won’t stop.”
Bill Nye: “The Joy of Discovery”
Bill Nye The Science Guy had some general advice: “If you smell fresh paint, don’t walk under the ladder. Wear shoes in a thumbtack factory. And, don’t try to smoke in the rain. In fact, don’t try to smoke at all.” He also encouraged his audience at UMass Lowell to face the threat of climate change and work together to make change happen.
“There are a great many people who claim that climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by an international conspiracy… Conspiracy theories are for lazy people, people who don’t want to get down to business at hand.”
“We are at a tipping point: With just a little bit more education, with just a little bit more engagement, a little bit more discussion… people in the United States will join citizens of other countries and get to work on climate change.”
“Instead of just doing less, we have to find ways to do more with less, that’s the key to the future.”
“Here’s wishing you the joy of discovery. Keep reaching. Keep seeking. Keep using your abilities to bring out the best in those around you, and in yourself. As you do, you can and you will, dare I say it, change the world.”
Jay Leno: Lessons from Show Biz
For former Tonight Show host Jay Leno, show business is “really a wonderful business. You don’t pollute anything, you don’t make dangerous chemicals, you don’t hurt the environment. The worst thing you can do is not raise the human spirit.” In his commencement speech at Emerson College, he shared 20 rules for achieving success in the entertainment biz that apply to life. Here are a few of the best:
“Always keep people in your life who don’t quite understand what it is you do… It’ll keep you humble. You’re never as important as you think you are.”
“Do not judge your own success by the success of others.”
“It’s nice to believe in yourself—it’s better to have other people believe in you.”
“You can never make it too late, you can only make it too soon.”
“If you can’t get in front door, go through back door.”
“You’ll learn more from your critics than you will ever learn from your friends.”
Sheryl Sandberg: “Nothing Is Impossible”
Facebook COO and bestselling “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg encouraged graduates from City Colleges of Chicago to lean into the future:
“You made this dream come true, so you can be more ambitious. You can dream bigger—for yourself and the world around you. As you extend your reach, what once seemed unattainable is now within your grasp. I want you to see that nothing is impossible. That your dreams are the possible dreams.”
“Breaking really big dreams into small steps is the best way to get there.”
“Your career—and your life—is going to have starts and stops, zigs and zags, twists and turns… Each of us finds our own way in our own time.”
“Your life’s course will not be determined by the things that are easy, the things you know you can do. Those are the easy ones. It’ll be determined by the things that are hard.”
“Don’t let yourselves off the hook by deciding that something is out of your reach. You never know what you’re capable of until you try.”
Michelle Obama: Every Voice Is Important
In a stirring speech to high school grads in Topeka, Kansas, First Lady Michelle Obama honored the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared separate schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
“We know that today in America, too many folks are still stopped on the street because of the color of their skin, or they’re made to feel unwelcome because of where they come from, or they’re bullied because of who they love.
“So graduates, the truth is that Brown vs. Board of Ed isn’t just about our history, it’s about our future. Because while that case was handed down 60 years ago, Brown is still being decided every single day—not just in our courts and schools, but in how we live our lives.
“Now our laws may no longer separate us based on our skin color, but nothing in the Constitution says we have to eat together in the lunchroom or live together in the same neighborhoods.
“When you encounter folks who still hold the old prejudices because they’ve only been around folks like themselves, when you meet folks who think they know all the answers because they’ve never heard any other viewpoints, it’s up to you to help them see things differently.”
“We need to bring everyone to the table, we need every voice in our national conversation. So, graduates, that is your mission: to make sure all those voices are heard, to make sure everyone in this country has a chance to contribute.”
Jennifer Lee: “Let It (Self-Doubt) Go”
Jennifer Lee, the co-creator of the animated blockbuster Frozen, told the class of 2014 at the University of New Hampshire about how she struggled with self-doubt and only found success when she learned to, um, “Let It Go.”
“Self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of open, reactive instead of active. Self-doubt is consuming and cruel, and my hope today is that we can all collectively agree to ban it.”
“Think to the moments of your life when you forgot to doubt yourself, when you were so inspired that you were just living and creating and working. Pay attention to those moments.”
“When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better… you can accept criticism and listen.”
“When you believe in yourself, you succeed better. Hours spent doubting, questioning, fearing can be given over to working, exploring and living.”
“If the first draft of ‘Frozen’ was the one we made, if I had been too insecure and defensive to listen to the notes and criticism … it wouldn’t be ‘Frozen’ and I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Temple Grandin: “Bust Out of Your Silos”
Dr. Temple Grandin, the professor of animal science and autistic activist, told the graduating class of Providence College that the world needs to value different ways of thinking.
“There’s too much emphasis in education on the deficits, and not enough emphasis on building up the area of strength. ‘Cause you get these kids that have got a label: ADHD, mild autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia, they pound away on the deficits…You know, the whole electric grid would probably fall down if you didn’t have those dyslexics that’ll fix the wires when they break.”
“I’m worried today with all the technology, people getting too much in their little silos… You need to bust out of your silos.”
“I think it’s a problem when we take our best and our brightest in engineering and they spend all these millions of dollars to make a fiberoptic cable to game the stock market. That’s not what we should be doing with our mathematicians. They need be working on something cool, like the warp core, like in Star Trek.”
“Get out there, do some real projects, get some real stuff done.”
Jill Abramson: “Show What You Are Made Of”
Fresh from her recent firing as executive editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson told Wake Forest University graduates a little about her former job: “It was the honor of my life to lead the newsroom.” She also confided that there is “not a chance” she’ll remove her Times “T” tattoo, and her words of wisdom were to be resilient.
“It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back than to watch how we handled our successes. ‘Show what you are made of,’ he would say.”
“I’m talking to anyone who’s been dumped, not gotten the job you really wanted or received those horrible rejection letters from grad school. You know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of.”
“We human beings are a lot more resilient than we often realize.”
“Some of you have faced danger or even a soul-scorching loss. But most of you haven’t, and leaving the protective cocoon of school for the working world must seem scary. You will probably have a dozen different jobs, try all different things. Sure, losing a job you love hurts, but the work I revered, journalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountable, is what makes our democracy so resilient. This is the work I will remain very much a part of.”
“What’s next for me? I don’t know, so I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you.”