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Inspiring Graduation Quotes To Motivate Your Career
Jill L. Ferguson

Graduation. It’s a time of excitement, congratulations and inspiration. It’s a time of feeling a sense of accomplishment for a job well done. It is a time of celebration. It can also be a time of trepidation regarding “what’s next?” -- which is a familiar feeling, whether you're graduating from high school, or are a post-graduate student and far beyond being a 20-something year old. 

The ceremony itself might feel climatic, anti-climatic, or as comedy writer Robert Orben described it, “An event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success.”

In addition to the caps and gowns and mixed emotions, one key ingredient in a graduation ceremony is the commencement address, which often imparts wisdom and life lessions. National Public Radio says that the anatomy of a great commencement speech includes humor, the speaker making fun of him or herself and downplaying the whole graduation speech tradition while incorporating a strong message.

I would add that the strong message will be memorable only if it is applicable to life after graduation, too. So this month, as some of your friends, colleagues and family members graduate or attend graduations, let’s review some words to live by from speeches of graduations past.

Inspirational graduation quotes during a commencement speech often impart a graduation wish or wisdom about how to achieve one's dreams. People think that that college graduation speeches have to focus on life change or world problem, but it is also an opportune time to focus on an inspirational quote that can be relevant for everyone.

Be True to Yourself

In my keynote graduation address to the Northeastern University Seattle’s first-ever class—all master’s degree or doctoral degree recipients—in 2015, I used a couple of examples from my own life, like the Provost asked me to, and I talked of following one’s own path and remaining true and authentic to our inner voices. By being ourselves, that is how we impact the world.

This, of course, is not a new idea. Steve Jobs told the graduates at Stanford in 2005, "You have to trust in something. Your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path."

And two years later, Oprah Winfrey told the graduates of Howard University, “Your calling isn’t something that someone can tell you about…You know it inside yourself.”

Ellen DeGeneres spoke at Tulane University in 2009 and said these two things, among others: “It was so important for me to lose everything because I found what the most important thing is. The most important thing is to be true to yourself.” And of course Ellen wouldn’t be Ellen without humor. “Life is like one big Mardi Grax. But instead of showing your boobs, show people your brain, and if they like what they see, you’ll have more beads than you know what to do with.”

Be a Leader Who Knows What She’s Worth

And these words were echoes of poet, author and educator Gwendolyn Brooks who told the University of Vermont in 1986, “Do not desire to fit in. Desire to oblige yourself to lead.”  And as you lead, remember what you’re worth. Way back in 1977, writer Adrienne Rich told Douglass College, “Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions—it means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short.”

Build a Legacy

In 2009, President Barack Obama addressed the graduates at Arizona State University, admonishing them to not think of titles or corner offices or other outer trappings of success, but to think of all of the ways they can create a body of work.

He said, “It's about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up over time, over a lifetime, to a lasting legacy. That's what you want on your tombstone. It's about not being satisfied with the latest achievement, the latest gold star -- because the one thing I know about a body of work is that it's never finished. It's cumulative; it deepens and expands with each day that you give your best, each day that you give back and contribute to the life of your community and your nation. You may have setbacks, and you may have failures, but you're not done -- you're not even getting started, not by a long shot.”

These inspirational graduation quotes and graduation messages are certainly a great selection of quotes for how other people think about the key to success long after graduation and and you have taken off your cap and gown.If you're looking for other ideas for inspirational graduation sayings and inspirational quotesat the end of someone's education, consider these other quotes that impart wisdom and humor far beyond graduation day:

"You will have failures in your life, but it is what you do during those valleys that will determine the heights of your peaks."  -- Rahm Emanual

"Your biggest risk isn't failing, it's getting too comfortable." -- Drew Houston

"It’s harder to build than destroy. To build is to engage and change. In jazz, we call progressing harmonies changes. Changes are like obstacles on a speed course. They demand your attention and require you to be present. They are coming...they are here..... and then they are gone. It's how life comes. Each moment is a procession from the future into the past and the sweet spot is always the present. Live in that sweet spot. Be present." -- Wynton Marsalis

"You get to make your own luck. 80% of success in your career will come from just showing up. The world is run by those who show up…not those who wait to be asked."  -- Steve Blank

"You cannot authentically live anyone's life but your own. That is the deal life offers us." -- Gabrielle Giffords

"Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal. Fortune does favor the bold, and I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try."
-- Sheryl Sandberg

"As you get older, you realize that no one has all the answers. It turns out that life is an exercise in living with the certainty of uncertainty." -- Jason Kilar

Remember that Work is Only One Part of Life

And finally, in our days of electronic leashes and constant communication, heed the advice of Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Quindlen,  who told the graduates at Villanova in 2000, “You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.”



Jill L. Ferguson is the co-author of WOMEN Are Changing the Corporate Landscape: Rules for Cultivating Leadership Excellence and Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money at Work. She is the founder of Women's Wellness Weekends and can be followed on Twitter: @JLFerg



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