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, and it's a time of celebration. It can also be a time of trepidation regarding “what’s next?”
1. "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." — Steve Jobs
2. "Your calling isn’t something that someone can tell you about…You know it inside yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey
3. "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.” — Ellen DeGeneres
4. “Do not desire to fit in. Desire to oblige yourself to lead.” — Gwendolyn Brooks
6. “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.” — Barack Obama
7. "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
8. "Your biggest risk isn't failing, it's getting too comfortable." — Drew Houston
9. "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
10. "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
11. "You cannot authentically live anyone's life but your own. That is the deal life offers us." — Gabrielle Giffords
12. "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
14. "Last year in San Francisco a young woman told me she was about to become a teacher, and did I have any advice for her. The only thing I could think of at that moment — I think I knew it all along — was to find what you love, and do it. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’re dead. Take out insurance. You’re dead." — Frank McCourt
15. "I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. You’ve got to take risks. You will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose. You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. Never be discouraged. Never look back. Give everything you’ve got. And when you fall throughout life, fall forward." — Denzel Washington
16. "I drove a taxi at night so that I could be available for auditions during the day. One night I picked up Jack Kennedy at the Bel Air Hotel. Yes, that Jack Kennedy. Senator from Massachusetts at the time and future president. We chatted about careers, politics and show business, and we agreed that both had a lot in common. Maybe too much in common. He said, ‘Lots of competition in your business, just like in mine,’ And then he gave me this. ‘Just remember there’s always room for one more good one.’ Words to live by, and I did.” — Leonard Nimoy
17. "You want to be a writer? A writer is someone who writes every day, so start writing. You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job. Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Who are you? Prince William? No. Get a job. Go to work. Do something until you can do something else." — Shonda Rhimes
18. "Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye." — Tim Minchin
19. "Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been." — George Saunders
20. "We have, if we’re lucky, about 30,000 days to play the game of life. And trust me, that’s not morbid. In fact, it’s wisdom that will put all the inevitable failures and rejections and disappointments and heartbreaks into perspective." — Arianna Huffington
21. "I moved to Chicago in the early 1990s and I studied improvisation there. I learned some rules that I try to apply still today. Listen, say yes, live in the moment, make sure you play with people who have your back, make big choices early and often. Don’t start a scene where two people are talking about jumping out of a plane. Start the scene having already jumped. If you are scared, look into your partner’s eyes. You will feel better… I cannot stress enough that the answer to a lot of your life’s questions is often in someone else’s face." — Amy Poehler
23. "Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to bean author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words — was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain." — Neil Gaiman
24. "We’re not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery — it recharges by running… Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems." — Bill Watterson
25. "Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate. The world doesn’t need any more gray. On the other hand, we can’t get enough color. Mediocrity is nobody’s goal and perfection shouldn’t be either. We’ll never be perfect. But remember these three P’s: Passion + Persistence = Possibility." — Jon Bon Jovi
26. "In a world where debate has kind of fallen away and given way to shouting and bullying, the best thing is not just the idea of honest debate, the best thing is losing the debate, because it means that you learn something and you changed your position. The only way really to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite. That doesn’t mean the crazy guy on the radio who is spewing hate, it means the decent human truths of all the people who feel the need to listen to that guy. You are connected to those people. They’re connected to him. You can’t get away from it." — Joss Whedon
27. "Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first." — Anna Quindlen
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 lessons. 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 remember the aforementioned words to live by from speeches of graduations past.
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.
Our employer partners are actively recruiting women! Update your profile today.