Top Quotes from 2015’s Famous Commencement Speakers

Who could be more qualified to dish out life advice to those embarking upon the journey than those who have truly “made it” – the movers and shakers, the successful few, the elite?

Elizabeth Hoyt

May 21, 2015

Top Quotes from 2015’s Famous Commencement Speakers Top Quotes from 2015’s Famous Commencement Speakers

It’s graduation season! And, that means it’s also time for those oh-so-riveting commencement speeches.

To be completely honest, most commencement speeches are dull and sitting through them is nothing short of painful.

For example, I don’t even remember the speaker at my own commencement ceremony. I remember it was a man and I remember he passed as somewhat “notable.” I also remember almost falling asleep during his speech. (My apologies if you’re reading this, sir.)

However, if you’re lucky enough to get a speaker like one of the following, you’re in for a treat. These outstanding celebrities, politicos and other famed figures shared wisdom, wit and hilarious anecdotes.

Who could be more qualified to dish out life advice to those embarking upon the journey than those who have truly “made it” – the movers and shakers, the successful few, the elite?

Perhaps their entire speeches weren’t gripping from start to finish but, thankfully, you won’t have to sit through them – we’ve rounded up the most poignant takeaway quotes so you can gather up words of wisdom without wasting any additional precious moments of your time.

Check out the following top takeaway quotes or, rather, words of wisdom within 2015 commencement speeches given by famous folks:

1. President Barack Obama


“We live in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge and innovation like never before. So as a country, we can’t afford to let any striving American be priced out of the education they need to get ahead.

For everybody willing to work for it, we need to make two years of community college as free and universal as high school is today. It’s the right thing to do.”

President Barack Obama gave the 2015 commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute, a small two-year community college in South Dakota.

According to the President, he asked to give the commencement address at the school because “there are few institutions that are more important to America’s economic future than community colleges” and of the school’s accomplishments.

“It’s basically the Oscars for great community colleges. Only two community colleges in the country made the top 10 every year the prize has been awarded — and one of them is Lake Area Tech,” said President Obama.

He went on to describe the school’s accomplishments, along with the accomplishments of individual students at the school.

Additionally, he took the opportunity to talk about his education initiatives, particularly in making community colleges free for students.

2. Maya Rudolph, Comedienne and Actress


"So if I must give any of you advice it would be Say Yes. Say Yes, And… and create your own destiny. So hold on to your old friends. Kiss your Mama. Admit what your dreams are. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know what you’re gonna do tomorrow.

But work hard and don’t be lazy. And put away your damn phone once in a while. And be nice to jerks because we still don’t know the criteria for getting into heaven yet."

Comedienne and actress Maya Rudolph’s 2015 commencement address to graduates at Tulane University was both insightful and hilarious as she offered up real life advice and, of course, plenty of laughs.

Rudolph channeled both Oprah Winfrey (“Look Under Your Seats! Because you are all leaving here today with a COLLEGE DIPLOMA!!! YOU GET A COLLEGE DIPLOMA! YOU GET A COLLEGE DIPLOMA!” and Beyoncé (concluding her speech with a not-so-Beyoncé-esque sounding version of the National anthem) during her address, leaving the crowd in stitches.

What more would you expect from the unpredictable Ms. Rudolph?

3. Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO


“Someone will always have an opinion about you. Whatever you do won’t ever be enough.

So find something important to you. Find something that you love.

You are going to make a lot of mistakes. I’ve already made a ton of them – some of them very publicly – and it will feel terrible, but it will be okay.”

Snapchat CEO, Evan Spiegel, during his 2015 commencement address to the University of Southern California Marshall.

Spiegel certainly touched upon his own life experiences in his commencement address.

During his speech, Spiegel described the irony of the situation: just three years prior he was seated at his own graduation ceremony at Stanford – except he wasn’t actually graduating. He walked as a façade to fit in. He refused to sell his business because he loved it.

Now, he’s a CEO giving commencement speeches and advice to undergraduates.

Spiegel finished up with candid advice, which anyone can apply to life.

“In times of despair, you may believe the cynic who tells you that one person cannot make a difference – and there are times it may be hard to see your own impact.

I beg you to remember that it is not possible at this time or any time to know the end results of our efforts.

That is for our God alone. Please voice your dissent, anticipate your erasure, and find something you aren’t willing to sell.”

4. Stephen Colbert, Comedian, Television Host, Actor and Author


“So I hope you find the courage to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. And then, please expect as much of the world around you.

Try to make the world good according to your standards. It won’t be easy.

Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done — like ending racial tension, or getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions.

And we should know they can’t be done. After all, we’re the ones who didn’t do them.”

The famed comedian, TV host, actor and author didn’t disappoint while sharing both comical and serious sentiments during his 2015 commencement address to Wake Forest University.

5. Jimmy Buffett, Singer/Songwriter


“Use your time well. Beware of falling into the sedentary trap.”

Buffett during his 2015 commencement address to University of Miami graduates, looking laid-back as ever in his aviators, of course.

He urged the graduates to get out and explore the world around them and “be Santa Claus when you can.” Whatever that means.

The singer/songwriter, who is a multi-platinum artist, was awarded an honorary doctorate in music.

Buffett didn’t stick around long after the commencement ceremony. Why? According to the Miami Herald, he was reported as saying “he had some fish to catch on Elliott Key.” Sounds like another typical day in Margaritaville…

6. Madeline Albright, Former Secretary of State


“No matter our race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation, we are all equal shareholders in the American Dream.

And that means we do not fear our differences, we embrace them.”

Madeline Albright during her address to students at Tufts University during the 2015 commencement ceremony, where she received an honorary doctor of laws degree.

7. Denzel Washington, Actor


"Don’t be afraid to fail big, to dream big, but remember, dreams without goals, are just dreams.”

A piece of Washington’s shared wisdom to graduates of Dillard University within his 2015 commencement address. The address consisted of life advice with heavy religious undertones – or just tones, in general, as they were pretty blatant.

8. Bill Nye, “Science Guy”


“Just think what else is out there, what other physical or biological phenomenon is just waiting to be discovered, or invented, or thought of.

You all can do this. You all can be the Next Great Generation.

You can, dare I say it, Change the World.”

Famed scientist, Bill Nye, took the opportunity to address climate change and global warming issues during his 2015 Rutgers University commencement speech address.

He also took the time to offer up some general-but-useful life advice to the graduates.

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. This is troubling for many of us know-it-alls.”

He then gave examples of people who have knowledge that one may not expect and continued his thought.

“Respect their knowledge. Learn from them. It will bring out the best in both of you.”


9. Matthew McConaughey, Actor


“Life’s not fair. It never was, isn’t now and won’t ever be.

Do not fall into the entitled trap of feeling like you’re a victim. You are not.”

McConaughey gives real life advice while addressing the graduating class at the University of Houston’s 2015 commencement address.

Apparently, the tough-love approach was well-received – the actor received a standing ovation from the speech.

10. Vice President Joe Biden


“Try to look beyond the caricature of the person with whom you have to work.”

Vice President Joe Biden’s advice to Yale graduates during his 2015 Yale University commencement speech address.

The Vice President delivered his address – or what’s being referred to by some as his “stand-up routine” – colorfully while donning aviator sunglasses during his entire speech to the class of 2015, offering up both jokes and practical insight to the audience.

11. Mark Ruffalo, Actor


“I’m asking each of you, at some point, to act up — be misbehaved.

Buck the system. Fight for what you believe in. This is the time to do it. You’re the ones to do it.

Your world, like no other generation, you actually get to create the world that you can imagine.”

Actor, Mark Ruffalo, during an acceptance speech at Dickenson College’s 2015 commencement address.

Ruffalo received two awards at the commencement ceremony, the Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Waters Prize for Global Environmental Activism.

Ruffalo’s speech focused around challenging the new graduates to dedicate their work toward environmental activism and global change.

12. Katie Couric, Television Journalist


“Keep asking questions. Keep demanding change.

But remember: activism can’t truly lead to lasting, meaningful change without dialogue, even with those with whom you may disagree.”

Katie Couric’s advice to the class of 2015 in her 2015 commencement address to graduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

During her speech, Couric also touched upon the value of technology, particularly social media.

“Social media can be a great thing: giving voice to the voiceless, uniting people across the globe in a common cause.”

She continued by cautioning graduates not to forget to remain connected to those around them.

“But proceed with caution. Constant connectivity can leave you feeling isolated and disconnected. Do not be seduced by the false intimacy of social media.”

The television journalist reminded graduates how important it is to value “real” connectivity and relationships in life – and to cherish moments that are fleeting.

“There’s no substitute for a real conversation with a real friend that requires real empathy. There’s no replicating a chance to take a walk with a grandparent who’s not always going to be there. There’s nothing like being in the moment, even when that moment isn’t captured or shared.

Life is too exciting and wonderful and intense and insane and just plain fun to have your nose buried in a screen for hours on end.”

It sounds like Couric and Rudolph agree on that fact! (Rudolph reminded graduates to put their phones away once in a while.)

13. Forest Whitaker, Actor


“You must always ask yourself if you’re standing up for what you know is right, if you’re spending time with the people close to you, if you’re treating others with kindness and compassion.

These questions are your moral compass; they’re your north star.”

Actor Forest Whitaker, shared wise words in his 2015 commencement address to California State University, Dominguez Hills.

The actor’s commencement address with both sincere and inspirational as he urged the Class of 2015 to focus on a life of love and kindness, filled with meaningful actions.

To paraphrase, Whitaker acknowledged that graduates may be confused on where their current path is leading, but, more importantly, they should question the type of life they want to lead. Sound advice, if you ask us!

14. Mitt Romney,
Former Massachusetts governor, presidential and U.S. Senate candidate


“Failures aren’t fun, but they are inevitable. More importantly, failures don’t have to define who you are.”

Mitt Romney during his 2015 commencement address at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

Romney touched upon his personal successes and failures during the speech, and overcoming the latter.

15. Kanye West, Musican/Rapper


"’I’m sorry’ is something that you can use a lot. It gives you the opportunity to give your opinion, apologize for it and give your opinion again.”

Rapper, Kanye West, during his acceptance speech in receiving an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute of Chicago.

West shared personal advice with graduates during his speech, along with a jovial shout-out to former President George W. Bush.

West never attended the Art Institute of Chicago, but he was briefly a student at two other Chicago universities: Chicago’s American Academy of Art and Chicago State University.

He did not graduate from either school; however, he ultimately left his academic career to pursue his musical career full-time.

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