Saturday, May 15, 2010

Excerpts from "The Best Commencement Speeches of All Time"

CNBC assembled what it believes are the 10 Best Graduation Speeches of all time. Here, I've selected excerpts.

Michael Dell, CEO, Dell Computers, at University of Texas, Austin, 2003. He founded Dell Computers with $1,000 and the idea to sell computers directly to customers. He says, "Don't spend so much time trying to choose the perfect opportunity that you miss the right opportunity...You will learn from your mistakes."

Will Ferrell, Actor and comedian, at Harvard, 2003. “One of you, specifically John Lee, will spend most of your time just hanging out in your car eating nachos. You will all come back from time to time to this beautiful campus for reunions, and ask the question, ‘Does anyone ever know what happened to John Lee?’ At that point, he will invariably pop out from the bushes and yell, ‘Nachos anyone?!’"

Bill Gates, CEO, Microsoft, at Harvard, 2007.
Bill Gates shows just how level the playing field can be: After dropping out of Harvard, he went on to found Microsoft and become one of the wealthiest men in the world. “We must help more people learn how to make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities."

Stephen Colbert, “The Colbert Report” at Knox College, 2006. He admits that he’s not sure if he graduated from college. "They are playing for KEEPS out there, folks. My God, I couldn't wait to get here today just so I could take a breather from the real world. I don't know if they told you what's happened while you've matriculated here for the past four years. The world is waiting for you people with a club. … “If someone does offer you a job, say ‘yes.’ You can always quit later. Then at least you'll be one of the unemployed as opposed to one of the never-employed. Nothing looks worse on a resume than nothing.”

Bono, Rock Star, at the University of Pensylvania, 2004. "So, my question I suppose is: What's the big idea? What's your big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University? The world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”

Winston Churchill, at Harrow, 1941. “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

Woody Hayes, Ohio State football coach, at Ohio State, 1986. “Make sure you don't beat yourself."

Charlie Munger,Warren Buffett’s long-time partner and VP of Berkshire Hathaway at USC, 2007. : “You want to deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end. …
“You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave this university.”

Mary Schmich, columnist Chicago Tribune. Perhaps one of the most famous commencement speeches wasn’t a commencement speech at all, but a column by Mary Schmich, titled “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young.” “Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now. … “Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded.”

Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple. at Stanford, 2005, after his 2004 cancer diagnosis. “Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. Your inner voice somehow already knows what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary… Stay hungry, stay foolish.”


Cornhusker said...

I like Mary's advice best.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you could a have a list of great commencement speeches without leaving out David Foster Wallace's address at Kenyon College.
It's a brilliant reflection on modern life.

Dave said...

Dogma is fine if not taken to extremes. We must not ignore the wisdom and experience of those who came before us. Dogma passed down from the Platonists, the Stoics, etc. have value. The concept of natural rights and natural law originate with Seneca and the Stoics.

Jeff said...

From JK Rowling's very powerful 2008 Harvard address: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you failed by default.”