Login   |   Register

The Top Ten All-Time Best Graduation Speeches

By Matthew Demmer

We, the editors of Gradspot.com would like to take this opportunity to hail one of the grandest traditions of beleaguered academia: The Commencement Speech. Like Gradspot, the CS (as we in the industry call it) tries to usher students into the “real world” with a combination of wit, substance, and self-love

. Unlike Gradspot, it will never help its audience figure out the difference between a 401k and an IRA, the best place to live, or the best way to avoid getting a dose of the Clap. That being said, the CS will likely be delivered by someone with a one-word, symbolic, or acronymic name like JFK or Sting. So since we’re not yet cool enough for such a moniker, we’ve decided to do what we do best and research all of the commencement addresses ever given from the dawn of time in order to compile this precious list of winners.

Best Extended Metaphor – Will Ferrell, Harvard 2003

“I’m not one of you. Okay? I can’t relate to who you are and what you’ve been through. I graduated from the University of Life. All right? I received a degree from the School of Hard Knocks. And our colors were black and blue, baby. I had office hours with the Dean of Bloody Noses. All right? I borrowed my class notes from Professor Knuckle Sandwich and his Teaching Assistant, Ms. Fat Lip Thon Nyun. That’s the kind of school I went to for real, okay?”

Best Motivational Cadence – Winston Churchill, 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. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Best Anecdotal Counterpoint – Jon Stewart, William and Mary 2004

“I was in New York on 9/11 when the towers came down. I lived 14 blocks from the twin towers. And when they came down, I thought that the world had ended. And I remember walking around in a daze for weeks. And Mayor Giuliani had said to the city, “You’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to show that things can change and get back to what they were.” And one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, “You know what, we’re gonna be OK.”

Best Top Ten List – Russell Baker, Connecticut College 1995

“Point three follows from point two, and it’s this: Listen once in a while. It’s amazing what you can hear. On a hot summer day in the country you can hear the corn growing, the crack of a tin roof buckling under the power of the sun…. Or sometimes when you’re talking up a storm so brilliant, so charming that you can hardly believe how wonderful you are, pause just a moment and listen to yourself. It’s good for the soul to hear yourself as others hear you, and next time maybe, just maybe, you will not talk so much, so loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly, so utterly shamefully foolishly.”

Best Call to Peace – JFK, American University 1963

“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time”

Best Ironically Uplifting Comment About Death – Steve Jobs, Stanford 2005

“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. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary… Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

Best ending – Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G, Harvard 2004

“But I has got ideals too. Just like de great civil rights leader Martin Luther…Van Dross, I has a dream…of little black girls and little white girls…playin wiv each other. Let’s make it happen. I look out and I see 1000s of people wiv different hopes and different dreams – but it is important never to forget where u all came from – becoz black, white, brown or pakistani we all come from de same place – de punani. Jah bless – bigupyaself Princeton…and keep it real… wesside.”

Best Truism About Graduation Speeches – Al Gore, Johns Hopkins 2005

“In preparing my remarks, in all seriousness I tried very hard to remember who spoke at my commencement in 1969. I have no idea. Unless I’ve just tricked you into remembering, my bet is that 30 years from now you won’t have any idea what was said here, but you will remember the parties tonight. You will remember your families being here, you will remember all the hard work that got you to this point and you’ll remember how you felt. And I hope you feel great, because this is a remarkable achievement that we are honoring here today.”

Best Advice – Conan O’Brien, Harvard 2000

“So, that’s what I wish for all of you: the bad as well as the good. Fall down, make a mess, break something occasionally. And remember that the story is never over. If it’s all right, I’d like to read a little something from just this year: “Somehow, Conan O’Brien has transformed himself into the brightest star in the Late Night firmament. His comedy is the gold standard and Conan himself is not only the quickest and most inventive wit of his generation, but quite possible the greatest host ever.” Ladies and Gentlemen, Class of 2000, I wrote that this morning, as proof that, when all else fails, there’s always delusion.”

Best Non Sequitur – Michael Bloomberg, Tufts 2007

“Now, I know I wasn’t your first choice as speaker today, but that’s OK, I can learn to live with that. When Busta Rhymes did not show up… I was only too happy to step in.”



I'm dreadfully sorry for what I'm about to say but I - like most Americans - tend to come to tragic conclusions whenever I think about JFK. The saddest part about what he's saying is the fact that peace, in its pure form, a form we've yet to see for any prolonged amount of time on planet earth, just isn't profittable. War may be bad for civilization as a whole, but it's too good for business to put a stop to it. Just look at Iraq. Again, I apologize for the downer. Please feel free to confront me on this as I'd like to be proven wrong.

@paulS: Please confront you? I don't really care about what you have to say, I'm here for the graduation speeches.

@Brenda: You do realize that that comment was made almost 3 years ago, right?

Im graduating sixth grade and have to write a speech, I need something simple. :)

Good share,Attractive enough for me ,thanks for your kind share.

©2010 Gradspot LLC