Within the past 15 days, I’ve attended three graduation ceremonies: both of my sisters’ high school graduations, as well as my own from Texas A&M University. I’m still working on the recap post from my last days as a student — I have a lot of…well…thoughts — so for the time being, I figured I’d impart the wisdom of others.
Having sat through literal hours upon hours of “esteemed” guests bestowing what they believe to be the key to living, it got me thinking about the various commencement speeches that have impacted my outlook on life. Although I did not attend any of these ceremonies (due to not being invited/because they are fictional), I still have been encouraged, inspired, and downright amused by the content that follows.
“This is Water” by David Foster Wallace
Originally delivered in 2005 at the Kenyon College commencement, Wallace’s speech has since been published into a book because of its frank, heartwarming message. I highly encourage everyone to read the speech
in its entirety; I was first introduced to it in my 11th grade English class (shoutout to Ms. Seward), and I have never stopped thinking about Wallace’s words. His lesson focuses around the story of two young fish encountering an older fish: the old fish asks the young fish how the water is that morning, to which the young fish reply with questioning what water is. At first glance, this may seem odd, but Wallace eloquently and sincerely discourages listeners from being like the young fish. He does not sugar coat adulthood, describing it as one frustrating endeavor after another. Yet this is life: we can chose to let our resentment get the best of us (our natural instinct), or we can take each moment as an opportunity to embrace compassion. This is water.
Rory Gilmore’s Valedictorian Speech on Gilmore Girls
is one of my all-time favorite television series for its genius storytelling: you laugh and cry with as much investment and natural receptivity as you would while catching up with an old friend. When Rory graduates from high school, she is given the opportunity to thank her mother, Lorelai, for everything she has given her in terms of love and sacrifice. It is what we all expect, and yet Rory’s delivery conjures up genuine emotions that make you want to call your mom and live a life that makes her proud. Simple and sweet with an unshakeable foundation, this speech epitomizes the importance of relationships, and it’s what the show — and life — is all about.
Kid President: “Dear Graduates”
We all need a little Kid President in our lives to remind us just to be awesome. Yes, graduation is the symbolic representation of success from working really hard and learning a lot, but sometimes it’s necessary to pause and embrace the plain truth that you never stop learning. Like Kid President, don’t give up, and make the world a better place just by being you. Be your own Beyoncé.
Shonda Rhimes’s Dartmouth Commencement Address
Queen Shonda, you never fail to shock and awe. With her distinct style of intelligent candor, Rhimes charges graduates to be doers and not dreamers. She relates to everyone who has ever been forced into the next stage of life, describing how she sat on her floor and cried as her parents moved her out of college. She relates to everyone that has ever been lost in their sense of purpose, explaining that she wasted so much time trying so hard to be exactly like her hero, novelist Toni Morrison (with whom she later met and discovered is a huge Grey’s Anatomy fan). If Rhimes had not left her comfort zone and started living her own life, she never would have achieved anything close to the success she has now. Don’t just think about what you want from life; go out and take it for yourself.
Elle Woods in Legally Blonde
If Elle can overcome her obstacles (being dumped by her boyfriend, made fun of by her classmates, and harassed by her professor) to prove Ali Larter’s innocence and graduate from Havard Law School, than so can you. Her final words of wisdom are to always have faith in yourself, because we all have the potential for greatness. Like the bend and snap, this advice works every time.
Steve Jobs: “Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.”
Quoted often and passed around Pinterest, Steve Jobs’s Standford commencement address from 2005 offers three vital points: trust your intuition, do what you love, and treat each day like your last. Seems like pretty basic advice coming from the guy that invented the Mac. But that is what makes his speech so poignant: Jobs came from humble beginnings and failed multiple times, which he credits as the reason for his success. Things happen, good and bad, so make them a part of your story and keep pursuing your destiny.
Whether you are a recent graduate, still in school, or have long been in the real world (all tips on how to “adult” are greatly appreciated), I hope that you feel a greater sense to carpe diem. In the timeless words of Michael Scott, “May your hats fly as high as your dreams.”
Just for Kicks: Vitamin C “Graduation (Friends Forever)
Because why not.