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10 Of The Most Inspiring Graduation Speeches Online

Are you ready for your first day high?
by FHM Staff | May 25, 2018
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With June just a week away, most students are eagerly gearing up for another school year. But while there are those that are excited to meet up with their barkada and stalk their crushes in the cafeteria again, there are some that aren’t ready to let go of the summer break just yet. Well, tough luck! Because unless your school belongs to those that resume classes in August, then you better make sure that you’ve bought everything you need because it’s going to be back to school before you know it. But just because you can’t do anything about when your first day of school is, it doesn't mean you have to count down the days in dread. To get you back in the mood, we’ve compiled 10 of the most inspiring commencement speeches that are guaranteed to give you that first day high.

Conan O’Brien

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School: Dartmouth College

When: 2011

Quotable quote: “There are few things more liberating in this life, than having your worst fear realized...It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us, and makes us unique.”

Conan gave this speech after his very public fallout as the host of the Tonight Show, which led him to reexamine his act and start from scratch using social media and going back on the road—the result of which was the renaissance of his career.

Ellen Degeneres

School: Tulane University

When: 2009

Quotable quote: “Life is like one big Mardi Gras, but instead of showing your boobs, show people your brain. And if they like what they see you’ll have more beads than you’ll know what to do with.”

Delivered a few years after Hurricane Katrina which decimated New Orleans, Ellen elicits laughs from the class of 2009 while giving meaningful advice drawn from the ups and downs of her own career—specifically when she revealed to the world that she was gay and had to overcome discrimination to become one of the most successful host/comediennes today.  

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Neil Gaiman

School: University of the Arts

When: 2012

Quotable quote: “People who know what they are doing know the rules and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not, and you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who have not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do. And because no one has done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone from doing that particular thing again.”

This speech is full of quotable quotes including Neil’s focal point, which is “make good art."  Without the ignorance of knowing what can and cannot be done, few would have the courage to discover, explore, and create.

Denzel Washington

School: University of Pennsylvania

When: 2011

Quotable quote: “Fall forward...Every failed experience is one step closer to success.”

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One of the greatest actors of his generation, who has given thunderous monologues in many of his films, it is a little surprising to see Denzel nervous as he speaks to the class of 2011. While he admits to being a little self-conscious giving the speech, he does manage to impart a great message with the same fervor he is famous for.   


Peter Dinklage

School: Bennington College

When: 2012

Quotable quote: “Don’t wait until they tell you, you are ready...The world might say you are not allowed to yet. I waited a long time out in the world, before I gave myself permission to fail. Please don’t even bother asking, don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it, do it.”

The Game of Thrones star goes back to his alma mater to give a very sincere and heartwarming motivational speech to encourage the class of 2012. You can plainly see how much Peter enjoyed his time in Bennington, which he credits for giving him the tools he needed to succeed.   

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Shonda Rhimes

School: Dartmouth College

When: 2014

Quotable quote: “I think a lot of people dream, and while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing.”

In her 2004 commencement speech, Shonda reminds the graduates of the practical, and often overlooked, advice of “doing” rather than just “dreaming. The award-winning writer goes on to expound that dreaming is extremely tempting because it feels good to do.      

J.K. Rowling

School: Harvard University

When: 2008

Quotable quote: “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. 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 fail by default."

J.K. Rowling’s career and personal ups and downs have been well covered by various media. Here, she shares with the class of 2008 the importance of failure and imagination as solid foundations to build one’s dreams on.

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Will Ferrell

School: University of Southern California

When: 2017

Quotable quote: “Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result.”

In his characteristic wit, Will Ferrell delivers a hilarious yet insightful speech reminding the USC class of 2017 that sometimes you just can’t tell where you end up, and that it’s okay to change plans midway. Ferrell graduated from USC with a degree in Sports Information, which was eventually scrapped from the curriculum. His career has gone through several reinventions as he struggled in his early stand-up/SNL days to the superstar he is now.   

Admiral William H. McRaven

School: University of Texas

When: 2014

Quotable quote: “The little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right.”

Admiral William McRaven gives no-nonsense and practical advice to the graduates of UT, which he learned from his time training to become a United States Navy Seal.  

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Steve Jobs

School: Stanford University

When: 2005

Quotable quote: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

One of the most famous commencement speeches ever made, Steve Jobs addresses Stanford graduates in 2005, six years before he passed away. He focuses on the time he was unceremoniously booted out of his own company and the mindset that brought him back stronger and better than he originally was.  


Bonus: Wear Sunscreen

Often mistaken as a commencement speech given by Kurt Vonnegut at MIT, it is actually an essay by columnist Mary Schmich published in the Chicago Tribune as a fictitious speech she would give if invited to make a commencement address. It has since gone viral and was picked up and turned into a song by Australian director Baz Luhrmann.


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