Celebrity wisdom from commencement speeches

Posted Friday, May. 30, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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Each spring, college graduates across the country fill auditoriums and stadiums, donning caps and gowns, and waiting to be ushered out into the so-called real world. But before they cross the stage, move their tassels and toss their caps, they get treated to one final address — and more and more frequently, it’s from someone they know well.

All types — from rock stars to politicians, actors and athletes — are asked to come pepper inspiration and wisdom on this new generation and their families. We’ve culled some of the finest bits of advice from this year’s most noteworthy — and recognizable — commencement speakers at institutions of higher learning around the country.

Sean “Diddy” Combs, rapper, producer and entrepreneur

Howard University

“I made a conscious effort to follow the entrepreneurial spirit of my father, the legal way. I want you to take the craziest dream in your head — the dream that you’re too embarrassed to tell anyone else about, and I want you to go after it.”

Colin Powell, former U.S. secretary of state

High Point University

“We complain a lot today about politics and politicians, and often for good reason. But we can’t sit around waiting for Superman or Superwoman to come in 2014 or 2016. We the people are the supermen and the superwomen. We are the deciders.”

Elin Nordegren, model, ex-wife of Tiger Woods

Rollins College (her own graduation)

“My Psychology and Law class helped me through some of the most challenging times in my life that involved legal matters. The information not only helped me understand the complexity of the legal system but it also offered me a place of peace in the wild storm of my personal life. ... I have also realized that education has been the only consistent part of my life for the last nine years. And it has offered me comfort — because education is the one thing that no one can take away from you.”

Bill Nye, science educator and TV host

University of Massachusetts Lowell

“We are all part of the crisis of climate disruption, but your parents and I want you, especially, to create the solution and dare I say it, change the world. I believe that if the graduates of 2014 go into the world ready for change, change will happen.”

Katie Couric, journalist

Trinity College

“No one, I mean no one, saw a scintilla of potential in me. ... It didn’t help that I started in the business when ‘harass’ was considered two words instead of one. ...To be successful, you have to be brave enough to try and fail. I have become an expert on that.”

Jay Leno, comedian

Emerson College

“Don’t have a relationship with a partner who doesn’t get it. If you’re with someone who says, ‘Why do you have to go to so many auditions?’ Next! Move on! That person is not for you, OK? Let me tell you something. Until your creative thirst is quenched, you’re not going to be happy with anyone. You’re an artist. If they can’t share in your pain and your joy, it’s not going to work. You need a soul mate, not a cellmate.”

Bob Schieffer, journalist

Saint Anselm College

“So I urge you to turn to public service and not away from it, not because it is easy but because it is hard. You must demand more from our politics and yourselves. Perhaps the way to begin that task is to remember that in difficult times, America always found a way. Approach this task not in despair but by taking heart in how we came to be the country we are. In our finest hours, we put partisanship aside and accomplished great things. It is time to put aside the notion that the purpose of holding office is to find ways to stay there by doing nothing.”

Peyton Manning, NFL quarterback

University of Virginia

“Studies indicate that the public has lost trust in authority, driving people to turn to their peers for recommendations on where and how they should spend their money and time, even for something as simple as buying a football ticket to a game or something as major as buying a home. In some ways, you’ve actually become more influential with the masses than those who are in charge. The people who are in charge certainly don’t have all the answers, so don’t let expertise silence you. .... When you are chided for your naiveté — and you will be — remind your critics that an amateur built the ark; experts built the Titanic.”

Tory Burch, fashion designer

Babson College

“We may live in an age of instant messaging, instant gratification and Instagram, but there is no way to short circuit the path to success. It takes hard work, tenacity and a lot of patience. There are many things you can do overnight: you can write a decent paper, you can put finishing touches on a fashion show, I hear you can even have a pretty good time at Rogers Pub. But there is no such thing as an overnight success. It is a myth that glosses over what being an entrepreneur is all about.”

Jose Andrews, chef

The George Washington University

“Success is no longer only about achieving your goals. It’s about using your skills and talents to do something bigger in the world. This is the new American Dream.”

Jill Abramson, recently fired New York Times editor

Wake Forest University

“Very early last Thursday, my sister called me and she said, ‘I know Dad would be as proud of you today as he was the day you became executive editor of The New York Times. I had been fired the previous day, so I knew what she was trying to say. It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back than to watch how we handled our successes. ‘Show what you are made of,’ he would say.”

Jim Carrey, actor

Maharishi University of Management

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it. ... I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden

University of South Carolina

“I’m confident that you’ll write a new and better chapter in American history, just like every generation has when faced with one of these inflection points.”

Forest Whitaker, actor

Miami University

“Our day-to-day lives are shaped by the sum of countless inconspicuous acts; acts of sacrifices from generations of anonymous heroes who came before us, acts of love from our parents, acts of kindness from random strangers. Behind every worthwhile human achievement, big or small, there is, at least, one small act of kindness.”

Mindy Kaling, writer, producer, actress

Harvard Law School

“You are responsible for the language of justice. You take words and turn them into the infrastructure that keeps our world stable. … One day you’ll have the power to make a difference. Use it well.”

Ed Helms, actor

Cornell University

“A fool is, by definition, a person who lacks good sense and judgment. But I am here to tell you that good sense and judgment are highly overrated. Wisdom is too often just a fancy word for cynicism, and foolishness is a condescending word for joy, wonder and curiosity.”

Sources: Howard University, High Point University, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Saint Anselm College, University of Virginia, The George Washington University, University of South Carolina, Dayton Daily News; Harvard Law School, Boston Globe, Cornell University; New York Post; Boston Globe; Youtube.com; Business Week

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