Every year, dozens of guest speakers regale new graduates with personal stories of fame, fortune, and adversity, providing inspiration as they set out on their new journeys. But when a commencement speech really hits its mark, it’s not just recent grads who have something to take away from it. The best of the bunch (like last year’s “Make Good Art” speech from Neil Gaiman) provide insight, perspective, and motivation for people at any stage in their lives. As graduation season fades once again, we’re looking back at who wore the honorary gowns best this year. Our three picks for the best lunch-hour listens from the 2013 crop include a high-profile CEO, an acting legend, and a musical icon.
Twitter’s CEO cracked jokes and shared his history in improv comedy with his University of Michigan audience. Costolo used the pursuit as a jumping-off point to illustrate the importance of taking chances and dealing with chaos. “Make bigger choices. Take courageous risks,” he emphasized. Not even Twitter’s founders would have believed that the President of the United States would be using the platform as a central part of his 2012 presidential campaign, but Costolo revealed that doing improv helped him learn to dream big and to really go for it. “Be bold,” he said. “Be in this moment.” Now, that’s something to tweet about.
“Be a part of all that is decent, and be an ambassador for the kind of world that you want to live in,” the beloved stage and screen actress advised at the University of Colorado. Andrews offered guidance not about how to break into Broadway, but about how to be a more giving person. She saw her main role in theater as helping to brighten the days of those who came out to see her. She also discussed the adversity she faced when she lost her ability to sing and, with it, her staple sound. As a result, she came to embrace a different voice, penning a series of children’s books.
The Berklee College of Music awarded Lennox, Carole King, and Willie Nelson honorary doctorates, and the former spoke for them all about “the value of unorthodoxy.” As a young girl, Lennox fell in love with music, but in unconventional ways. She recalled playing a plastic toy piano in her working-class Scottish home, and later having to re-learn the flute from the beginning because her mechanics were all wrong. To the crowd’s delight, Lennox added some vocals to her narrative, belting out snippets from “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “It’s Too Late,” and other songs that propelled her forward during tough times. She finished with messages about the power of music and how enriching it is once you find your own voice.
What nuggets of wisdom did you find in this year’s commencement speeches. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments!