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Best Speeches of the World

Written By Franklin V on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 | 10:19 AM

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  1. Steve Jobs: Stanford, 2005. This inspirational commencement speech draws off three key points in Steve Jobs’ life as examples of how life is what you make of it: connecting the dots (realizing paths in your life eventually prepare you for your future), love and loss, and death. Closing with a tagline borrowed from a 1970’s publication, "Stay hungry. Stay foolish," Jobs urges graduates never to settle for less than what they want from life.
  2. Conan O’Brien: Harvard, 2000. Watch this hilarious commencement speech that illustrates the comic genius of Conan O’Brien. Just when you begin to think Conan skipped the typical inspirational pep talk requisite in commencement speeches, he comes in at the last minute with advice for Harvard graduates not to be afraid to step out of their comfort zone, or even fail, as these steps in life often lead to bigger success.
  3. Barack Obama: Wesleyan, 2008. Substituting for Senator Ted Kennedy, Obama steps in to deliver a speech that points out that the ordinary daily existence most people live doesn’t have to be a separate life from the life of our country. Urging graduates to make a difference in their lives by making a difference in the live of others, this inspirational speech showcases the incredible oratory skill of President Obama.
  4. Kermit the Frog: Southampton College, 1996. Don’t let this celebrity’s lack of mortality or the length of his short speech fool you. This commencement address at Southampton, a school recognized for its work in marine and environmental sciences, welcomes graduates into the world and thanks them for the work they have been doing and will continue to do in an effort to save the environment.
  5. Will Ferrell: Harvard, 2003. With his characteristic humor, Will Ferrell welcomes the Harvard graduates 2003 into the "real" world full of limos running late and sloppy assistants that can’t get your coffee ordered correctly while also throwing in important pieces of advice such as the importance of questioning your leaders and realizing that a top-quality education may not translate into success for everyone.
  6. Jodie Foster: University of Pennsylvania, 2006. When Jodie Foster was first announced as the commencement speaker, students were reportedly upset by the selection for commencement speaker. However, at the end of Foster’s address to the graduates where she challenged the graduates to make positive changes for the country and closed with a quote from rapper Eminem, she received a standing ovation from the Class of 2006.
  7. Jon Stewart: William & Mary, 2004. A graduate of William & Mary in 1984, Jon Stewart returns to his alma mater to give a commencement speech with his trademark combination of humor juxtaposed with serious issues. Urging graduates to acknowledge and help those less fortunate, praising the new generation for its ability to fix what has been broken in the recent past, choosing a path in life, and realizing the difference between completing college and experiencing life are all points Jon Stewart makes during his commencement speech on the 20th anniversary of his graduation.
  8. David Foster Wallace: Kenyon College, 2005. Just three years prior to the tragic death of this writer, Kenyon College Class of 2005 was honored with a commencement speech from David Foster Wallace that stresses awareness of the life the graduates will lead above simple knowledge gained while at school. The actual video of the commencement address is not available to the public due to copyright restrictions, but the speech is transcribed on the blog, marginalia.org.
  9. Theodor Seuss Geisel: Lake Forest College, 1977. Children of many generations have grown up on the beloved Dr. Seuss books that embrace the silliness of life and the entertainment of words. A fortunate group of graduates in 1977 were honored with a reading by Dr. Seuss himself that, although brief, captures the essence of Dr. Seuss along with important advice for anyone, graduating college or not. Be sure to read the president’s account of Dr. Seuss’ visit for the commencement below the poem.
  10. Bill Gates: Harvard, 2007. Perhaps one of the most famous Harvard drop-outs, Bill Gates delivers an inspirational, if not slightly controversial, speech calling graduates to not make the same mistake he did when leaving Harvard–not recognizing the terrible inequities in the world. Gates asks graduates to take their power and use it to help others in the course of their success.
  11. Bono: University of Pennsylvania, 2004. Bono urges graduates to embrace their future and make it what they want it to be, and asks that part of that future be to challenge ideas that are accepted by society but may not be morally acceptable. Drawing off his strong desire to help right the inequalities among humanity, especially as occurs daily in Africa, Bono describes the type of action he hopes the graduates take to make their world a better place for all.
  12. Seth MacFarlane: Harvard, 2006. The man behind many of the Family Guy voices, Seth MacFarlane brings a bawdy humor and his talent to play in this speech. Click through all four parts of this speech to get the full effect, complete with three of his characters, which not only offers comic relief, but good advice as well.
  13. Jon Bon Jovi: Monmouth University, 2001. This rock-and-roller spoke about new beginnings and humble beginnings in his well-received speech at Monmouth University. Urging students not to downplay where they come from or whether their university has a big name or not, Bon Jovi, who includes himself as one of the "underdogs," inspired the 2001 graduates of Monmouth.
  14. Kurt Vonnegut: Rice University, 1998. Don’t confuse this commencement speech with the Internet hoaxthat claimed Vonnegut addressed MIT grads with the request to wear sunscreen. This speech is quality Vonnegut and ends with a request just as beneficial as wearing sunscreen–that the graduates recognize and appreciate their happiness when it makes itself apparent.
  15. Alan Alda: Connecticut College, 1980. Addressing his own daughter’s, graduating class, this actor delivered a speech to the entire graduating class as if it was directed solely to his daughter, Eve. The advice is loving, empowering, and exactly what makes a great commencement speech inspirational.
  16. Barbara Kingsolver: Duke University, 2008. Threatening to stop after the two bits of advice, "quit smoking" and "observe posted speed limits," Barbara Kingsolver goes on to more serious and global concerns as success, the environment, and community. She offers a piece of herself in this address as well as inspiration to the graduates at Duke.
  17. Oprah Winfrey: Howard University, 2007. Be true to yourself, stand up for what you believe in, and take advantage of your failures are three important themes in Oprah’s speech she addresses to the graduating class of this historically black college. Oprah’s inspirational speech is filled with emotion and wisdom.
  18. J.K. Rowling: Harvard, 2008. This popular author talks about the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination as the graduates embark on their "real" life. This insightful speech is filled with humor and honesty as Rowling shares her experiences as a vehicle to urge graduates on to lives of success.
  19. Bradley Whitford: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2004. Whitford’s shares six principles he has discovered that have made his life a success that include such points as "do your work," "you are capable of more than you think," and "take action." He also asks the graduates to plant trees of hope for the future generations.
  20. Katie Couric: Williams College, 2007. Couric talks about the evolution of technology, the benefits of hard work and humility, and being passionate in her commencement address, among other important and inspirational points. She brings in plenty of timely issues and offers advice on getting ahead in a world that is shifting quickly from how was when she was first starting out.
  21. Jessica Lange: Sarah Lawrence College, 2008. This actress brings in politics as a way of introducing the great responsibilities the current graduates have to make the world a better place. She goes on to express the huge potential the new graduates have as the go out into the world and challenges them to make changes, appreciate life, be receptive to change, and the pursue peace.
  22. Billie Jean King: University of Massachusetts, 2000. Famous tennis player and Olympic coach, King pumps up the crowd with her speech that addresses friendship, remembering your dreams, and accepting responsibility. She praises the graduates on their accomplishments and charges them with going out in the world to make changes for the better.
  23. Ursula K. Le Guin: Mills College, 1983. This legendary author speaks to the women among the graduates, calling them to make their place in the world of men. She asks all students, and all people, to dare to live in failure as will happen as a member of the human race, and use that failure to make the world a better place for everyone. She finishes her speech by urging women not to live as prisoners, but as natives among humanity.
  24. Dana Gioia: Stanford, 2007. This corporate executive-turned-writer and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts spoke at his alma mater about the importance of not letting popular culture overshadow the arts. There was some controversy over his being named commencement speaker as many considered him too little of a celebrity, but this "minor" celebrity delivered a powerful speech that also acknowledged the importance of his father’s support to Gioia’s success.
  25. Margaret Atwood: University of Toronto, 1983. Atwood speaks to the graduates about being delivered into a world full of both positives and negatives where they are charged with perceiving the world as a positive in order to affect change. The timeliness of the renowned author’s words apply as much today as they did over twenty years ago when she first spoke them.
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