Graduation season is a time of both introspection and anxiety for many young adults. Questions abound: What am I doing with my life? Where do I go from here? Fortunately, graduation ceremonies have advice built in, as community leaders offer speeches full of wisdom meant to ease the transition from schooling to "real life."
Graduation speeches may be directed primarily at graduates, but adults sometimes need guidance at important junctures in their lives, too. So, whether you're hunting for the best advice to impart to your own soon-to-be-grads, or in search of a new direction of your own, these graduation speeches are sure to inspire and delight.
Video Playlist: Inspiring Graduation Speeches
Watch the first video below, or watch the whole playlist on YouTube.
- Donovan Livingston's Harvard Graduate School of Education Student Speech (5:46)
Future teacher Donovan Livingston delivers a moving 5-minute spoken word performance about the transformative power of education to his peers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
- Maya Rudolph Delivers Commencement Laughs to Tulane Class of 2015 (16:09)
The brilliant Maya Rudolph sends up the traditional graduation speech at Tulane University in 2015, complete with impressions of Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce.
- J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement (20:58)
Bestselling author J.K. Rowling's 2008 speech at Harvard often makes all the lists of best graduation speeches -- she speaks frankly about her own experiences with the benefits of failure and the power of imagination.
- Oh! The Places You'll Go Motion Graphic (3:48)
The last book published before Dr. Seuss' death is a perennial favorite as a graduation gift - sales spike every spring for his whimsical advice to those embarking on a new stage of their lives.
- Neil Gaiman 2012 Commencement Speech "Make Good Art" (19:59)
Neil Gaiman's advice to young artists at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts in 2012 is both funny and practical - this speech was so well-loved and potent it was eventually adapted into a graphic book.
- Oprah Winfrey Harvard Commencement Speech (28:58)
Oprah Winfrey's commencement address at Harvard in 2013 is incredibly heartfelt and open, as she advises the graduates to honor their human-ness and find the internal GPS of their best selves.
- The Late Show's 2016 Commencement Speech (4:41)
Stephen Colbert's parody of graduation speeches is spot-on -- he delivers such timeless advice as "Get Amazon Prime" and "Keep meticulous track of those who have wronged you."
- Penn's 2016 Commencement Ceremony- Commencement Speaker Lin-Manuel Miranda (15:15)
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the playwright behind the surprise hit musical Hamilton, tells several humorous stories from his college days in true theatrical fashion.
- The Graduation Song - Rhett & Link (2:48)
YouTube favorites Rhett and Link deliver a pleasingly goofy one-take version of their "Graduation Song,” warning high school students about the impending doom of adulthood.
- Shonda Rhimes '91 Delivers Dartmouth's Commencement Speech (24:01)
Shonda Rhimes' speech to Dartmouth graduates in 2014 praises the power of doing over simply dreaming.
Explore More Graduation Speeches
The speeches here represent only a small portion of the best and most moving graduation addresses out there -- check out these resources for even more speeches, as well as advice on writing a speech of your own. You can also look back at our first graduation-themed 5-Minute Film Festival (originally published in 2012) for more videos.
- "The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever" via NPR
- "The Best Commencement Addresses of All Time" via Brainpickings
- "How to Write a High School Graduation Speech" by Kevin Mc Mullin via CollegeWise
- "14 Inspiring Quotes About Graduation and Opportunity" by Bill Murphy Jr. via Inc.
- "12 Inspiring Graduation Speeches by Amazing Women" by Kelly Conniff via Time
- "The 21 Greatest Graduation Speeches of the Last 60 Years" by German Lopez via Vox