As commencement ceremonies continue throughout the nation, the speakers continue to offer unique words of wisdom. Since no one has access to all the notable speakers taking the mic this month, here are some of the most important things being said at graduation events everywhere.
Comedian Stephen Colbert spoke at the University of Virginia ceremony. He mixed comedy with sincere advice to send off the graduates.
- A “recitation” of the school’s honor code: “I have neither given nor received help on this assignment, so help me Adderall.”
- The versatility of Thomas Jefferson’s political stances: “If you are an advocate of fiscal austerity, he said: ‘I’m gonna pop some tags, only got 20 dollars in my pocket. I’m, I’m, I’m hunting, looking for a comeup, this is…' (pause) That of course was in a letter to his Secretary of State Ryan Lewis.”
- “You do not owe the previous generation anything. Thanks to us, you owe it to the Chinese.”
- On a serious note: “While traditional paths may seem harder to find, that also means that you may learn sooner than most generations, the hard lesson that you must always make a path for yourself. There is no secret society out there that will tap you on the shoulder one night and show you the way. Because the true secret is, your life will not be defined by the society that we have left you.”
Michelle Obama accrued some serious laughs in her speech to the graduating class of Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School of Nashville, Tennessee.
- “When something doesn’t go your way, you’ve just got to adjust. You’ve got to dig deep and work like crazy, and that’s when you’ll find out what you’re really made of during those hard times, but you can only do that if you’re willing to put yourself in a position where you might fail, and that’s why so often failure, is the key to success for so many great people.”
- “Oprah was demoted from her first job as a news anchor. Now she doesn’t even need a last name…And then there’s this guy Barack Obama. … I could take up a whole afternoon talking about his failures, but he lost his first race for Congress, and now he gets to call himself my husband."
President Obama spoke at the Morehouse Commencement, touching on a variety of critical themes. The address emphasized both the struggles of being a black male in America and the opportunities that await the graduates.
- "We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices…Growing up, I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years, is there's no longer any room for excuses."
- "In today's hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil, many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did, all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you haven't earned."
The speech also garnered attention for referencing the LGBT community twice:
- “Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend, or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.”
- “As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share…Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share.”
BC’s own commencement ceremony featured Irish PM Enda Kenny. His message was one of empowerment and expressed a great faith not only in the future of the graduates but also of the city of Boston and the United States as a nation.
- "Today, you sit beside each other, in happiness, great joy. One day, you may cross cities, time zones, oceans, to sit beside each other again, in very different circumstances. As you do, make sure to pack this old advice. That it matters less what happens to us, than how we deal with it. That, in life, we can allow our experience to strengthen us or diminish us. The choice is ours. As graduates of Boston College, I know what yours will be."
- "In this city, strength is your default position. The hurt of the Boston Marathon attack is still palpable, but the people of this great city have responded with their usual courage, dignity and compassion."
- "I urge you to take possession and quickly. Because to you and your generation the torch has been passed. You are young America. And while in our world, we might astonish ourselves, to hunt and even find the God particle, to look to set up outposts on Mars, as humans, our needs are fragile as ever – food, water, air. Compassion, peace, love, hope. Soon, graduates, we must leave those needs, our planet, our future in your hands...I have every faith in you."
Vice President Biden’s speech at the University of Pennsylvania was the cause of some controversy due to his open dismissal of China as a world superpower. He said, “I love to hear people tell me — now to use the vernacular — ‘China’s going to eat our lunch'… You cannot think different in a nation where you cannot breathe free. You cannot think different in a nation where you aren’t able to challenge orthodoxy because change only comes from challenging orthodoxy.”
He later added that Chinese president Xi Jinping “has the look of a man who’s about to take on a job he’s not at all sure is going to end well.”
It is estimated that there were over 1,000 Chinese students in the graduating class. Over 300 people have signed a petition asking the vice president to apologize for his remarks.
Although Oprah Winfrey is booked to speak at Harvard University, not everyone is pleased with the selection. Harry Lewis, a former dean at Harvard and current professor, felt that Oprah does not represent the rigorous intellectual tradition of former speakers.
“I am sure she is an inspiration,” Lewis wrote in his blog. “She has given away a ton of money for good causes, to be sure.” However, he called Oprah a “self-promoting, wealthy television celebrity.”
“Is that what the stage once occupied by Winston Churchill, George Marshall, Ralph Ellison, John F. Kennedy, U Thant, Vaclav Havel, Alan Paton, Benazir Bhutto, Mary Robinson, and David Souter is going to be used for in the future?” he asked. For this year, it seems, Harvard will have to settle.