Seniors across the country anxiously await the announcement of their school’s commencement speaker year after year. The vital role of the commencement speaker is to inspire graduating students as they enter the world that exists beyond college. The variety of speakers--including politicians, actors and comedians--is endless, but it is up to each and every one of these speakers to engage the soon-to-be graduates in their last collegiate moments.
A notable line came from President Barack Obama, who opened his address to Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota with a P.S.A.: “As long as you keep your school ID you can still get your Sunday night student discount at B Dubs.” He clearly knows where students' priorities and concerns lie.
Comedian Stephen Colbert took the stage at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was quick to compliment the graduates: "... you look amazing. Although it’s a little embarrassing you all showed up in the same outfit. Really. Even all the accessories are the same. Everyone has a black and gold tassel. Or, is it blue and white? Grandparents, just know this was the issue that divided a generation. You had the Vietnam War. Your grandchildren had an ambiguously colored Tumblr post.”
Colbert was not all humor, though; he was full of life advice, even offering a “well-calibrated BS detector… for the low, low price of just $89.95.” He was also sure to remind graduates of their civic duty, "deciding for whom you will swipe left and for whom you will swipe right. Because I think we’re voting on Tinder now. At least the Republicans are. Democrats might be voting on Grindr. I don’t know.”
Talk-show host Meredith Vieira offered some wise words at nearby Boston University: “If you haven’t found a job or decided on a career path yet, don’t freak out, but do, from this day forward, open yourself up to opportunities that you may never have before considered.”
During his commencement address at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ, Jon Bon Jovi debuted and performed a new song called, “Reunion,” which was written specifically for the Class of 2015 at Rutgers. In one line he even gave them permission to plan ahead: “It’s OK to map out your future… but do it in pencil.”
Bon Jovi kept with the spirit of “Reunion” stating, “Let’s make today and every day that follows about more than your own accomplishment. Make it about the power of we! Because, if you do, you’ll have a lot more than ‘Things worth having.’ You’ll have ‘A life worth living.’ And you can write that one down in pen.” Apparently he does not believe that everything has to be erasable.
Michelle Obama is known to be a powerful speaker and she did not fail to inspire with her remarks at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. She got all the moms in the crowd on her side early on by wishing them a happy Mother’s Day one day in advance and reminding their children to buy them cards and flowers.
Michelle may have lost the approval of a few of those moms later on, though, when she said, “Maybe your parents are expecting you to come back home after you graduate--but you’re feeling a pull to travel the world. I want you to listen to those thoughts… And no matter what path you choose, I want you to make sure it’s you choosing it, and not someone else.”
Actor Robert De Niro spoke at the commencement of The NYU Tisch School of The Arts at Madison Square Garden, and he did not hesitate to share the harsh, blunt truth with his audience: “… you made it, and you’re fucked… The graduates from The College of Nursing, they all have jobs… Dentistry, fully employed… School of Medicine graduates, each one will get a job. The proud graduates of the NYU School of Law, they’re covered."
It isn’t all bad, though, De Niro continues: “You discovered a talent, developed an ambition, recognized that passion. When you feel that, you can’t fight it. Just go with it. When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense.” He left the Tisch graduates with the reassurance that this is not a bad place to start.
Maya Rudolph spoke at Tulane University and even called out her cousin, Sabrina Rudolph, who was graduating with the class of 2015. Her speech was full of laughs, but she wrapped up with a few points to keep in mind: “So hold on to your old friends. Kiss your Mama. Admit what your dreams are… And put away your damn iPhone once in a while. And be nice to jerks because we still don’t know the criteria for getting into heaven yet.”
These are just a few of the powerful, inspiring and comedic messages that graduates across the country received this year. There will be many more to come, and though diverse, they all portray a similar message. As Michelle Obama said in her address to Tuskegee University, “…you’ve got everything you need right now to succeed. You’ve got it!”