Life at college ends with a commencement speech. A graduating student leaves the comfortable confines of his college and enters the real world. The transition is however not complete until there has been a speech. The student approaches the lectern and faces the people he has grown accustomed to. He delivers a last speech, a commencement speech before he says goodbye to all the memories they shared. Writers are just as prolific with delivering words as they are with writing them. We bring you a list of the 10 best commencement speeches given by the most renowned writers of all time.
J.K. Rowling, Harvard University, 2008
“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”
Rowling began with a funny note to capture the audience and slowly drifted away to her graduation, when she was 21. She, in her view was the biggest failure, had nothing and was struggling with poverty. She motivated the graduating batch of Harvard to not be deterred with failure but face it and accept it as a part and parcel of life. She lay emphasis on cultivating life-long friendships, with dependable friends on whom one rely in the darkest times just like she did. She summed up with the significance of imagination in our lives and the need to influence and touch others’ lives, as a responsibility of graduating from Harvard and being in a privileged position.
Barbara Kingsolver, DePauw University, 1994
“It began to dawn on me that learning how to be in a place where I didn’t seem to fit in was going to be part of my education.”
An alumni of the same university, Kingsolver in her speech, titled “As Little Advice as Possible,” reflected upon the trials of her years at DePauw, the cultural and dialectical differences that she faced but was quick to point out that overcoming obstacles and setbacks added greatly to her education. Throughout her speech she talked about the struggles she faced and the unfamiliar and initially intimidating surroundings that later enabled her to grow and learn.
Michael Lewis, Princeton University, 2012
“Never forget: In the nation’s service. In the service of all nations.”
Lewis delivered his commencement speech to the audience of which he was a part, 30 years ago. In his highly motivating speech, he talked about his days at Princeton and how just by luck he got into the university with no papers to his name. He thus emphasised on the power of luck. He addressed the audience by talking about when he was young, his struggles as a writer and also about the illusion of success’ inevitability.
Elie Wiesel, Washington University in St. Louis, 2011
“What you have learned here should not stay only in memory, but you must open the gates of your own memory and try to do something with what you have learned”
Wiesel embarked with defining oneself. He believed that there are diverse communities, religions and different faiths. People from all walks of life have existed and will continue to exist. We must learn to live with each other in harmony. He framed his speech in an interesting and engaging anecdotal manner, whilst talking about the time where he belonged. He also lay emphasis on fanaticism and recalled the teachings of The Bible.
Louise Erdrich, Dartmouth College, 2009
“You have to risk humiliation or failure, if you want to move forward… if other people’s opinions are not personal to you – good or bad – you have the freedom to be who you are.”
A pass out of the same college, Erdrich highlighted the quality of being grounded and humble at all times. She broke up her commencement speech into a couple of small fragments and narrated them one by one. In her speech, she talked about failure. She also shed some light on the power of love and what being in a relationship is like. She encouraged students to learn to voice their opinion and also cherish the friends and friendship that they have with each other and their professors.
Tony Kushner, Emerson College, 2012
“‘I would never teach oratory,’ your founder declared, ‘if words were not, in their true nature, divine things, if they were not forms of the spirit and of the soul.’ Amen to that.”
Pulitzer Prize winner, Tony Kushner, talked about the modern contemporary world and the hard times that students have to face today. He also expounded majorly on the youth and talked about the importance of youth in the building of a nation and society. He thus, motivated the youth to face all odds and challenges and uphold their responsibilities as responsible citizens of the nation.
David McCullough, UMass Boston, 1998
“In a vital community, as in one’s life, education ought not to stand still.”
McCullough’s speech invoked a sense of heroism and patriotism as it was delivered. He talked about Boston, its heritage, culture, history and how it had come to become what it was. Boston’s existance could be accredited to various people whose valour and sacrifice had not gone in vain.
He also talked about the second president’s resiliency and devotion to the cause of revolution. He wanted to inspire graduates to take action and sacrifice wherever necessary.
Dennis Lehane, UMass Boston, 2004
“Honour is not doing what is easy, if it hurts a single soul. Honour has no room in its house for cynicism – scepticism, yes, always, but cynicism, no – it has no room in its house for greed, for the mindless pursuit of money, or hollow success.”
Lehane, a former UMass dropout, in his commencement speech, touched upon the jaded traditions and cultures that exist in the society. He also very frankly described what was lacking in the society and how indifferent, as a matter of fact people have become. He wanted to instil in the outgoing batch, a sense of gratitude that many people lack today and being thankful to people for all their help.
Ray Bradbury, Columbia College (Chicago)
“All of my early life, I could never go to college; I went to the library and went three or four days a week. I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years-old.”
Best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury, delivered a stimulating speech, bringing himself into picture. Talking about his early life, he acquainted the audience with the hardships he had to face and how he overcame his disadvantage of not being able to attend college by going to the library. He continued further by telling how he was imposed with certain restrictions as a child and how fortunate they were to be graduating from an esteemed institution. He wanted the audience to learn from his life and his torments.
Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts (Philadelphia), 2012
“I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything, as long as it felt an adventure, and stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.”
Gaiman’s speech was one of its kind. He asked the students to do whatever they liked, but be the best in what they finally pursue. He remarked, “No matter what happens or where you are, “Make good art.”” He invigorated the graduating students with the idea of art being of paramount importance and following your heart till the end or till you succeed.