Best Commencement Speeches

Congratulations to all my juniors in ITB! Last weekend was the graduation ceremony day for ITB class of 2013. Somehow it reminds me about one of the happiest moments in my life. That was my graduation day in 2008, a couple years ago. "Today is yours," they said. All classmates were smiling happily as they succeeded to finish their education in the most prestigious university in my country. Pardon me for the narcissism.

Computer Science ITB – Class of 2008

I remember a heap of happy people with nice suit and dress inside their graduation gown, and a bunch of happy parents were proud of their sons and daughters. I remember the classic European style of ceremony with "Gaudeamus Igitur", one of most infamous commercium songs, was played as the backsound of one session. Getting our graduation cap tassle moved by our rector before we were shaking hands and taking photo with him. We were also listening to the boring speeches from the faculties and student representatives, which I am pretty sure nobody remember about it, except for one or two students who delivered the speeches itself.

Somehow I envy the graduation ceremonies in some universities in the US, which usually invite their famous alumni to give one of the most important speeches in their academic life. It is the last lesson students get before entering the real world. I cannot understand why my almamater haven't adopted this concept by inviting our famous successful alumni for giving commencement address. CMIIW, but I hope they will start the tradition soon.

Here I post my favourite commencement speeches, yes they all are from US universities. Actually you can easily find the other version of the best commencement speeches – such as from TIME magazine. However, in this list I prefer they who are in IT industries. They delivered inspiring speech and even some of them were presenting in a funny way. They all are my inspirations, and I hope someday we can be like them.

Steve Jobs, Stanford (2005)

Memorable quotes:
  1. You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.
  2. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
  3. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Full script: 'You've got to find what you love,' Jobs says

Bill Gates, Harvard (2007)

Memorable quotes:
  1. Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.
  2. My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here – never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.
  3. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities.. on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.
Full script: Remarks of Bill Gates, Harvard Commencement 2007

Larry Page, Michigan (2009)

Memorable quotes:
  1. What is the one sentence summary of how you change the world? Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting!
  2. On a day like today, you might feel exhilarated — like you’ve just been shot out of a cannon at the circus – and even invincible. Don’t ever forget that incredible feeling. But also: always remember that the moments we have with friends and family, the chances we have to do things that might make a big difference in the world, or even to make a small difference to someone you love — all those wonderful chances that life gives us, life also takes away. It can happen fast, and a whole lot sooner than you think.
  3. Many of us are fortunate enough to be here with family. Some of us have dear friends and family to go home to. And who knows, perhaps some of you, like Lucy and I, are dreaming about future families of your own. Just like me, your families brought you here, and you brought them here. Please keep them close and remember: they are what really matters in life.
Full script: Larry Page’s University of Michigan Commencement Address

Marissa Mayer, IIT (2009)

Memorable quotes:
  1. You have to find something that you are really passionate about. This is perhaps the hardest search most people ever embark on. Finding something you are passionate about gives you a sense of purpose and is a big part of happiness. To find it though, you need to be honest with yourself, observant, and make the most of the situation.
  2. Find the smartest people you can and surround yourself with them. Working with smart people means that you'll be challenged to do your best. You'll have to strive to keep up with them, and as a result, they will elevate your thinking. When there are better players around you, you get better.
  3. Find allies rather than adorers. At each of life's transition points, and you are at one now, new friendships, new connections, and new social circles emerge. In those moments, you can choose. You can choose to surround yourself with adorers or you can choose to surround yourself with allies. Adorers are people who fawn over you, will point out everything you do well, and make you feel great about yourself. And as a result, they're very easy to be around. The downside of adorers is they don't ever tell you when they think you're screwing up, when you're misprioritizing, or when you're making a mistake. Instead, I encourage you to seek out allies. Allies will tell you when you've done something well, but they'll also be honest with you when they feel you are making mistakes or not living up to your potential.
Official news: Google VP Marissa Mayer Urges 2009 IIT Graduates to Find their Passion

Jeff Bezos, Princeton (2010)

Memorable quotes:
  1. My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, "Jeff, one day you'll understand that it's harder to be kind than clever."
  2. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy – they're given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you're not careful, and if you do, it'll probably be to the detriment of your choices.
  3. I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.
Full script: 2010 Baccalaureate Remarks: "We are What We Choose"

Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard (2012)

Memorable quotes:
  1. Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or their missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.
  2. Look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job, don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb.
  3. As you lead in this new world, you will not be able to rely on who you are or the degree you hold. You’ll have to rely on what you know. Your strength will not come from your place on some organization chart, your strength will come from building trust and earning respect. You’re going to need talent, skill, and imagination and vision, but more than anything else, you’re going to need the ability to communicate authentically, to speak so that you inspire the people around you and to listen so that you continue to learn each and every day on the job. It’s easy to say that you’re going to encourage feedback but it’s hard to do, because unfortunately it doesn’t always come in a format we want to hear.
Official news: Sheryl Sandberg (MBA ’95) To Address HBS Students on Class Day 2012

Salman Khan, MIT (2012)

Memorable quotes:
  1. Be just as incredibly and maybe even as delusionally positive as possible. It's a very cynical place out there and sometimes that cynicism will eat your energy and eat your potential. And to fight it, you should smile with every atom in your body. You should smile first in the morning. You should even, this is something that I actually do if I'm in a bad mood, force yourself to smile. It releases things in your brain. You should smile with your eyes, your mouth, your face, your body, at every living and non-living thing that you see. You should recognize that the grass is greener on your side of the fence and even in the 1% chance that it's not, just convincing yourself that it's greener will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  2. If you find yourself, in your life, in an argument with someone whom you respect, whom you care deeply about, that’s a time – it's not an easy thing to do, but try to surrender your ego to the shared identity of the relationship that you have with that person. If possible, do exactly the opposite of what your pride and ego tell you in the heat of battle. And if you have the strength to do it, right when you're about to get in that last word and you're about to say that kind of maybe vindictive or below the belt thing, just pause, don't do anything, and try to just give them a super-mega hug.
  3. The positive revolutions are not going to be caused by generals and politicians; they are going to be caused by innovators like you. And in this time, to see you, the wizards of tomorrow, I'm just excited by what you're going to do with your second pass.
Full script: Sal Khan's Commencement address

Dick Costolo, Michigan (2013)

Memorable quotes:
  1. You need to make more courageous choices. The reason that stage is completely empty and doesn't have a set on it is so that you can go out there and be in the Keebler Elf factory or be on the space shuttle as an astronaut who's never even tried to fly a plane before. Make bigger choices, take courageous risks.
  2. You can't plan a script. The beauty of improvisation is you're experiencing it in the moment. If you try to plan what the next line is supposed to be, you're just going to be disappointed when the other people on stage with you don't do or say what you want them to do and you'll stand there frozen. Be in this moment. Now be here in this moment, now be here in this moment.
  3. You cannot draw that path looking forward. You cannot draw any of your paths looking forward. So you have to figure out what you love to do what you have conviction about and go do that.
Official news: #Classof2013 "Be in this moment"

Ben Horowitz, Columbia (2015)

Memorable quotes:
  1. What I'd like to give is a few unconventional graduation thoughts and I'm titling them, "Do Not Follow Your Passion and the World is Not Going to Hell in a Handbasket and the Class of 2015 is Not Required to Save it."
  2. Following your passion is a very "me"-centered view of the world. When you go through life, what you'll find is what you take out of the world over time — be it money, cars, stuff, accolades — is much less important than what you've put into the world.
  3. Follow your contribution. Find the thing that you're great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better and that is the thing to follow.
Ben's Blog: Don’t Follow Your Passion: Career Advice for Recent Graduates

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