Our Favourite Commencement Speech Takeaways Ever

The best is yet to come.


There’s something about some wide-eyed graduating kids that inspires both young and old to think of the promise of the future. It’s that time when college kids begin the transition to adult reality, taking their hopes and dreams of a bright and promising road ahead along with them. Some lucky students are congratulated and bid a fond farewell on their new life chapter by influential figures as diverse as Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and Amy Poehler, whose words of wisdom and #funspiration (thanks Amy!), can offer a powerful, motivating message to us all, at any time in our lives.

In the spirit of remembering the best things are still to come, we’ve pulled a few of the best lessons we learnt from some of our favourite college commencement speeches.



“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity… Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

JK Rowling, Harvard University, 2008.



“A key component of wisdom is fearlessness, which is not the absence of fear, but rather… not letting the fears in our heads get in our way. Not letting that voice of doubt, which I call the obnoxious roommates living in your head, have the last word. Because, as French philosopher Montaigne said, “There were many terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened.”

Arianna Huffington, Sarah Lawrence College, 2011



“I used to worry about all kinds of things, but I can remember the moment when I calmed down. I had just moved to San Francisco, and one night I couldn’t sleep so I was on my laptop. I read something online that said ‘There are 30,000 days in your life.’
At first I didn’t think much of it, but on a whim I tabbed over to the calculator. I type in 24 times 365 and —oh my God, I’m almost 9,000 days down. What the hell have I been doing? That night, I realised there are no warmups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Every day, we’re writing a few more words of a story. So from then on, I stopped trying to make my life perfect, and instead tried to make it interesting. I wanted my story to be an adventure — and that’s made all the difference.”

Drew Houston, Chief Executive of Dropbox, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013



“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded… sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”

George Saunders, Syracuse University, 2013 



“A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.” We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?… Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strike, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything. I promise you do. As the saying goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.”

Sheryl Sandberg, University of California at Berkeley



“Celebrate idleness. Yes, idleness! The students of creativity have long known what neuroscientists can now actually prove: Our greatest insights and discoveries have come not when we are doubling down staring at a computer screen, but when we sit back, rub our eyes, go for a walk, read a book or give our children a bath. Isaac Newton did not discover gravity in a laboratory. He was sitting under a tree. The physicist Richard Feynman did his Nobel Prize-winning work when he was watching students spinning plates in a cafeteria. Often you must slow down for your mind to speed up.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Tufts University, 2014



“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005.



“Be bold! Be bold! Be bold!”

Susan Sontag, Wellesley, 1983.