Inspirational Quotes From 2016 Commencement Speakers

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Like a college graduation, 2016 is in many ways a turning point. This year brings the culmination of a two-term Obama presidency as well as a general election in the fall. Tech companies are maturing as new ideas and trends come to the forefront. Civil rights movements have achieved major milestones but there is still work to be done. A man has just returned from a year in space, and his experience will inform future missions beyond Earth’s orbit.

Newly minted graduates must make difficult decisions and navigate problems their parents and grandparents never anticipated. But they have more opportunities to do great things than any class or generation in history. To help new grads rise to their challenges and responsibilities, these accomplished leaders donned regalia and reflected on what it takes to realize one’s full potential in the world today (this post will be updated).

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1. Sheryl Sandberg

Title/Company: Chief operating officer at Facebook, author of Lean In
Commencement: University of California at Berkeley

Lesson: Be resilient in the face of adversity.
Quote: “When the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are -- and you just might become the very best version of yourself.” (Read the full transcript of Sandberg's speech here.)

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2. Beth Brooke-Marciniak

Title/Company: Global vice chair, public policy at EY
Commencement: Babson College
Lesson: Negotiate a better world for all.
Quote: “You’ve learned here at Babson, it’s very clear, to experiment, to do things differently, to rethink how you will respond to the disruptive forces that challenge our society today. And you're fired up to run very fast, ahead of that accelerating pace of change today. But I urge you to slow it down. Slow it down and pay attention to the disappearing art of diplomacy.”
3 / 16

3. Steve Harvey

Title/Company: Comedian/TV personality
Commencement: Alabama State University
Lesson: Success isn’t everything.
Quote: “There is a difference between success and greatness. You got your degree; that's successful. So far, this has been about yourself … but great people change other people's lives. Great people put other people's needs in front of theirs. Great people go back to their communities and change lives. We need somebody from ASU to go out of here and be great -- to be a life-changer.”
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4. Barack Obama

Title/Company: President of the United States
Commencement: Howard University
Lesson: Act on your passion.
Quote: “You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. I'll repeat that. I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. Not just hashtags, but votes.”
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5. Michelle Obama

Title/Company: First Lady of the United States
Commencement: Jackson State University
Lesson: Leave a legacy.

Quote: “Remember that decades from now, someone will be standing here where I’m standing today and they will be telling that new class of graduates about all of you. So we’re counting on you to live lives worthy of retelling, lives that will inspire our next generation to keep walking that path to righteousness and doing the work to fulfill that dream.”

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6. Scott Kelly

Title/Company: Retired NASA astronaut who has spent 520 total days in space
Commencement: University of Houston
Lesson: Focus on the task at hand.
Quote: “In those moments when you’re doing something that could be life-changing, whether it’s in space, or in your career, you need to constantly remind yourselves that there is nothing more important than what you’re doing right now.”
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7. Wayne Chang

Title/Company: Director of product strategy at Twitter; entrepreneur and angel investor
Commencement: University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Lesson: Don’t let others define your path.
Quote: “Don’t let other people box you into their system of rules. They will tend to produce mediocre results for you. Make your own rules, hack the system and change the world.”
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8. Lin-Manuel Miranda

Title/Company: Creator and star of Broadway musicals In the Heights and Hamilton
Commencement: University of Pennsylvania
Lesson: Think in terms of your stories.
Quote: “The stories we tell vs. the stories we leave out will reverberate across the rest of your life. … My dear terrified graduates, you are about to enter the most uncertain and thrilling period of your lives. The stories you are about to live are the ones you will be telling your children, and grandchildren and therapists.”
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9. Samantha Power

Title/Company: United States Ambassador to the United Nations
Commencement: Yale University

Lesson: Approach issues first hand -- not through a screen.
Quote: “From the Facebook and Twitter feeds we monitor, to the algorithms that determine the results of our web searches based on our previous browsing history and location, our major sources of information are increasingly engineered to reflect back to us the world as we already see it. They give us the comfort of our opinions without the discomfort of thought. So you have to find a way to break out of your echo chambers.”

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10. Peter Thiel

Title/Company: Co-founder of Palantir and PayPal
Commencement: Hamilton College
Lesson: Don’t blindly follow all tracks and traditions.
Quote: “Here at Hamilton, in America and that part of the world called the West, we are all part of an unusual kind of tradition. The tradition we’ve inherited is itself about doing new things … We are not true to our own tradition unless we seek what is new.” (Read the full transcript of Thiel’s speech here.)
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11. John Lewis

Title/Company: U.S. Congressman (D-Ga.) and civil rights leader
Commencement: Washington University in St. Louis

Lesson: Stand up to injustice.
Quote: “You have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate to do what you can to help make our own country, to help make the world a better place. You can do it. You must do it. You have a mission. You have an obligation to find a way to get in the way.”

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Paul Morigi/Stringer | Getty Images

12. Anne-Marie Slaughter

Title/Company: President and CEO of think tank New America
Commencement: Barnard College
Lesson: Seek unity and reconcile difference.
Quote: “We must move beyond protest. Today, now, in this country and this world at this time, we must come together. As women, as men and as members of a larger humanity. We must come together as competitors and as carers. ‘Carers’ is the word the British use. I find it fascinating that it is just one ‘e’ away from career.”
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Justin Tallis/Stringer | Getty Images

13. John Green

Title/Company: Author of young-adult fiction, including The Fault in Our Stars
Commencement: Kenyon College
Lesson: Be vulnerable.
Quote: “You must be weak before the world, because love and listening weaken you. They make you vulnerable. They break you open. And it is only when you are weak that you can truly see and acknowledge and forgive and love the weakness in others. Weakness allows you to see other humans not as enemies to defeat, but as collaborators and co-creators. In the end, we’re making humanness up together as we go along.”
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Johannes Simon/Stringer | Getty Images

14. Madeleine Albright

Title/Company: Politician and diplomat; former and first female U.S. Secretary of State
Commencement: Scripps College
Lesson: Listen to others and be willing to update your perspective.
Quote: “We are not going to have the kind of cooperation we need if everyone insists on their own narrow version of reality. To me this is the great divide in the world today -- not between liberal and conservative, rich and poor, or between any one race or creed and all the others -- it is between people who have the courage to listen and those who are convinced that they already know it all.”
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Elise Sinagra | Getty Images

15. Hank Azaria

Title/Company: Actor, best known for voicing several characters on The Simpsons
Commencement: Tufts University
Lesson: Trust your instincts.
Quote: “I’m not suggesting that you ignore the rules of society, or the laws of common sense, or the actual law, or textbooks, or manuals, or your teachers, or your advisors, or the Internet, or all the other sources that are happy to tell you the right and wrong way to go about doing almost everything. Just please be honest with yourself about what you think and how you feel about all of that.”
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Josh Brasted/Stringer | Getty Images

16. Hoda Kotb

Title/Company: NBC Today Show host
Commencement: Tulane University
Lesson: Persevere despite rejection.
Quote: “You don’t need everybody to like you, you just need one.”

Inspirational Quotes From 2016 Commencement Speakers

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