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From Steve Jobs to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Enduring Pieces of Advice From the Most Inspiring Commencement Addresses

'We are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.'
From Steve Jobs to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Enduring Pieces of Advice From the Most Inspiring Commencement Addresses
Image credit: John Lamparski | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
6 min read
If ever you’re in need of some inspiration, a surefire way to help light the fire is to get into the mindset of someone who is poised to make a big leap, like college graduates about to step off their campuses and into the real world. Here are just a few of the innovators, creators and leaders that have imparted hard-won knowledge on to the next generation.

Director Steven Spielberg, Harvard University, 2016

“Your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here’s the distinction: Your conscience shouts, ‘Here’s what you should do,’ while your intuition whispers, ‘Here’s what you could do.’ Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that.”

Read more: Steven Spielberg Commencement Speech, Harvard University, May 2016 (Transcript)

Bill Gates, Harvard University, 2007

“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 healthcare, or broad economic opportunity -- reducing inequity is the highest human achievement … I talk to skeptics who claim there is no hope. They say: ‘Inequity has been with us since the beginning, and will be with us till the end -- because people just don’t care. I completely disagree. I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with.”

Sheryl Sandberg, University of California at Berkeley, 2016

“The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days -- the times that challenge you to your very core -- that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive... Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strikes, 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.”

Read more: Sheryl Sandberg Commencement Speech, University of California at Berkeley, May 2016 (Transcript)

President Barack Obama, Barnard College, 2012

“Whether it’s starting a business, or running for office, or raising a amazing family, remember that making your mark on the world is hard. It takes patience. It takes commitment. It comes with plenty of setbacks, and it comes with plenty of failures. But whenever you feel that creeping cynicism, whenever you hear those voices say you can’t make a difference, whenever somebody tells you to set your sights lower -- the trajectory of this country should give you hope. Previous generations should give you hope. What young generations have done before should give you hope. Young folks who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat in, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, didn’t just do it for themselves; they did it for other people.”

 

Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth University, 2011

"Whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality."

Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. 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.”

Read more: Steve Jobs Commencement Speech, Stanford University, June 2005 (Transcript)

Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments, USC, 2015

“There are so few originals. I believe one of the greatest compliments you can ever receive is 'I’ve never met anyone like you.' Being unique starts with forming your own opinions. It helps if you reach for questions and push for answers. If you bring that attitude to your work, you won’t just advance, you will advance mankind.”

Stephen Colbert, University of Virginia, 2013

"You must find your own path, and we have left you no easy path. Decide now to choose the hard path that leads to the life and the world you want. And don’t worry if we don’t approve of your choices. In our benign self-absorption, I believe we have given you a gift, a particular form of independence, because you do not owe the previous generation anything."

Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani, Grinnell College, 2017

“Nobody is paying attention to your failure. The world is full of people failing. People are failing all around you. Failure is boring. Your failure will not be so spectacular that people will write articles about your failure or even remember your failure.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, University of Pennsylvania, 2016

"The stories you are about to live are the ones you will be telling your children and grandchildren and therapists. They are the temp gigs and internships before you find your passion. They are the cities you live in before the opportunity of a lifetime pops up halfway across the world … They are the times you say no to the good opportunities so you can say yes to the best opportunities … They are the stories in which you figure out who you are.”

J.K. Rowling, Harvard University, 2008

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth University, 2014

“Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you're paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn't matter. You don't have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn't have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just ... do.”

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