DePaul University Career Center's Blog

5 Inspiring Commencement Speeches We Aren’t Ready to Let Go Of

By: Gracie Covarrubias, DePaul University organizational and multicultural communication major ’18 and Career Center communications assistant

Now that we are in the midst of summer, students have the time to reflect back on the lessons learned throughout the year and start setting personal and professional goals. Luckily, inspiration is hardly in short supply around this time of year. This spring, hundreds of commencement speakers across the country left graduates inspired with their stories of perseverance, resilience and strength. Don’t let the graduation momentum escape you this summer. Check out these five inspiring and insightful commencement speeches of 2017!

Will Ferrell  /  University of Southern California

“For you see, the seeds for this journey were planted right here on this campus. This campus was a theater or testing lab if you will.”

Throughout the years, Will Ferrell has never failed to make us laugh; however, his comedic career wasn’t always smooth sailing. In his hilarious commencement address, Ferrell shares the honest struggles he faced in establishing himself as a comedian. As it turns out, fear stopped Ferrell a few times, but with the support and encouragement of his family, friends and colleagues he remained motivated to pursue his dreams. This humble address is a must see, anecdotal masterpiece topped off with Ferrell’s sweet rendition of Whitney Houston’s, “I Will Always Love You.”

Sheryl Sandberg  /  Virginia Tech

“The most important thing I learned is that we are not born with a certain amount of resilience. It is a muscle, and that means we can build it.”

It’s hard to find someone as well-versed in resilience as Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg, the COO for Facebook who is best known for her bestselling book, Lean In, is no stranger to both success and hardship. In her commencement address, Sheryl shares the story of the lessons she learned following the unexpected death of her husband in 2005. Sandberg breaks down the idea of resilience and offers audiences with a new way to think about the way we offer support to our loved ones. This heart wrenching address reminds graduates of the incredible power that resilient communities possess.

Pharrell Williams  /  New York University

“We all put our pants on one leg at a time. We all have a daily commute, but we do so with an eye towards something bigger. Serving humanity. There is no humanity without education. There is no education without demand.”

With a hit song entitled “Happy,” it’s safe to say that Pharrell Williams knows a thing or two about achieving success and fulfillment in life. In his commencement address to NYU students, Williams spent some time unpacking the reason we pursue education in the first place. It’s no secret that as college students it’s often easy to get so caught up in the chaos of the job search that we forget the long-term goal we strive for at the end of the day—to improve and serve our society. Pharrell speaks to the critical role that education plays in developing a more inclusive, humanity-centric society in his moving address.

Howard Schultz  /  Arizona State University

“Every business, every organization, even every family, must be true to its values and reason for being.”

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shares with Arizona State University graduates an incredible story of innovation and the promise that comes with reinventing yourself. Schultz tells the tale of how—despite being a successful business—Starbucks struggled to put people at the top of their core values list. With the help of Schultz, this business empire reinvented itself and made it a priority to stick to their core values and allow their mission of serving humanity drive every action within their company. Schultz encourages graduates to identify their core values and stick to them as they move through their careers in society.

Helen Mirren  /  Tulane University

“We’re all in this together — remember that, so that you can make some sense out of and fix this crazy, crazy world.”

Helen Mirren, everyone’s favorite queen, left graduates at Tulane with a list of five simple rules to a happy life in her comical and witty commencement address. Mirren’s banter, jokes and wisdom are tied together seamlessly as she makes her best effort to share honest advice with graduates. The address serves as a catalyst for making graduates accountable to the society they live in. Mirren shares that although life can be overwhelming at times, we have an undeniable responsibility to both ourselves and the communities that we surround ourselves with to serve the world together.

Although commencement season is behind us, the inspiration shared with us from speakers around the country is timeless. Don’t forget to take the time this summer to soak up the wisdom around you and set some career goals! Remember to set up an appointment with a career advisor for extra support when it comes to career advice.

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