Top 10 Commencement Speeches: Best of All Time (Video)
Conan O'Brien, Amy Poehler and Ellen DeGeneres have all imparted words of wisdom on graduating students.
Success stories, humorous punch lines and empowering messages are the recipe for a perfect commencement address.
As commencement season draws nearer, see who had the best advice for nervous graduates of past years in the 10 best speeches below.
1. Ellen DeGeneres
DeGeneres was invited to speak at Tulane University, where she opened up about her early struggle to accept her own identity with the graduating class of 2009. "By the time I was your age, I really thought I knew who I was, but I had no idea," the comedian said. "Like for example, when I was your age, I was dating men. So what I'm saying is, when you're older, most of you will be gay."
2. Conan O'Brien
The talk show host delivered his commencement address to graduating students of Dartmouth College in 2011, saying, "In 2000, I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that 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."
3. David Foster Wallace
The late novelist gave a moving speech to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005, urging students to experience the world apart from the "lens of self." He elaborated: "Think about it: There is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of you or behind you, to the left or right of your, on your TV or your monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real."
4. Stephen Colbert
Colbert returned to his alma mater, Northwestern University, in 2011 to impart advice to the graduating class. "Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what's going to happen next, and you are most likely just making things up as you go along. And like improv, you cannot win your life," he said. "So no more winning. Instead, try to love others and serve others and hopefully find those who love and serve you in return."
5. Will Ferrell
The actor made his entrance dancing to Kool & The Gang's "Celebration" before he delivered a humor-filled commencement speech to Harvard University's Class of 2003. Ferrell gave students a "harsh" reality check, saying, "I’m sorry, graduates. But this is a world where you aren’t allowed to use your cell phone in airplanes, during live theater, at the movies, at funerals, or even during your own elective surgery. … It ain’t that easy. Strong words, I know. Tough talk."
6. Aaron Sorkin
In 2012, Sorkin was invited to speak to graduating students at Syracuse University, where the screenwriter himself graduated in 1983. "You'll meet a lot of people who — to put it simply — don't know what they're talking about," he said. "Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt."
7. Amy Poehler
Poehler encouraged students to embrace fear and take risks in her commencement address to Harvard University's Class of 2011. "Even though, as a class, you are smart, you are still allowed to say, 'I don't know.' Just because you are in high demand, you are still allowed to say, 'Let me get back to you,'" the comedian said. "This will come in handy when your parents ask when you plan to move out of their basement and you answer, 'I don't know. Let me get back to you.'"
8. Oprah Winfrey
Winfrey delivered an empowering speech to the graduating class of Spelman College in 2012, telling students to honor themselves and settle for nothing less than a "sweet life." "You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go," she said. "What I learned is that that’s a great metaphor for life. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own life because if you are not, life will drive you."
9. Denzel Washington
In 2011, Washington urged the University of Pennsylvania's graduating class to continue on the path to success, and never "fall back" on anything. He said: “Fall forward. Here’s what I mean: Reggie Jackson struck out 2,600 times in his career — the most in the history of baseball. But you don’t hear about the strikeouts. People remember the home runs. Fall forward. Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments. Did you know that? I didn’t either, because number 1,001 was the light bulb. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.”
10. Steve Jobs
Jobs shared his own success story with Stanford University's Class of 2005, pushing students to always "stay hungry." He said, "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."