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  1. Blog
  2. Women to Know
  3. May 1, 2020

12 Inspiring Commencement Speech Quotes for Soon-to-Be Graduates

*Cue “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C*

12 Inspiring Commencement Speech Quotes for Soon-to-Be Graduates
Image courtesy of Falaq Lazuardi

You. Did. It. This is cause for celebration. But while you’re celebrating your great achievements, you’re probably also looking ahead at the future. What’s next? If you need a little inspiration, take a look at these words of wisdom—from wise women—delivered in commencement speeches.

Read more:How to Get a Job After College: The Complete Guide

1. “Dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen, it's hard work that creates change... Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer… My dreams did not come true. But I worked really hard. And I ended up building an empire out of my imagination. So my dreams? Can suck it.”

Shonda Rhimes , television producer and writer, and author

2. “As we journey along with the hero of any story, we realize that we too are the lead characters of our own lives. I am here today to remind each of you that you are the heroes of your story...Your life is your story and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.”

—Kerry Washington, actress

3. “I often hear from new graduates that it's better to wait until you have more experience...but I'm a big believer in the power of inexperience. It was the greatest asset I had when I started TFA (Teach for All). If I had known at the outset how hard it was going to be, I might never have started. The world needs you before you stop asking naïve questions and while you have the time to understand the true nature of the complex problems we face and take them on.”

—Wendy Kopp, CEO and cofounder of Teach For All

4. “The trick is to listen to your instinct, grab the opportunity when it presents itself, and then give it your all. You will stumble and fall, you will experience both disaster and triumph, sometimes in the same day, but it’s really important to remember that like a hangover, neither triumphs nor disasters last forever. They both pass and a new day arrives. Just try to make that new day count.”

—Helen Mirren, Academy Award–winning actress

5. “Be present. I would encourage you with all my heart just to be present. Be present and open to the moment that is unfolding before you. Because, ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future.”

—Jessica Lange, Academy Award–winning actress

Read more:10 Common Interview Questions & How to Answer Them

6. “America needs your commitment, and, here’s the thing, you need the commitment. Advocacy—getting involved in issues you care about and fighting for them—can reshape our country, and I guarantee it will reshape you."

—Elizabeth Warren, politician, lawyer, and Massachusetts senator

7. “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. We build resilience into ourselves. We build resilience into the people we love. And we build it together, as a community. That’s called‘collective resilience.’ It’s an incredibly powerful force—and it’s one that our country and our world need a lot more of right about now. It is in our relationships with each other that we find our will to live, our capacity to love, and our ability to bring change into this world.”

—Sheryl Sandberg, author, COO of Facebook, founder of LeanIn.org

8. “I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.”

—Maya Angelou, poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist

9. “The best years are very much ahead of you. And they can be whatever you want them to be…As much as you’ve changed during your time here, more change is coming. You’re going to continue to evolve in unforeseen ways. You are full of complexities and wonders that haven’t even begun to surface. Life’s unpredictability will draw these out and what defines you now will be mere shades and hues of a more vibrant you over the next five, 10, 50 years. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more liberating than that, knowing that life will look differently than you think it will.”

—Octavia Spencer, Academy Award–winning actress

10. “I just want y'all to know there will be ups and downs. Prepare for that but don't give up, and I know you may hear that all the time but if I had given up, a long time ago, I wouldn't be standing here today. So, you have come too far to quit....As long as you are breathing it is never too late.”

—Missy Elliot, rapper, songwriter, producer, and dancer

Read more:How to Survive and Thrive During Your Quarter-Life Crisis

11. “It doesn't matter how far you might rise. At some point you are bound to stumble.... If you're constantly pushing yourself higher... the law of averages, not to mention the Myth of Icarus, predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

—Oprah Winfrey, author, talk show host, producer, and philanthropist

12. “I was not someone who should have the life I have now, and yet I do. I was sitting in the chair you are literally sitting in right now, and I just whispered, “Why not me?” And I kept whispering it for seventeen years; and here I am, someone that this school deemed worthy enough to speak to you at your commencement. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, but especially not yourself. Go conquer the world. Just remember this: Why not you? You made it this far.”

Mindy Kaling , actress, comedian, and writer

Read more:5 Strategies to Help You Pay Off Your Student Loans

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Abbey Slattery

Contributor

Abbey Slattery is a writer, editor, and pop culture aficionado, most interested in the world of arts and culture and its intersection with politics. Throughout her career, she has contributed to newspapers, magazines, and websites, but is most prolific on Twitter. Abbey firmly believes in the importance of knowing your desert island movies and ranks Scream, Easy A, and Clue as her top choices. 

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