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Top 10 college commencement speeches

Published: Monday, May 19 2014 4:15 a.m. MDT

Quote: “Don’t have a plan. Plans are for wusses. Don’t deprive yourself of the exciting journey your life can be when you relinquish the need to have goals and a blueprint. … When you feel sick to your stomach, it’s a good thing! It signals ‘Opportunity for big growth ahead!’ ‘Something’s coming, something good.' Don’t ignore the nausea. Step up to it.”

The permit failure speech

Who: Ed Helms, actor and comedian

Where: Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.

When: May 2013

Why: Telling grads to not fear failure is a typical commencement topic, but Helms blunt approach makes the messages a little louder and a little clearer.

Quote: “So long as your desire to explore is greater than your desire to not screw up, you're on the right track. A life oriented toward discovery is infinitely more rewarding than a life oriented toward not blowing it.”

The key to no regrets speech

Who: George Saunders, professor and author

Where: Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York

When: May 2013

Why: In the pursuit of success and prestige, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded to take note of those around us. Like Saunders said, “All that I regret can be whittled down to one thing …”

Quote: “Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes. ... But as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.”

The don’t get cocky speech

Who: Cory A Booker, politician

Where: Brandeis College, Waltham, Massachusetts.

When: May 2009

Why: Booker balanced the topics of appreciating the gifts of those who’ve gone before with a call to be the change you wish to see.

Quote: “You drink deeply from wells of freedom that you did not dig. The primary choice, I believe, of your life is to accept the conditions as they exist or to accept the responsibility for changing them.”

The speech most likely to make college grads question their last four years

Who: Steve Jobs

Where: Stanford University, Stanford, California

When: May 2005

Why: There’s nothing quite like a genius millionaire who never graduated with a degree to inspire recent graduates to think that maybe being recent graduates isn’t special. But, the crux of his message is to follow your passion and pay no heed to the rules.

Quote: “I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

The self-reflection speech

Who: Cornel West, professor and activist

Where: Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia

When: May 2009

Why: West is known for his crusade for human rights; he takes the opportunity to speak to Spelman graduates about what they can do to improve the future for themselves and for everyone else.

Quote: “It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a solider to fight on the battle field. You have to be courageous to be a free-thinker and go against the grain.

The speech that calls for change

Who: John F. Kennedy, former President of the United States

Where: American University, Washington D.C.

When: June 1963

Why: Some of the most inspirational speeches plead for a change of thought. Kennedy in the midst of the Cold War asked the students of American University to remove the blame from the Soviets and consider their own contribution to war and peace.

Quote: “Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable — that mankind is doomed — that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man.”

EMAIL: nshepard@deseretnews.com TWITTER: @NicoleEShepard

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