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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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