School is almost out for summer and while it’s been a while since IMAGE wore an unflattering kilt, or pulled a college all-nighter, we think summer evenings make the perfect time for bouts of introspective laying about. We’ve assembled some of the most inspiring college commencement speeches for all you graduates who are verging into the fun morass that is adulthood.
JK Rowling’s speech to the Harvard class of 2008 about the benefits of failure and the power of imagination is replete with quotes to drown your diary in. While speaking to arguably the most accomplished graduates on the planet, the Harry Potter author details the personal disaster that was her twenties – a degree that promised no career prospects, a divorce, single parenthood and surviving on benefits was her daily existence. “I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
The writer and filmmaker is an inspiration for women the world over, with Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham citing her as a major influence in their own careers. Her commencement speech for her alma mater Wellesley College in 1996 is a journey through the lives of women in the latter half of the twentieth century; recalling how lesbians were expelled from the college and regular instances of sexism were tolerated. She encouraged women to strive towards having it all, on their own terms. “…you can always change your mind. I know – I’ve had four careers and three husbands.” Ephron died four years ago but she left behind a family, a timeless body of work and some damn fine life affirming quotes: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
In 2005, the tech founder and visionary made a speech to the graduates of Stanford telling his swooping life story and letting us see the moments of infallibility and failure that made this man a modern icon. “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.”
What do you get when you combine Transcendental meditation with Jim Carrey? The weirdest commencement speech of all time. Somewhere in Fairfield, Iowa, there is the Maharishi University of Management, or MUM. Maharishi Mahesh may be known to some of us as the man who popularized Transcendental Meditation in the West. This institution is dedicated to following his teachings, in which Carrey is a life-long believer. The speech, much like the ethos of Transcendental Meditation, focuses on spreading joy and happiness through the power of intention and is in line with MUM’s mission of Consciousness-based education. The speech is as inspiring as it is weird; featuring the slapstick Jim Carrey humour along with one of his paintings. Seriously. It’s awful.
David Foster Wallace
This Is Water seemed to gain peak reverberation in 2012 when a video recording of David Foster Wallace’s famous speech was uploaded to Youtube. Having committed suicide in 2008 and cemented himself in the minds and hearts of college graduates, the late Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon University in 2005 remains one of the most iconic pieces of oratory of the last fifty years. Deftly peeling away the apathy of the young, his position as a ‘prating old fool’, he unfolds a vision of the normality of life as the students have never seen it, in all its monotony and uneventful hardship. His anecdotal humour and straight-shooting style of delivery, uncover his fundamental belief in the unexpected beauty and solace there is to be found in all of this. On our 15th listen of it.
Did we miss out any other great commencement addresses? Link us to your favourite inspirational speeches below!
Roisin Agnew and Jeanne Sutton