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5 Great Commencement Speeches to Show Your Kids

Whether your son or daughter is graduating from high school or college, moving on and starting anew wouldn’t be complete without some advice and words of wisdom and encouragement from others who came before them. YouTube is chock full of memorable commencement speeches from years past. Some may be dated, but their inspirational sentiments still resonate with the Class of 2021. Here are a few worth checking out.

Oprah Winfrey, Howard University, 2007

Who wouldn’t listen to advice that comes from Oprah? In this commencement speech, she encourages graduates to find their passion, their reason for being, and, when in doubt, have faith that they will end up where they are meant to be. “There is no such thing as failure,” she says. “It’s God’s way of pointing you in a new direction.” As graduates move on to their next life chapter, Oprah reminds them to continue searching for their true calling. “Your calling isn’t something that somebody can tell you about,” she says. “It’s what you feel. It’s part of your life force. It is the thing that gives you juice. The thing that you are supposed to do. And nobody can tell you what that is. You know it inside yourself.”

President Barack Obama, University of Michigan, 2010

When President Obama gave this speech at The Big House more than a decade ago, the nation was dealing with similar economic challenges and rifts as it is today. While his speech focuses on politics and government, his words ring true for anyone when it comes to forming relationships in the workplace and beyond and boils it all down to respect. In life, graduates will encounter others who do not look like them, think like them, or come from where they do. Instead of challenging someone with a different perspective, Barack encourages graduates to embrace diversity. “We can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down,” the president says. “You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it.”

Amy Poehler, Harvard University, 2011

There are plenty of laughs during this commencement speech from actress and comedienne Amy Poehler, but she provides some serious feedback for graduates too. Poehler focuses on the power of relationships and asking for guidance and help along the way. “You can’t do it alone,” Poehler says. “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life.”

Stephen Colbert, Wake Forest University, 2015

Like Poehler, Colbert also lightens the mood with humor during his commencement speech. While relying on others, Colbert also reminds graduates that it is important to rely on yourself as well. Graduates need to be willing to trust themselves on their new journey and give themselves grace as they make mistakes. “You need your own set of standards,” Colbert says. “What is nice about having your own standards is that from now on, you fill out your own report card. So do yourself a favor: Be an easy grader. Score yourself on a curve. Give yourself extra credit. You have the power. You are your own professor now.”

Brandy Centolanza
Brandy Centolanza is a freelance journalist who covers health, parenting, family travel, and the hospitality industry. She writes from her Virginia home surrounded by her husband of 20 years and their two teens, three cats,and a bearded dragon named Craig.

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