Graduation season is upon us. Regardless whether it’s kindergarten, high school, or college, graduations mark unique accomplishments and should be well celebrated. Often they also indicate impending life transitions that can be swelling with both peril and promise.
A staple part of any graduation, the commencement speech, typically addresses both the accolades and exhortation for the future. Of course, some speakers do this better than others. Like many graduating students, I remember very little about my commencement speakers. They may have been filled with sage advice, but I was probably distracted by all the excitement and the typically skyrocketing temperatures of early June. If only I’d spent an extra 2 years in college, I would’ve had George W. Bush and all the memorable controversy and hoopla surrounding such an event.
Thankfully, other speeches have been much more memorable and, in this information age, are available for all to glean wisdom regardless of your age and life stage. NPR has created an excellent database of over 300 speeches they have deemed The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever which includes both text and video when available. Brain Pickings has also created an ongoing archive called The Greatest Commencement Address of All Time.
Another recent trend is the publishing of notable commencement speeches as stand alone books. Here are my favorites:
This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life :: David Foster Wallace
Focused on living an intentional and aware life, this speech blows me away everytime I read. The pacing of the words on the page forces you to chew on what he’s saying and, like most of Wallace’s work, exposes the profound nature and impact of everyday decisions.
Congratulations, By The Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness :: George Saunders
Saunders has quickly become one of my favorite living authors and this speech more firmly plants him among the greatest voices out there. He quickly turns what seems like it would be a passing childhood regret into an argument for how you can shape your life and the world around by simply trying to be more kind. It’s communicated with an authority and compassion that avoids pithiness and fluff.
Other recently published speeches that are garnering critical praise:
The Make Good Art Speech :: Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman offers his advice on creativity and art. The book is designed by the renowned Chip Kidd.
If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young :: Kurt Vonnegut
Another one of my literary heroes. I’m sure these are filled with his trademark wit and wisdom.
You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements :: David McCullough Jr.
An expansion on his original address, McCullough looks at the meaning of success and what failure teaches kids.
Anyone have memorable commencement speeches to share? What are your favorite graduation speeches you’ve read? If you could have anyone speak at your graduation, who would it be?
And last but not least, CONGRATS to all recent graduates!