Speeches from America’s university commencement season

At this time of year, across the northern hemisphere, graduands are preparing to leave their alma maters and go out into the world as my friends and I did less than a year ago. As tradition dictates, there will be, at nearly all of these ceremonies, a guest who will speak to the graduates and impart advice on what best to do with the lives they are about to embark on. These guests tend to be politicians, notable citizens or community leaders. My favourite ever speech of this kind is the one given by author J.K Rowling to Harvard’s Class of 2008 about the fringe benefits of failure. The remarks given by these speakers, many of which are now filmed and appear in newspapers and on blogs around the world, are an almost endless source of good life advice, not just for young people standing on the brink of adult life but for all people.

This year, in the US, several notable people were invited to speak at various commencement (as they are known in America) events. Here are a few which I thought were worthy of of my readers’ attention.

Aaron Sorkin, one of my favourite media figures, who wrote The West Wing, A Few Good Men and The Social Network spoke to his alma mater, Syracuse University in New York, telling the graduates:

“You’re too good for schadenfreude, you’re too good for gossip and snark, you’re too good for intolerance—and since you’re walking into the middle of a presidential election, it’s worth mentioning that you’re too good to think people who disagree with you are your enemy”.

Barack Obama spoke to the graduating class at Barnard College, a private liberal arts women’s college and member of the prestigious Seven Sisters. There, he told the women:

“Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

A commencement speech was also given by First Lady Michelle Obama to the graduating class at Virginia Tech, site of the 2007 massacre – the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in US history. She spoke of the school’s tradition of service to others being the key factor in their healing process and beseeched the audience to continue to defy those who tried to define them. It was simple and beautiful and carried the best advice of all.


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Filed under America, Life, University

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