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Cue Pomp and Circumstance

Speech Highlights From the 2023 Graduation Season

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With more than 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States holding commencement ceremonies throughout the month of May, it would be a Herculean task to compile all the wit, wisdom, platitudes and advice dispensed from podiums across the country.

Rather than repeat the “Oh, the places you will go” of it all, we’ve highlighted speeches by those who know a thing or two about success, failure and the importance of speaking up, staying quiet and moving forward.

Oprah Winfrey at Tennessee State University

Oprah Winfrey spoke at her alma mater, Tennessee State University where she shared it took her years to complete her degree, thanks to a robust broadcast journalism career. She was one credit away from qualifying for her diploma, but returned 10 years later to complete the task.

“So I got my degree from Tennessee State, right around the time I got my third Emmy,” Winfrey said. She went on to discuss the importance of God’s guidance in her life when it’s important to simply be.

“Life is always talking to us. When you tap into what it’s trying to tell you, when you can get yourself quiet enough to listen, you can begin to distill the still small voice which is always representing the truth of you from the noise of the world.

There will never be anything in your life as fulfilling as making a difference in somebody else’s. Everybody always thinks you have to go do something big and grand. I’ll tell you where to start. You start by being good to at least one other person every single day.”

Watch her complete speech here.

Wynton Marsalis at the University of Michigan

Wynton Marsalis, internationally acclaimed musician and Pulitzer Prize recipient, spoke to the Class of 2023 at the University of Michigan Commencement about the importance of bridge-building and investing in the long game.

“Youth, in of itself, is not a value; it’s not a quality like intelligence, humanity or soul. Don’t be fooled graduates. You are a bridge in the unrelenting cycle of life. You need a strong constitution and a willingness to invest in your position of emissary of the past to the future and as translator of the future to the past.”

Watch his complete speech here.

Ron Howard at USC School of Cinematic Arts

American director, producer, screenwriter and actor Ron Howard spoke at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and advised students to stay true to themselves.

"As thrillingly global as our industry has become, it really remains a community and a fairly small community, so the reputation that you establish is so vital. You want to be true to yourself. You want to be yourself, but you want to be the very best version of yourself. You want to be a version that people are excited to work with and be in the creative and production trenches with you know your reputation is going to follow you in in your business."

Watch his full speech here.

Momofuku and Majordomo Media founder David Chang at USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication

Momofuku and Majordomo Media founder David Chang delivered the commencement address to the USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication’s Class of 2023.

“I am here to tell you that holding onto a plan out of fear is not a winning strategy. We are too reverential of fear. Whether it’s the fear of looking foolish or disappointing people or the fear of saying you are wrong, it’s fine to be afraid, but it would be tragic to let it hold you back. I encourage you to embrace fear. Be entrepreneurial, drive a truck, be a gardener, try your hand as a forest ranger, do something you’re not supposed to do.

Watch his full speech here.

Tom Hanks at Harvard University

Tom Hanks delivered the commencement speech at Harvard University's Class of 2023 graduation ceremony on Thursday. The actor and filmmaker was also awarded an honorary degree.

“The work that we must do has no expiration date. It is the construction of our more perfect union and that job will never ever be completed. It’s one that requires rigorous attention, unfading wherewithal and all hands. The work is the keeping of the promises of our promised land, the practice of decency, the protection of freedom and the promotion of liberty for all with no exception.”

Watch his complete search here.

Bill Gates at Northern Arizona University

Bill Gates addressed the Class of 2023 in the Walkup Skydome at Northern Arizona University's Commencement and enlightened the graduates with the five things he wished someone had told him.

“What would a college dropout know about graduation? Turns out, not much, but I do know this."

  1. Your life isn’t a one act play.
  2. You’re never too smart to be confused.
  3. Gravitate towards work that solves important problems.
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of friendship.
  5. You are not a slacker if you cut yourself some slack.

Watch his complete speech here.

Lester Holt at Villanova University

NBC’s Lester Holt delivered remarks at Villanova University’s graduation ceremony, offering inspiring advice to the class of 2023. Holt urged grads to find the courage to listen and to use their voices to speak for truth, justice and civility.

"Our ability to express our ideas and beliefs are core, but I wonder if a little less talking might serve us better in some circumstances. I worry that listening gets short shrift.

When I say listening, I am speaking of more than just hearing words, but hearing the meaning, perspective and experiences of may require you to hear what you may be afraid to hear.

Learn to listen with your mouth closed. That said, we need your voice we need your voice to speak for knowledge, we need your voice to speak for justice and for truth. We need your voice to speak for civility."

Watch his full speech here.

President Joe Biden at Howard University

"Silence is complicity. With your voices and votes…because of you you turned out you spoke up you knew and votes counted. You’re leading the way. You are the scientists, the doctors the advocates who do big things…you are the diplomats and global citizens making democracy work for people around the world. You are the leaders of tomorrow, but it’s coming on you really quickly. My hope is that each of you finds a sweet spot between happiness and success and ambition a good life, a life of purpose.”

Watch his full speech here.

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