Education secretary Betsy DeVos may have given 2017’s most talked-about commencement speech (for all the wrong reasons, of course), but the many engaging, inspiring and relevant-to-their-audience addresses that we’ve heard in recent years should not be forgotten in the midst of the recent controversy. In hopes of cleansing your palates from the Bethune Cookman debacle with some much wiser words from wiser people, we pulled together a short list of our favorites.
These speeches aren’t just inspirational motivational as hell — they move us and push us to be our best selves, while also reminding new grads to be reasonable about their expectations of their post college-lives. Check them out and be inspired:
1. Russell Wilson
The Seattle Seahawks Quarterback returned to University of Wisconsin-Madison, his alma mater, to address last year’s graduating class for a powerful address filled with anecdotes from his own journey to the top.
Best Quote: “When life tells you no, find a way to keep things in perspective. That doesn’t make the painful moments any less painful. But it does mean you don’t have to live forever in the pain. You don’t have to live forever in that no.”
2. Shonda Rhimes
If there’s anything that we learned from this 2014 address at Dartmouth College, it’s that no one has life completely figured out — not even Shonda Rhimes herself. However, as the famed show runner and 1991 graduate of the Ivy League institution explained, when you trust yourself enough to say “yes” to the amazing things life has to offer you, the answers will find you.
Best Quote: “You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost. Something is always missing … anyone who tells you they are doing it all perfectly is a liar.”
3. Lin-Manuel Miranda
The man behind In the Heights and Hamilton took the stage at University of Pennsylvania in 2016 and used his own life and those of the characters as examples in his rousing commencement speech.
Best Quote: “You’re trying to avoid going through pain, or causing pain. I’m here to tell you that you’ll have to survive it if you want to be any kind of artist.”
4. President Barack Obama
While addressing Howard University’s class of 2016 (a fitting final commencement speech for his presidency, considering that the fabled HBCU is just a short bus ride away from the White house) President Obama words touched his “young, gifted and Black” audience.
Best Quote: “Be confident in your Blackness. One of the great changes that’s occurred in our country since I was your age is the realization there’s no one way to be black. Take it from somebody who’s seen both sides of debate about whether I’m black enough … there’s no straitjacket, there’s no constraints, there’s no litmus test for authenticity.”
5. Chimimanda Ngozi Adiche
The Americanah scribe stayed very true to form in her speech to Wellesley’s class of 2015, as she imparted advice to grads of the all-women’s college on how to navigate the world as a feminist.
Best Quote: “I urge you to try and create the world you want to live in. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get your hands dirty way.”
6. Michelle Obama
In her final commencement address as First Lady, Mrs. Obama celebrated the diversity of the City College of New York’s class of 2016, encouraging grads to share the wisdom they learned from their classmates with the world.
Best Quote: “You should never, ever be embarrassed by [your] struggles. You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.”
7. Justice Sonia Sotomayor
In the heart of Yankee Stadium, just a couple of miles from where she grew up, the Supreme Court’s sole “wise Latina” spoke to the NYU class of 2012 about the power and potential of going after one’s goals. She also noted that in the process of making your dreams happen, one should never forget the communities that raised them.
Best Quote: “Remember to be grateful. Feeling blessed by what others give to you, recognizing their contributions, and spending time cultivating your relationships with family and friends is critical to finding happiness in life.”
Young Icons: Michael Rainey Jr. Is Our Favorite Hustler
Five Young, Gifted & Black Shining Television Stars You Should Know
5 Young Black Actors & Actresses To Watch For In 2023
5 Black Directors Poised To Take Over Hollywood
Stephen A. Smith Says Michael Jordan Told Him To "Shut The Hell Up" After Revealing He Doesn't Like Jordan 1's
Raising The Bar: Ten Hip-Hop Stars Who Proudly Attended HBCU's
HBCU Alumni Creating New Culture In Hollywood
The Legacy Is Alive: HBCU Pride Runs Strong In These Social Media Influencers