January 30, 2012

Best Commencement Speeches on Audio & Video

Get inspired with this list of the 10 best commencement speeches available on audio & video. While college commencement addresses are aimed at graduates, the wisdom they contain can be inspirational for everyone, no matter what stage of life you’re at. Since colleges have been putting out more videos in recent years there are now many commencement addresses available on YouTube. And we’ve also discovered that the C-SPAN video library also features many great commencement addresses from the past twenty years or so.

We’ve selected these top 10 best commencement speeches mixing some historic commencement speeches with some great modern commencement addresses as well:

1. 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University by Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs delivered this commencement address at Stanford University and it’s one of the more inspiring commencement addresses we’ve ever had a chance to hear. Jobs tells three stories of endurance through his education, his career, and his diagnosis with cancer, and through it all his advice is: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” This title is available on streaming video.

2. 1963 American University Commencement Address by John F. Kennedy

In this famous address delivered a few months before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy spoke of peace. Delivered at the height of the Cold War, Kennedy expressed his goal for peace that wasn’t a “Pax Americana” based on American weapons of war. He spoke of the U.S. intentions around the World and against many of the policies of the Soviet Union. Many of Kennedy’s words on peace still ring true today such as his statement: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

3. J.K. Rowling Speaks at the 2008 Harvard Commencement

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling delivers some wise words of wisdom during her Harvard Commencement address in 2008 which she entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”. She talks about how failure in her life after a divorce and when she was living in poverty helped her to eliminate everything that wasn’t most important to her. And she talks about what she learned of human good and evil in her work for Amnesty International. She points out how fortunate the graduates of Harvard are and encourages them to succeed and fail and live rich lives.

4. 2001 Harvard Commencement Address by Bono

Rock star Bono addresses Harvard graduates in this 2001 Commencement Address. He talked about his journey with economist Jeffrey Sachs to encourage debt cancellation in Africa in the Jubilee 2000 campaign. He encouraged graduates to rebel against indifference and create an America where anything is possible. The address is full of inspiring words from the U2 frontman and activist.

5. Oprah Winfrey’s 2008 Stanford Commencement Address

Oprah Winfrey packs as much advice as she can into this 30 minute Commencement Address which she gave to the Stanford graduating class of 2008. Through stories in her own life, she relays life lessons like: “Grow into being more of yourself”, “Listen to your gut”, “If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it”, “If you’re not sure what to do, get still”, “If you struggling, then help others who are struggling”. And there are many more lessons relayed here in Oprah’s wonderful speech.

6. 1978 Harvard University Commencement Address: A World Split Apart by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

In one of the most ambitious commencement speeches ever delivered, the Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn accessed the Western political and cultural situation in the year 1978 and many of his criticisms still hold true today. While in exile from the Soviet Union, he spent a number of years in the United States and this address is his analysis of the Western predicament. In this comprehensive one hour speech he discusses Western politics, the media, our role in Vietnam, the lack of courage in our leadership, Soviet communism, commercialism and materialism, and the spiritual state of Western man. He delivers the speech in Russian and it is simultaneously translated into English. This speech is offered on streaming audio through Google Video.

7. 1990 Commencement Address at Wellesley College by Barbara Bush

First Lady Barbara Bush imparted some words of wisdom in her well received Commencement Address at Wellesley College back in 1990. She emphasizes what’s most important in life, provides some humorous anecdotes, and even quotes Ferris Bueller. In this brief 10 minute speech she receives thunderous applause.

8. Randy Pausch Inspires Graduates at the 2008 Carnegie Mellon Commencement

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch is famous for his “Last Lecture” which he delivered shortly after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A few months before his death he delivered this brief and inspiring speech at the Carnegie Mellon commencement on what’s really important when you look back at your life.

9. 2000 Boston University Commencement by Tom Wolfe

Watch this turn of the century commencement address from the great American author Tom Wolfe. While most commencement address speakers urge students to go out and change the world and fight the system, Tom Wolfe reminds graduates to keep up the current greatness of America and of our tremendous wealth and openness as a country. He praises our middle class virtues and laughs at movie actors and rock stars and other “intellectuals” who tear down the ordinary virtues of America with satire and cries of indignation. Throughout the talk Wolfe gives some of his own hilarious observations on America at the turn of the 21st century. It’s a unique commencement address from one of America’s most keen observers and most entertaining writers.

10. Conan O’Brien’s 2011 Dartmouth College Commencement Address

And for some comic relief in a commencement address, Conan O’Brien delivered a rapid fire comic routine at Dartmouth College last year. After many jokes to warm the crowd up he gets a little serious about his failure at hosting the Tonight Show and the importance of having your greatest fear realized. Through it all he learned that dreams do change and that can lead to a much more exciting life than was previously imagined.

In addition to this top ten you might also want to check out NPR’s list of “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever” with videos available for many of the speeches:

The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever

And here are some other good commencement addresses we listened to that have proven to be popular. Here are over dozen other commencement addresses in historical order. We’re linking directly to these ones for the most part:

1941 Winston Churchill Address To Harrow School

Delivered in the midst of World War II, Churchill’s speech to the Harrow School contains the lines: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

George C. Marshall Introduces The Marshall Plan at the 1947 Harvard University Commencement

George C. Marshall introduces the Marshall Plan to rescue Europe after World War II.

1999 George Washington Commencement Address by Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu preaches for a new world and asks graduates to work for it.

1999 Agnes Scott College Commencement Address by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut gives a freewheeling and funny commencement address with some gems of wisdom for the graduates to remember.

2000 Antioch College Commencement by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal gives a politically charged taped audio address from death row for the Antioch College commencement.

2001 California State University at Fullerton Commencement by Nicholas Cage

Actor Nicholas Cage spreads his passion for movies and acting and art and life.

2001 Vassar College Commencement Address by Stephen King

America’s Boogie Man Stephen King says life is short and then you die so give away what you have to the poor.

2004 Commencement Address at The College of William & Mary by Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart praises the youth generation and encourages them to fix what the previous generation has broken.

Ellen at Tulane Commencement 2009

Comedienne Ellen DeGeneres talks about how she overcame some of the tougher setbacks in her life.

2011 Commencement Address by Denzel Washington

Actor Denzel Washington tells graduates to not have something to fall back on, but instead fall forward and keep getting back up.

Dr. E.O. Wilson at the 2011 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Commencement

Biologist E.O. Wilson encourages us to rescue the biodiversity of the plant.

Tom Hanks Addresses the Yale Class of 2011

Actor Tom Hanks talks about the “ying yang thang” of life and how our faith can grow bigger than our fears.