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TLV: This Year's Best Graduation Speeches
June 23, 2017

"If you can win the trust and affection of your soldiers,
they will win all the battles for you."
- Secretary of Defense General James Mattis on leadership to West Point graduates

The Best Graduation Speeches: 2017 Edition
James Mattis at West Point
As far as commencement speeches go, few are more humbling than those delivered to West Point graduates. Most of us graduated into relatively sheltered circumstances in a dangerous world. These young adults willingly graduate into that dangerous world so that we may remain relatively sheltered.
Secretary of Defense General James Mattis—who personifies humble confidence—speaks of what leadership must look like in the military, but we can all benefit from his wisdom. “If your troops make mistakes,” Mattis says to these soldiers, “look in the mirror and figure out how to coach them better.”
Defense Chief Mattis Gives West Point Commencement Address - Full Speech

Will Ferrell at the University of California
From the most serious to the most...not serious.
There’s so much here. There’s a story about how Will Ferrell repeatedly barged in on a class while at USC pretending to be the janitor. There’s the moment he yells at his three sons in the audience to get their hands off each other. And then there’s the close, where he tells graduates that when they feel anxious about their futures, to picture his face and remember what comes next: Will Ferrell singing Whitney Houston’s “I will Always Love You” to the Class of 2017.
But then there is his ultimate point—that his fear of never trying was much greater than his fear of failure. And that’s what has allowed him to achieve such success.
Will Ferrell | USC Commencement Speech 2017

Fareed Zakaria at Bucknell University
Journalist Fareed Zakaria cautions us to disavow neither the liberal nor the arts in a liberal arts education, which he—born in India—calls a gem of the United States. “Arts” means the opposite of learning only a craft. And “liberal” means liberty, not ideology. He sees both of these principles under attack on college campuses, instead favored for technology-heavy education and the squashing of voices we don’t like. An interdisciplinary education and exposure to dissenting views, Zakaria says, is the only way to deepen our wisdom.
Fareed Zakaria Gives Bucknell University's 2017 Commencement Address

Oprah at Agnes Scott College
Oprah shares a story about how when she opened her school for girls in Africa, she said to her mentor and friend, Maya Angelou, “[This school] is going to be my greatest legacy.” Maya responded in her signature baritone, “You have no idea what your greatest legacy will be. Your legacy is every life you’ve touched.” Oprah tells graduates to keep this in mind as they move through life, as in all moments, we are building our legacies.
Oprah Winfrey speaks at Agnes Scott College's 128th Commencement

Walter Isaacson at William & Mary
Author of several biographies, including on Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, Isaacson’s speech is peppered with fascinating anecdotes of some of the world’s most innovative figures. All to make a point: innovation and progress cannot happen without collaboration—of both people and ideas.
Commencement 2017: Isaacson's keynote remarks

Arnold Schwarzenegger at The University of Houston
Despite scores of articles that declare the Terminator/Governator a model of the American Dream and self-made man, he says that to accept this mantle alone would be to disregard every person who got him to where he is today. His message to graduates? You didn’t get to this day alone, and you will continue to need others for future successes. Say thank you to everyone who helps you along you way.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Commencement Speech at The University of Houston

Daveed Diggs at Brown University
Daveed Diggs says that the Daveed Diggs invited to speak at his alma mater was actually “born” four days before his 33rd birthday—the first time he walked onto the Broadway stage playing both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the hit show “Hamilton.” His point to graduates: if you have a success timeline in your heads, toss it out. Success will come in due time, and you will experience multiple rebirths. But what really counts is our day-to-day work and commitment to trying to understand the circumstances of those around you. Oh, and not to disappoint “Hamilton” fans, he raps—really, really impressively fast.
2017 Baccalaureate Speaker: Daveed Diggs

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