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TLV: This Year's Best Graduation Speeches
June 23, 2018

It’s that time of year when we get to hear pearls of wisdom from this year’s crop of commencement speakers.
We’re never too old to feel bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Actor Sterling K. Brown at Stanford University
A 1998 Stanford graduate, Sterling K. Brown has officially arrived in Hollywood. In the past year, he’s won Emmys for his roles in “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and “This is Us.” Aware that he’s following in the footsteps of Supreme Court Justices, titans of tech, leaders of cities and state, “the Queen” (see Oprah below), he wonders aloud what Stanford was thinking inviting him to that podium. To give a delightful, funny, animated, and insightful speech, as it turns out, encouraging students to divorce themselves from perfectionism and shine fully from their unique paths in life.
Author Jesmyn Ward at Tulane University
In and after college, Jesmyn Ward couldn’t shake the pull to write—yet she wasn’t good at it. A couple of frustrating years later, she took a step—she began reading every day for years. She took another step and applied to an MFA program. She continued to take as many steps as needed to get good at the craft that called her. Today, Ward is the only female author who’s won the National Book Award twice. Success, she learned, is choice after choice, step after step, and a constant combination of persistence and patience. Hers is a speech for the majority of us out there who fumble our ways, sometimes for years or decades, towards the work that fulfills.

Chobani Founder Hamdi Ulukaya at The Wharton School
In buying a closing yogurt factory in upstate New York to start Chobani Yogurt, founder Hamdi Ulukaya re-employed 500 laid off workers and then thousands more and revitalized an entire town. He did this because he believes in the kindness of business—a fact for which he and his company have become famous. The center of gravity for change is shifting from government to business, Ulukaya says. It will be business—not government—that creates opportunity, advances equality, and confronts social problems. And it will be those businesses that focus on ROK—return on kindness—that will lead the way and thrive in this next chapter.

Journalist Ronan Farrow at Loyola Marymount University
Ronan Farrow landed himself in the annals of investigative reporting history when he broke the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017. Most of us are aware of what’s happened since: the #MeToo movement, the takedown of several powerful men, and the arrest of Weinstein on rape charges. What Farrow shares is what happened before—a harrowing process of fighting powerful people and their protectors, resisting threats, ignoring calls from editors to give up, and grappling with self-doubt as he debated walking away from a story women had risked so much to bring to light. His is an inspiring story of what courage looks like when the stakes are high.

L.L. Bean CEO Steve Smith at Dickinson College
Steve Smith uses a metaphorical thought process as a guide for his career decisions—imagining himself hiking a mountain with a backpack he fills with the knowledge and skills he gains along the way. Regularly, he examines what he’s put in his backpack and asks himself what’s not there that he wants to add. This metaphor has taken him to jobs in Europe and China, deepened his compassion, expanded his skills, and given his family the gift of learning about life through different cultures. But what he wasn’t putting in his backpack would become the most meaningful.
Oprah at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Oprah’s been around the commencement speech block a time or two. To USC’s journalism graduates, she readily admits having no new advice (she has given more than most). This speech is like the greatest Oprah hits—a smattering of her nuggets and wisdom. Perhaps the most insightful: she cautions graduates not to meet hysteria with hysteria. Instead, see each moment for what it is, use it for what it can teach us, and then transcend it. 

PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman at Rutgers University
Dan Schulman was rejected from every college to which he applied, including Rutgers. Fast-forward about 40 years, he’s landed on his feet—at the helm of PayPal. From his perch on the frontlines of technological change, he predicts we’ll see even more change in the next ten to 15 years than we saw in the past 75 to 100 years. Technology will open up profound and limitless possibilities and profound and Orwellian issues. Whose job is it to figure out the ethics of technology? What will it take? What must businesses and their leaders do, and to what end?

2018 Honorable Mentions
Chance the Rapper at Dillard University
Attending his first ever college graduation, the young rapper has an inspiring message for honoring our heroes by striving to surpass them.

Jimmy Fallon at Parkland High School
Jimmy Fallon surprises the graduates of Parkland High School with the hope of bringing them joy at the close of a traumatic year for these kids.
Siddartha Mukherjee at the University of Southern California
The Emperor of All Maladiesauthor shares one of his greatest lessons: Listening solves mysteries, cracks codes, and reveals answers. It enables compassion, heals wounds, and changes the world.
Greatest Hits
Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth, 2011
The biggest failures provide the best kind of wisdom.
Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane, 2009
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh some more. And maybe you’ll dance, too.
J.K. Rowling at Harvard, 2011
On her path from welfare to richer than the royal family, J.K. Rowling has learned a few things.
Oprah at Agnes Scott College, 2017
What can we say, she’s the “queen.” 
Steve Jobs at Stanford, 2005
Bookmark this for when you need a reminder you’re on the right path. You’ll connect the dots later.
Will Ferrell at USC, 2017
Wish we could have been classmates with Will Ferrell…or at least in this audience.
A high school valedictorian’s speech in New Hampshire
Every graduation speech should end with a flash mob.

In Case You Missed It

This Year's Best Graduation Speeches: 2017 Edition
TLV Industry: June 18, 2018
Headlines From Corporate & Investment Finance
TLV Careers: May 25, 2018
Yadda, Yadda, Yadda

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