2012’s Best Celebrity Commencement Speeches


With the 2012 college graduation season nearly wrapping up, and the unofficial start of summer just days away, we thought that now would be a good time to round up clips of all of the fantastic celebrity commencement speeches that have taken place so far. From Mayor Bloomberg’s topical response to North Carolina’s referendum banning same-sex marriage at UNC Chapel Hill to Andy Samberg’s much more lighthearted (and impression-filled!) appearance at Harvard — as well as contributions by not one, but two Obamas — you’ll find a treasure trove of interesting life advice from some of pop culture’s biggest names after the jump. Check out the videos, and let us know in the comments who you think needs to quit their day job and become a full-time inspirational speaker.

Michelle Obama at Virginia Tech University, May 11

The money quote: “The truth is graduates, there will always be folks who make judgements about you based on superficial things like where you’re from or what you’re wearing or how you look. There will always be folks who judge you based on just one thing that you say or do, folks who define you based on one isolated incident. And here at Virginia Tech, I know you all know a thing or two about what’s that like. But you also know that in the end, people can only define you if you let them.”

James Franco at UT Arlington, May 11

The money quote: “Education gives you the opportunity of choice. You learn how to design your own path. Whatever choices you make, make them with confidence. You are here today to open a new chapter of your lives. Don’t be afraid to change your life’s course. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.”

Michael Bloomberg at UNC Chapel Hill, May 13

The money quote: “Throughout our history, each and every generation has expanded upon the freedoms won by their parents and grandparents. Each and every generation has removed some barrier to full participation in the American dream. That work is not over. Far from it. And – I would argue – last week’s referendum banning same-sex marriage shows just how much more work needs to be done to ensure freedom and equality for all people.”

Aaron Sorkin at Syracuse University, May 13

The money quote: “You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You’re barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they’re a-coming for ya. It’s a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.”

Barack Obama at Barnard College, May 14

The money quote: “It’s up to you to hold the system accountable and sometimes upend it entirely. It’s up to you to stand up and be heard, to write, and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote. Don’t be content just to sit back and watch.”

Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, May 17

The money quote: “Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — and in life, and in love, and in business, and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways in which life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art.”

Ira Glass at Goucher, May 18

The money quote: “It’s normal to feel lost for a little while. Finding what you want to do next is a job.”

Oprah Winfrey at Spelman College, May 20

The money quote: “You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go. What I learned is that that’s a great metaphor for life. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own life because if you are not, life will drive you.”

Jane Lynch at Smith College, May 20

The money quote: “My counsel to you is this. Don’t have a plan. Plans are for wusses. You are obviously good planners or you wouldn’t be here. Stop it now! Don’t deprive yourself of the exciting journey your life can be when you relinquish the need to have goals and a blueprint.”

Katie Couric at the University of Virginia, May 20

The money quote: “Life can deal you some crushing blows, and we all need a deep reserve of resilience to survive.”

Note: Couric’s speech begins at the 15:20 mark.

Eugene Mirman at Hampshire College, May 20

The money quote: “Whatever your interest, no matter how weird or unattainable or far off it seems, it’s not. It’s completely possible and even likely if you just consistently work at it … You can make your own way. So just because you move to some city and there’s not a job, make that job or find it or get a bunch of friends together and make something and do it.”

Brian Williams at George Washington University, May 22

The money quote: “You don’t actually have to build a rocket and take us into space but please, take us somewhere. Please keep us moving, push us, lift us up, make us better.”

Andy Samberg at Harvard University, May 23

The money quote: “… in the end, I feel like I am only truly qualified to give you three tips on how to succeed in life. 1) Cut a hole in a box. 2) But in your junk in said box. 3) Make her (or him) open the box. And that’s the way you do it.”