10 Lessons We Learned from 2010’s Celebrity Graduation Speeches


The 2010 celebrity commencement speech has been a strange one, so far. While we continue to await Lisa Kudrow’s talk at Vassar, Wyclef Jean’s keynote at Western Connecticut State, and several others, this season has already yielded a treasure trove of wonderful (okay, and some awful) wisdom. We may not agree with all of the 10 lessons we’ve collected here (Obama’s diatribe against technology, Glenn Beck’s very existence), but we’ve taken other luminaries’ (Meryl Streep, Bill Clinton, Rachel Maddow) words to heart. Who can resist a graduation season that features both a goofy Anderson Cooper and a dead-serious Alec Baldwin?

Nothing is more important than empathy. “As Jung said, ‘Emotion is the chief source of coming into conscious.’ There can be no transforming of lightness into dark, of apathy into movement, without emotion. Or, as Leonard Cohen says, ‘Pay attention to the cracks, because that’s where the light gets in.'” – Meryl Streep at Barnard, May 17. Watch the final clip below, or check out all four parts of this stirring, proudly feminist speech here.

Technology is bad for democracy. “And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.” – President Obama at Hampton University, May 9. Read the whole thing here or watch the video below.

Take risks. “When you commit to something or someone that proves to be unfulfilling by your measure, that is painful. But in my life, I have learned that when you do not commit, when you do not risk, and you discover you should have, that is even more consequential. The myth of a risk-free life is just that: a myth.” – Alec Baldwin at NYU, May 12. Watch a clip from the speech, via New York Daily News, below:

Life isn’t actually that short, so choose fame over glory.

“Consider the possibility that you might very well get old… Be part of good decisions, because the stuff that you do now you will want to be bragging about when you’re 90… Get smart, and get smart fast… Be intellectually and morally rigorous in your own decision-making and expect that the important people in your life do the same… When given the choice between fame and glory, take glory… Life might very well be long. Keep your eyes on the horizon and live in a way that you will be proud of. You will sleep more, you will be a better partner, you will be a better mom, you will be a better friend, you will be a better boss, and you will not have to remember any complicated lies to brag about at the old-age home because you can brag about the truth of your well-lived life.”- Rachel Maddow at Smith, May 16. Watch the entire wisdom-packed speech below:

Hang onto your enthusiasm for change. “But more important than anything government can do will be a sincere willingness on your part to keep sharing your enthusiasm; to keep believing that you can make a difference; to keep going to places where there is brokenness and injustice and despair, and asking what you can do to lift those places up.” – Michelle Obama at George Washington University, May 16. Watch an excerpt of the speech below or read the transcript here.

Stand up for choice. “Anyone who wants to take your choice away is evil. There are varying degrees to this, but I believe it to be universally true.” (Except, probably, that pesky “abortion” kind of choice.) – Glenn Beck at Liberty University, May 15. Watch the tear-filled, wackadoo speech below:

Dreams are important, but hard work gets the job done. “Be realistic, you can’t do whatever you want… A less-than dream job can help you find your dreams. Work hard. There is just no way around it. Hard work is the answer.” – Katie Couric at Case Western Reserve, May 16. Watch her entire speech below:

Look to the future. “We all have to be in the future business. That’s the one little catchphrase that will encompass everything.” – Former President Clinton at WVU, May 16. Watch a clip of the speech below:

Sometimes singing is better than speech-giving. Just watch Patti Labelle at Temple University, May 13 (and skip to the last three minutes or so):

You only graduate once, so go ahead: Get drunk and engage in casual sex. “I couldn’t tell you what happened at my commencement. And it’s not just that I don’t remember what the speaker said, I don’t even remember who the speaker was. So I’m not nervous anymore.. cause you’re not going to remember a damn thing I say. you’re going to wake up tomorrow.. in your own bed, or someone else’s…if you’re lucky. Hey you’re not going to see most of these people ever again, so why not go for it? Your parents have to go to sleep at some point.” – Anderson Cooper at Tulane, May 15. Read the entire speech here or watch the video.