It’s Really Over (College, That Is): The Best Commencement Speeches of 2013


You’ve passed your classes. You put on the cap and gown. All you need to do is walk across the stage, and you will have officially graduated from college. But wait! First you have to listen to some words of wisdom from your commencement speaker.

Although most commencement speakers tend to be not-so-memorable, the famous speakers below did a great job of walking the line between making the audience LOL and faking that there’s something in my eye thing we all do when we’re starting to cry.

We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite lines from this year’s most memorable speeches. Check them out now if you need a good laugh or some really great inspiration:

+ Brian Williams Gets His Son to Play Ball

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams made the Elon University a family affair when giving his commencement speech. There were definitely a few watershed moments, but he made the entire crowd laugh when calling out his son, a graduate:

“Your time with my son is over. WE get him back now … (And, after throwing a baseball to his son in the audience) “I’m sorry about the ricochet. He used to be better, but he’s been here for four years.”  

+ Astronaut Mark Kelly is SO Not Top Gun Material

Mark Kelly, husband of the courageous Gabby Giffords, wasn’t always a stellar pilot. The astronaut joked about one of his earlier failures in his speech at Bard College:

“And, I do these four landings and then I go back to the shore that night, and, eventually, that evening, I get debriefed by the instructor pilot who had been watching me from the back of the ship. And, you know the first thing he says to me is, “Are you sure this career is for you?” He says, “You are not a particularly good pilot.” You know, I really did bad; I actually think Tom Cruise would have been better — and I don’t mean the character from the movie, I mean the actor. Tom Cruise probably would have been better at that than me. “

+ Katie Couric Knows Who to Thank

Katie Couric might be super-successful now, but the talk show host has had her fair share of terrible days. She joked about how she coped with a particularly bad day at the office while addressing the graduating class of Randolph-Macon College:

“The president of CNN called the assignment desk and said he never wanted to see me on the air again. Needless to say, I was devastated. T-G-H-D … Thank God for Haagen Dazs.” 

+ Oprah + the Worst Prize Fake-Out Ever

If Oprah told you to look under your chair because she did something special for you, you’d pretty much die from the suspense, right? Well that’s how the queen of TV faked-out the Harvard University grads in the beginning of her commencement speech:

“Actually, I was so honored I wanted to do something really special for you. I wanted to be able to have you look under your seats and there would be free master and doctor degrees, but I see you got that covered already.”

+ John Green Knows What Heroes Are Made Of:

If you’ve been gutted by one of his best-selling YA novels, you know John Green pulls no punches when it comes time to wreak emotional havoc. Here’s what he had to say about heroes to the graduating class of Butler University:

“The real hero’s journey is from strength to weakness. … But still, you are probably going to be a nobody for a while. You are going to make that journey from strength to weakness, and while it won’t be an easy trip, it is a heroic one.” 

+ Julie Andrews is an Ambassador of Amazingness:

We envy the graduates at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Not only did Dame Julie Andrews drop some “The Sound of Music” references, but she also knocked everyone out of their seats with this advice:

“Use your knowledge, and your heart, to stand up for those who can’t stand, speak for those who can’t speak, be a beacon of light for those whose lives have become dark. … Be a part of all that is decent and be an ambassador for the kind of world you want to live in.”

+ Stephen Colbert Wants You to Choose the Hard Path:

Stephen Colbert might be used to easy laughs on Comedy Central, but he had some serious moments while delivering his address to the graduates of the University of Virginia:

“Your life will not be defined by the society that we have left you. … If you must find your own path, and we have left you no easy path, then decide now to choose the hard path that leads to the life and the world you want.”

+ Joss Whedon Found the Beauty in Conflict:

It should come as no surprise that the man behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Avengers” knows a thing or two about conflict. Here’s what Joss Whedon shared with the graduates at Wesleyan University:

“You have, which is a rare thing, the ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself. To at least give it the floor. Because it is the key, not only to consciousness, but to real growth. … If you think happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. They will always be in conflict and if you accept that, everything gets a lot better! … You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been.”

+ The President Has Some Parting Words

Here’s a bonus excerpt from President Obama’s commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy, because we think the President sums up everything we need to know:

“This country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambitions.”

Which speech was your favorite this year? Who would you like to see speak at your graduation?

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