Every year a butt-ton of kids in wizard wear (caps and gowns are soooo Harry Potter) gather together in football stadiums, basketball arenas and grassy quads to have one special adult address them in a hallowed tradition called the commencement speech. The Class of 2012 definitely got the VIP treatment as this year’s crop of celebs and politicians who took the collegiate podium were pretty dang exceptional: a President, a First Lady, a Governor, one of the world’s most famous bosses, a digital short star, a psychotic cheerleading coach and an actor who rides the Pineapple Express.
Besides hearing our fave famous people give their secret sauce recipe to a rad life, what we love about these special sermons is their focus on inspiring grads to get out there and make the world a better place. Sure, they’re gonna joke about getting a job now that your parents have officially pulled the plug — but these speakers are also there to remind us about the bigger issues beyond paying the rent. So we pulled together the best of the bunch to give y’all a taste of 2012’s most badass graduation speeches. Check out the hilarious and heartwarming highlights, watch the full videos and get amped for your future.
+ Andy Samberg
The Lucky Grads: Harvard (Apparently, the baseball team wants you to call them.)
Best Advice: “RELAX, dude! You just finished college at Harvard. You worked so hard. Trust me, you’re going to kill it.”
Killer 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) Put in your junk in said box. 3) Make her (or him) open the box. And that’s the way you do it.”
Class Clownin’: The former SNL funnyman popped off three of his epic impressions: Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Wahlberg, and Nicolas Cage.
Matriculation Message: “Don’t forget to have fun out there. And avoid certain cardboard boxes.”
+ Jane Lynch
The Lucky Grads: Smith College
Best Advice: “My advice to you: live in the moment. Stay fluid and roll with those changes. Life is just a big extended improvisation. Embrace the ever changing, ever evolving world with the best rule I’ve ever found. Say ‘YES AND.””
Killer Quote: “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.”
Class Clownin’: “If life gives you lemons, grab it by the horns and drive — and yes, i just mixed three metaphors. Remember, I was a C student.”
Matriculation Message: Inspired by her improv past, Jane reminds grads to embrace life’s curveballs.
+ President Barack Obama
The Lucky Grads: Barnard College
Best Advice: “Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”
Killer Quote: “Because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher. I’ve seen your passion and I’ve seen your service… I’ve seen a generation eager — impatient even — to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course.”
Class Clownin’: “No moonwalking today.” — Obama’s response after he namedropped MJ’s iconic dance and one excited student shouted for him to “do it!”
Matriculation Message: Barack agrees with Beyonce, these Barnard ladies are gonna run the world.
+ Governor Mitt Romney
The Lucky Grads: Liberty University
Best Advice: “What we have, what we wish we had — ambitions fulfilled, ambitions disappointed, investments won, investments lost, elections won, elections lost — these things may occupy our attention, but they do not define us.”
Killer Quote: “It is not a matter of what we are asking of life, but rather what life is asking of us. How often the answer to our own troubles is to help others with theirs.”
Class Clownin’: “The Romney campaign comes to a sudden stop when we spot a Chick-fil-A. Your chicken sandwiches were our comfort food through the primary season, and there were days that we needed a lot of comforting.” — Mitt congratulating S. Truett Cathy, the 91-year-old founder of Chick-fil-A, who was receiving an honorary degree.
Matriculation Message: Mitt gave a super spiritual speech at this Christian college stressing faith, values and integrity as keys to America’s success.
The Lucky Grads: Virginia Tech
Best Advice: “It’s ‘invent the future.’ And with those three words comes a simple message: a call to chart your own course and live life on your own terms.”
Killer Quote: “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.”
Class Clownin’: “Yes, I’m talking again about your families — the folks who pushed you and believed in you; the folks who always picked up the phone when you called, even when you were just calling to ask for money.”
Matriculation Message: The First Lady faced up to Virginia Tech’s tragic past by revealing her own losses, explaining that strength and happiness are born in grief and sadness, and declaring that painful memories do not hold their campus hostage.
The Lucky Grads: Spelman College
Best Advice: “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’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.”
Killer Quote: “Your crown has been paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.” — speaking of the sacrifices endured by African-American women in the past to pave the way for this 125th graduating class
Class Clownin': “I am baffled by that question, to explain my occupation…Am I businesswoman? A talk show host? An entrepreneur? I just leave it blank…or write self-employed.”
Matriculation Message: Oprah shared three important keys to success: know yourself and what you want, have a vision for your life even if you don’t have a plan and find a way to serve and do the right thing.
+ James Franco
The Lucky Grads: University of Texas at Arlington
Best Advice: “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.”
Killer Quote: “For it is the fool who puts all his eggs in one basket. I say, spread your eggs around… Some of them might crack, or break along the way, but many will stay intact. Probably more than you think. You don’t like eggs? Too bad. That’s the analogy Seth wrote for me.” (Yup, as in Seth Rogen.)
Class Clownin': “I’m getting a contact high just being here.” (That’s how much this dude loves higher education.)
Matriculation Message: Try stuff!
+ Steve Carell
The Lucky Grads: Princeton, b*tch!
Best Advice: “And every once in a while, put something positive into the world. We have become so cynical these days. And by we I mean us. So do something kind, make someone laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Killer Quote: “We have lost touch with our simpler selves, and by ‘we’ I mean you. You are young…and because of that, you are wrong.”
Class Clownin': “I Googled myself this morning. Yes, I know that sounds like a euphemism for something gross. And it should, I suppose, because it, too, is an exercise in self-love.”
Matriculation Message: Who better to give life advice than Michael Scott from “The Office?!” He may be a hot mess on TV, but he’s right — modern tech and social media can keep us from enjoying good ol fashioned human interaction, so don’t forget to step away from the computer screen. Ya know, like talk to people face-to-face and whatever.
Browse this list of links and resources for making higher education more affordable for you