Commencement speeches come but once a year, and many get lost to the history of tired cliches.
But the best ones stay far away from these stale platitudes, turning an old idea on its head or conjuring a brand-new thought to inspire and challenge its audience.
This year’s speeches have seen no shortage of wise words, delivered by actors, philanthropists, and journalists. Here are some of the best so far.
Helen Mirren, Tulane University
Compassion is a common theme among graduation speeches, but actress Helen Mirren took the idea a step further by talking about the tattoo on her left hand.
The tattoo says “in La’kesh,” which is a Mayan phrase meaning “You are my other self. We are one. I am another yourself,” she told the Tulane graduates.
In these divisive times, Mirren focused her speech on togetherness.
The wisdom: “We are all in this together.”
Sheryl Sandberg, Virginia Tech
Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, recently published a book called “Option B.” It details her emotional recovery from the death of her husband, and she borrowed many of the themes to use in her Virginia Tech commencement speech.
Sandberg encouraged students to cultivate resilience, not just for themselves but also to instill it in other people.
The wisdom: “An important way you can serve and lead is by helping build resilience in the world.”
Oprah, Smith College
This graduation season, Oprah is visiting nine schools attended by former students of her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy. One of them is Smith College, where she spoke on the importance of service.
So much of her personal happiness is derived from helping others, Oprah said. The more she donates her time to help people, the more fulfilled (and successful) she feels.
The wisdom: “[A]sk the question: How can I be used?”