Commencement speeches are one of our great collegiate traditions, where speakers help send graduates out into the world with newfound wisdom and fresh perspective.

For the Class of 2014, 20to30 has compiled 10 of our favorite bits of wisdom offered by celebrity graduation speakers. Open your minds and allow these tips from some of the world’s most successful figures guide you through your 20to30 journey.

1. Stephen Colbert, Northwestern (2011): Dreams can change. You are not a failure if your first dream does not succeed.

“Thankfully dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed and you’re not some loser – but just as importantly – if you do get your dream, you’re not a winner.”


2. J.K. Rowling, Harvard (2008): You have not lived until you have failed.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously, that you might has well not have lived at all; in which case, you’ve failed by default.”


3. Barack Obama, Wesleyan (2008): Anyone can make a contribution to the betterment of humanity, no matter how small the act. 

“All it takes is one act of service, one blow against injustice, to send forth that tiny ripple of hope.”


4. Steve Jobs, Stanford (2005): You are going to die. Remember what will be truly important in the face of death.

“All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure − these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition … Stay hungry, Stay foolish.”


5. Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane (2009): Live for yourself.

“The most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and to not give in to peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not.”


6. David Foster Wallace, Kenyon (2005): There is truth to the perspectives of others. 

“If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable.”


7. Oprah Winfrey, Harvard (2013): Listen to the people who disagree with you. 

“Even though this is the college where Facebook was born, my hope is that you will try to go out and have more face to face conversations with people you disagree with. That you’ll have the courage to look them in the eye and hear their point of view and help make sure that the speed, and distance, and anonymity of our world doesn’t cause us to lose our ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and recognize all that we share as a people.”


8. Bill Gates, Harvard (2007): Address the deep inequalities of our world. 

“I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world — the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair. … Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries — but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity — reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.”


9. Michael Lewis, Princeton (2012): Be humble. Acknowledge that sheer luck also determines success.

“All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.”


10. Amy Poehler, Harvard University (2011): Be a little more grateful to the people that helped you along the way (i.e. your parents).

“Would it kill you to be nicer to your parents? They have sacrificed so much for you, and all they want you to do is smile and take a picture with your weird cousins.”


Feeling inspired? Now, go forward Class of 2014 with your newfound wisdom and start making the world a better place!

Thomas Freeman is Texas-transplant and aspiring journalist trying (but often failing) to navigate New York City. A current NYU student, Thomas also writes articles and manages media content for 20to30.

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