BRING ON THE COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

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I’m a learner.  I’ve always loved school and all of its parts: waking up early; taking notes; the anxiety before an exam; the weight of books in my backpack; rushing from class to class; and naturally, I loved and relished the end. I’m also a few years out of college, and as I –and people I know– begin to evaluate our career choices, consider higher education options and/or make a clean break from the status quo, I’ve found myself seeking some of that post-grad spark.

While I don’t necessarily feel deprived of that spark, on my commute to and from work each day–and sometimes on weekends–I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a few speeches that, in ways both big and small, have inspired me to engage in my career and aspirations in totally new ways and with renewed vigor. Here are a few speeches for your Sunday, that I hope inspire that same spark.

President Obama’s address to the all-male Morehouse College on May 19:

“I know that some of you came to Morehouse from communities where life was about keeping your head down and looking out for yourself.  Maybe you feel like you escaped, and now you can take your degree and get that fancy job and the nice house and the nice car — and never look back.  And don’t get me wrong — with all those student loans you’ve had to take out, I know you’ve got to earn some money.   With doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could not even imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty.  But I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do.”

Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Valerie Jarrett’s address to the all-female Wellesley College on May 31:

“I guarantee that everyone here who challenges the status quo will face criticism, disappointment and setbacks. Change is hard. Very hard. You will make mistakes, you will fail, and face rejection. In fact, if you never slip and fall, you’re being too cautious. Don’t let fear debilitate you.”

Oprah’s address to Harvard on May 31:

“It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point, you are bound to stumble because you’re constantly doing what we do: raising the bar. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, higher, the law of averages—not to mention the myth of Icarus—predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do, I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s address to Vassar on May 26:

“When you approach the world with an eye towards justice, equality, and opportunity as core, common values, suddenly we start to look at something that is better for the greater whole.  The whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts, and we become a stronger nation for it.  Fighting for women’s equality not only challenges the status quo but compels the fundamental question, ‘Why not seek justice for all and opportunity for everyone?'”

Here’s a longer list of commencement addresses in 2013 — and though I realize it’s primarily a list of celebrity speeches given at mostly major universities, I think the words transcend that. I couldn’t find a collective commencement address list for all colleges and universities and it’s a bummer, because I remember being inspired by whoever addressed my graduating class in August 2006, at MTSU — and graduating students the world over are hearing great, inspiring addresses that should be publicized.

(Photos | Barack Obama / Valerie Jarrett / Oprah / Kirsten Gillibrand)

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