The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever

The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever

10:04am May 11, 2015
"You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition." – Alan Alda, from his commencement speech at Connecticut College in 1980.
Robin Merchant/Getty Images

It's getting to be that time of the year when students wipe tears from watery eyes, exchange final goodbyes and throw their graduation caps into the sky. In other words, it's graduation season — and that also means the season of commencement speeches.

Over the weekend, President Obama and the first lady delivered two separate grad speeches. Michelle Obama spoke at Tuskegee University in Alabama, one of the nation's premier historically black universities, and the president headed to South Dakota to address the graduating class of Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown — one of the nation's top community colleges.

Here are some other upcoming commencement speeches happening around the country:

  • Ken Burns (May 15) — Washington University in St. Louis.
  • Maya Rudolph (May 16) — Tulane University.
  • Condoleezza Rice (May 16) — College of William and Mary.
  • Bill Nye (May 17) — Rutgers University.
  • Samantha Power (May 18) — University of Pennsylvania.
  • Stephen Colbert (May 18) — Wake Forest University.
  • Christopher Nolan (June 1) — Princeton University.

You can see a more comprehensive list from the blog Graduation Wisdom here.

Who doesn't love the commencement speech? It's one of the final moments between a student's life in the academic bubble and the real world.

Sometimes it's also a chance to push a political agenda — as the president touted his free community college plan in South Dakota. Other times it's just an opportunity to make people laugh, or a time for students to look back on their time in school and look forward to their future opportunities.

Above all, it's a moment for everyone, even those who didn't graduate, to feel inspired.

That's why the NPR Ed team sifted through hundreds of speeches (going all the way back to 1774), handpicked our favorites and built this online database.

So, if you're stuck listening to a particularly bad speech this month — or just need some inspiration — you have plenty to choose from. You're welcome.

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