Work hard. Be true to yourself. Embrace diversity. Seize the moment. Graduation speakers have offered such advice for ages. Yet every year some speeches stand out.
Here are a few highlights from this year’s celebrity commencement speakers:
CHANCE THE RAPPER, at Dillard University in New Orleans
“To quote Bruce Lee, we must be like water: adapting to our container, always changing with the times.
“And that means being better than the people who came before us. Some people might find this kind of talk disrespectful, but it’s exactly the opposite. The highest form of respect that we can pay to the people who came before us, the people who sacrificed for us and gave us everything, is to be better than them.
“Our parents, grandparents, ancestors sacrificed not so that we could keep doing the same thing that they were doing but so that we can be better. To simply copy them would be almost an insult to their sacrifice.”
QUEEN LATIFAH, musician / actress, at Rutgers University
“Teach, volunteer, show up at PTA meetings, show up at the Boys and Girls Club, vote, march, be a citizen. Because in a world of bullets and bots, divisions and distractions, we need more citizens pulling us together instead of trying to pull us apart. Give back to your home as the kind of citizen who builds bridges, not walls. Graduates, home shapes you. You make sure you shape it back.”
CHADWICK BOSEMAN, ‘Black Panther’ star, at Howard University
“If you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes — the one that has ultimately proven to have more meaning, more victory, more glory — then you will not regret it. Now, this is your time. The light of new realization shines on you today. Howard’s legacy is not wrapped up in the money that you will make but the challenges that you choose to confront.”
TIM COOK, Apple CEO, at Duke University
“Fearlessness means taking the first step even if you don’t know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart more than when you stand with the crowd.
“If you step up without fear of failure, if you talk and listen to each other without fear of rejection, if you act with decency and kindness even when no one is looking — even if it seems small or inconsequential — trust me, the rest will fall into place.”
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, at Clemson University
“Everyone presents their most carefully edited lives on Twitter or Instagram. We all do it, right? Posting the best pictures of the most exciting places we go and the most interesting things we see.
“But our social media lives aren’t the real world. Real life is usually messier. And whether we mean to do it or not, the fake lives we live on social media can evoke a kind of envy that is a lack of gratitude, that is very damaging.”
OPRAH WINFREY, at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
“Vote, vote, vote. Pay attention to what the people who claim to represent you are doing and saying in your name and on your behalf. They represent you. And if they have not done right by you, if their policies are at odds with your core beliefs, then you have a responsibility to send them packing.
“If they go low — thank you, Michelle Obama — if they go low, we go to the polls. People died for that right. They died for that right. I think about it every time I cast a vote. So don’t let their sacrifice be in vain.”
MICHAEL KEATON, actor, at Kent State University
“You have to take risks. Put yourself on the line. Don’t be afraid to look foolish, make mistakes — take chances. It’s one of the best things you can do.
“And what that will lead to is self-discovery, and it will lead you back to your natural, authentic self. And I really encourage you as you get older to go back to who you were when you were a kid because that was the most authentic you that there has been.”