Best Commencement Speeches for the Class of 2012 (Slideshow)

Graduation is upon us, which means that, not only is an entirely new generation entering the work force, but the generations before them have all sorts of last-minute advice to give them as they start this new chapter of their lives. Commencement speeches have long been the best way for successful people to disseminate advice, and the class of 2012 is fortunate to have had so many inspiring, heartfelt and humorous ones to help send them on their way.

While some believe that good advice is wasted on the young, I believe that sharing words of wisdom is a great way to calm some of the fears young people inevitably have as they graduate, and it’s a nice way to acknowledge the hard work that got them here, while advising them of the long road ahead. Here’s what the best of the best had to offer the class of 2012.

Neil Gaiman – University of the Arts

People who know what they’re doing know the rules and know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.

Gaiman, who admits very early on in his speech that he is not a college graduate himself, is full of inspirational advice for students in the arts. He warns them that they don’t know anything, but soothes them with the fact that, as an arts student, this is actually a good thing. The best artists in history have been the ones that have recreated the mold and pushed boundaries. Hopefully, these students will become the next movers and shakers in the artistic world.

President Barack Obama – Barnard College

…Good news doesn’t get the same ratings as bad news anymore. Every day, you receive a steady stream of sensationalism and scandal – stories with a message that suggest change is impossible. That you can’t make a difference. That you won’t be able to close that gap between life as it is and life as you want it to be. My job today is to tell you: don’t believe it.

Aside from the campaign-trail political humor, President Obama’s speech at Barnard College is chock-full of the kind of advice every graduate wants to hear. As they are sitting in their seats, worried that they may not find a job or many not be able to make a difference in the world, President Obama is there to tell them that they can, and he is living proof.

Oprah Winfrey – Spelman College

And so today, you get to fulfill the dream of the great-great grandmothers who said, “I may not get there, but my great-great granddaughter may one day walk across a stage called Spelman as a liberated woman. As a liberated, educated woman.” Today is your day.

For most of us, Oprah is a staple of pop culture, but for the women of Spelman College, she brings a message from history. In her powerful introduction, she discusses the legacy of the civil rights movement, garnering positive reactions from her audience. She goes on to inspire the graduates with quotable moments such as, “You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own life because, if not, life will drive you.”

Jane Lynch – Smith College

“Yes and” is the vital and only rule of improvisation … if I say to you “Stick ‘em up!” and you say “That’s not a gun, that’s your finger!”, we’ve got nowhere to go … Life is just a big extended improvisation. Embrace the ever changing, ever evolving world with the best rule I’ve ever found. Say “Yes And.”

Using her ever-present humor, Jane Lynch spoke to Smith College graduates and gave them some lessons from the actor’s book. As the students are worried about what change lies ahead of them, Lynch comforts them with the knowledge that, yes, the world will change, but if you are able to find creative solutions and follow your imagination, anything is possible.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg – UNC Chapel Hill

Now, I have no doubt that many of you here today will be a part of these discoveries. Your work will reshape our understanding of the world. Everything from the origins of the universe to a cure for cancer. For the non scientists here, you, too, will have an important job to play.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was full of very logical, useful advice for the graduates of UNC Chapel Hill. Joking of the many ways the students may use their newly-minted degrees, he welcomes them to the work force with open arms, encouraging them to make new discoveries, and work together to do so.

For a satirical take on these speeches, and many more, visit The Guardian.


Related Stories:

Obama in Memphis: Not Just Another Graduation Speech

Graduates to Wear Gowns of Recycled Plastic

Students Protest Exxon CEO as Commencement Speaker

Photo Credit: NazarethCollege


Fadi M.
Fadi M5 years ago


Kimberly Z.
Leo Zemke5 years ago

my son was valedictorian of his class and he gave a short but sweet speech, just wanted to say how proud of ALL the classes of 2012 I am, I hope and pray they will be filled with passion for saving our Earth and taking care of all God's animals, they are our hope for the future!

Drusilla P.
Drusilla P5 years ago

Interesting selection. Thank you!

Richard Zane Smith

Full of hope and promise,
Reverend A. J. Lippincott proclaimed at one Carlisle Indian School commencement.
"The Indian is DEAD in you,"
"Let all that is Indian within you die!...You cannot become truly American citizens, industrious, intelligent, cultured, civilized until the INDIAN within you is DEAD."

see: David Wallace Adams, Education for Extinction - American Indians and the Boarding School Experience 1875-1928, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, 1995.

J.L. A.
JL A5 years ago

it's notable that all speakers chose to inspire hope for their futures, albeit with different twists

Taylor isMyName
Past Member 5 years ago

Another great commencement speaker: Melissa Harris-Perry addressed Wellesley College on May 25th.

Angela N.
Angela N5 years ago

thanks :)