To deliver a good commencement speech, one must have the ability to do two things. The first is keep people awake — if your speech is a snooze fest, chances are people are on their phones in an attempt to keep themselves from nodding off, or have ditched the phone (and all sense of respect) completely and are in fact sleeping. You might as well be talking to a wall. The second is the ability to actually say something. It takes a certain kind of person to string together enough sentences to talk for thirty odd minutes. It takes another to say something that gets people thinking and to spark an emotion with that string of sentences.
We’ve already gushed over Charlie Day’s speech at Merrimack College. Here are a few others commencement speakers that mastered the two abilities and left an impression.
Jay Leno at Emerson College
Jay Leno’s talent is being able to make you feel like you’re the only one in the room. Of course the speech was funny — we’re talking about Jay Leno here — but what made the speech stand out was that it wasn’t a speech; it was a conversation. There was no overwhelming charge to reinstate Pluto as a planet or cure the common cold. Instead, Leno gave a list of things that can be used on a day-to-day basis to make the most out of your journey post graduation and slightly look forward to the shitty jobs you’re bound to encounter.
Jennifer Lee at The University of New Hampshire
Jennifer Lee, the screenwriter and director of “Frozen,” is simply amazing! Her heartbreaking story of being bullied and insecurity leads to the lesson that doubting yourself prohibits growth personally and professionally. The sincerity in her speech makes a very cliche message far from it, and by the end you want to give her a round of applause just for being herself.
Sean “P. Diddy” Combs at Howard University
We’re not entirely sure of what Diddy’s charge to Howard’s class of 2014 was other than a serious boost of self-esteem. Diddy was so excited and touched to be there, you were touched and excited to witness it. He makes everyone feel as important as he is by making it known it was their day together. Diddy truly believes that this generation is powerful and his emphasis on it makes you want to succeed. He also gives some great advice to spark ambition, like “nobody is going to invite you to the front of the line…you gotta push your way to the front of the line.”
Katie Couric at Trinity College
What was most enjoyable about Katie Couric’s speech was the fact that she played on failure in a way that made you feel alright about failing calculus three times and not having a job offer yet. Often, commencement speakers approach students on a high horse and tell them to be better than they are, which is basically impossible seeing as they are two steps away from world domination. Katie talked about how she failed miserably but somehow found her way to the top. Everyone loves a good underdog story.
(We also thought the “harass being two words” joke was very clever.)
Kal Penn at DuPauw University
Who knew Kumar was so insightful? Kal Penn’s address to the class graduating from DuPauw was completely based on happiness and being a good person. His take-it-as-it-is attitude, view on friendship and message that the world isn’t actually falling apart, was an optimistic breath of fresh air compared to devastating speeches about how to save the planet. Of course he touched on career, but Kal’s speech reminded us that there’s more to life than being super rich and successful, and that it’s not always cool to make it rain.