The Funniest and Most Inspirational Commencement Speeches in 2011


A good commencement speaker can make or break those never ending ceremonies. Often times a good one is the only thing that can save you from boredom and/or that blazing, hot sun. Here are my favorites from the last month.

Amy Poehler (Harvard): Probably one of the funniest speeches I’ve ever seen (and yes, I’ve sat through a lot of them). She starts off arguing that, “every single thing you see in movies is real.” Perfect start to any commencement address. She stresses collaboration and teamwork and how great belonging to a group is —  even in the toughest of times.

Tom Hanks (Yale): Beginning with a joke about The Rapture and urging audience members to keep their electronics fired up and at the ready, I like it. Throughout his speech, he artfully crafted relevant social commentary with jokes and stories. Providing Yale graduates with comments on what fear is, Hanks urges Yale students to place fear behind them and faith in front of them, in order to serve their everyday duties and American duties.

Phil Rosenthal (Hofstra): The creator of Everybody Loves Raymond returned to Hofstra University to deliver a humorous and motivating speech that should hit home with any graduates nervous about the real world. He begins his speech by urging the students to keep drinking! And then moved through a discussion of student life to explain that everyone should, “Do the show you want to do because in the end they’re going to cancel you anyway.”

Michelle Obama (Spelman): The First Lady began by explaining the immense importance of Spelman College. She discusses how Spelman paved the way for African American women to gain a tremendous education. Through her powerful narrative, Obama encourages the Spelman graduates to change the world and commit themselves to service.

Aron Ralston (Carnegie Mellon): The Carnegie Mellon graduate returned to campus to give this year’s keynote address. Full of CMU spirit, rocking a kilt and all, Ralston discussed his rock-climbing experience and how Carnegie Mellon helped him survive those 127 hours he spent with his arm trapped beneath a boulder before amputating his own arm.

These speeches are sure to inspire and humor college grads and current students alike. Which were your favorites this year?