Words of wisdom: 7 memorable grad speeches

Zak Yuson

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Here are some memorable graduation speeches that have withstood the test of time

MANILA, Philippines – Commencement exercises come and go like the hot winds that blow over the country during summer.

Those who speak at graduation ceremonies know the difficulty isn’t in holding your audience captive for half an hour or so – that is the easy part. The challenge is in getting the graduates to remember your speech the moment after they get their diplomas. 

Rappler takes a look back at some memorable graduation speeches that have withstood the test of time:

1. Archbishop Antonio Luis Cardinal Tagle to the graduates of the Ateneo de Manila University class of 2013

“If we look at the three keywords — to praise God, to reverence God, to serve God — the purpose of the human person is to get out of our confinement, to get out of our shells, to get out of ourselves, and to reach out to God in praise, in reverence, and in service. And it is only by losing ourselves that we find our true selves.”

“Mga graduates, ilan kayo? Apat na libo. Sasabihin ng iba, ano naman ang magagawa ng apat na libo para sa pagbabago ng halos siyamnapung milyong Pilipino. Huwag ninyong maliitin. Ang isang daan at labinglimang cardinal nakapaghandog ng Santo Papa para sa mahigit isang bilyong Katoliko. (Graduates, how many are there of you? Four thousand. Others may say, what can 4,000 people do to change the lives of almost 90 million Filipinos. Don’t belittle yourselves. It only took 115 cardinals to offer a Pope to more than 1 billion Catholics.) If your purpose is clear, and it is not directed to self-promotion and self-propagation then you can really be an asset to society and to the world.”


2. Former US President Bill Clinton to the graduates of Yale class of 2010

“What I’ve always believed is cynicism and pessimism are cop outs. They are an excuse to take a dive. They are self-fulfilling prophecies…nobody remembers the naysayers. In the end, all the doers are the builders. In the end, even the builders are forgotten and all that endures are the ripples of what they built. And that’s good. That’s a good thing… So go out there with a happy heart. Learn to live with confidence in the face of all this change and learn to give these people confidence in the face of change.”


3. Comedian Conan O’Brien to the graduates of Harvard class of 2000

“I’ve had a lot of success. I’ve had a lot of failure. I’ve looked good. I’ve looked bad. I’ve been praised. And I’ve been criticized. But my mistakes have been necessary. I’ve dwelled on my failures today because, as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed, your need to always find yourself on the sweet side of the bell curve. Success is a lot like a bright white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you’re desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it.

So that’s what I wish for all of you—the bad as well as the good. Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be. And remember that the story is never over.”


4. UP Economics professor Winnie Monsod’s last lecture to her Econ class of 2010

“Can you assure me that, as a leader, you are going to, right now, until you finish your courses, are you going to act with honor and integrity?

Because I’m going to tell you class, you think cheating is something that is very unusual? It’s very usual in the university [of the Philippines] and this is what bothers me so much.

Because you do not have to cheat. And cheating in the small things is going to lead to cheating in the large things. And all these people that you have content for, because they are corrupt, because they are cheating, are people who may have in fact, been part of the university.

As a matter of fact, if you think about it – I keep on telling this because we are always so proud, UP tayo, ha! I think 6 of the, the majority of presidents of the Philippines came from UP. The majority of the Supreme Court Chief Justices come from UP. The majority of the Speakers of the House come from UP. The majority of the Senate Presidents come from UP. Eh, saan tayo ngayon? [Where do we find ourselves now?]

If they were so good, why are we where we are now? And so you have to ask yourselves that. And part of the reason is that we have always looked at excellence, and not at honor and integrity.”


5. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to the graduates of Stanford class of 2005

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”


6. Ana Kristina Arce (magna cum laude) to the graduates of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde class of 2009

“We may be Deaf persons but we can also do anything you can do, except hear. Communicating with our hands should not make a difference. We live in one country, one world. That means we also long for respect, inclusion in accessibility, and acceptance with dignity. We are not a different breed because of our disability. We also want to live in a society where people will not stare or frown at us or treat us differently. We are also human beings and we are similar regardless of our disability. Please allow us to show you what we can do, please believe in us too. Let us prove to you that, yes, the Deaf can!”


7. J.K. Rowling to the graduates of Harvard class of 2008

“If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”


– Rappler.com

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