WorkHappy Wrap: The UpWrite Group’s “Best of” graduation commencement speeches

by Jennifer Sigler | June 2, 2017 | Workhappy Blog

Will Ferrell’s commencement speech: “You’re never not afraid. I’m still afraid.”

It is officially June, which means another graduation circuit is coming to an end. And so, we are taking a pause from our normal job news roundup to bring you a “Best Of” commencement speeches.

Familiar affirmational themes made appearances, but a few stand-out comedians, actors, philanthropists and journalists offered them up in new ways. Here is just a sampling of sage advice given to this year’s grads that you can continue learn from.

Take note!

Build resilience: Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, took a page out of her latest book and  spoke at Virginia Tech on the importance of resilience. Her book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, discusses how to develop resilience after a devastating loss — something that both Sandberg and Virginia Tech know a thing or two about.

Poignant moment: “We build resilience into ourselves. We build resilience into the people we love. And we build it together, as a community.”

But know when enough is enough: Adam Grant — a professor at Wharton and co-author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and Option B with Sandberg — spoke to Utah State students on the virtues of quitting. Yes, quitting. Grant stressed that successful people know when to stop putting energy into things that aren’t working for them.

Poignant moment: “Grit doesn’t mean ‘keep doing the thing that is failing.’ It means ‘define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail … Don’t give up on your values, but be willing to give up on your plans.”

Be you, above anyone else: At Kent State, Academy award-winning actress Octavia Spencer spoke to graduates about the dangers of comparison. Cutting out the noise of others is the only way we can hear, and be, ourselves.

Poignant moment: “No one came here the same way, and you won’t all achieve success the same way.”

But be of use to others: Oprah Winfrey made a several commencement speeches this year, making the rounds to universities where students from her school – Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa – were graduating. But they shared a collective theme: service. To the graduating class at Smith College, she emphasized creating a life around serving with purpose, and reflected on her own journey in this path.

Poignant moment: “Ask the question: How can I be used? Life, use me. Show me through my talents and my gifts, show me through what I know, what I need to know, what I have yet to learn, how to be used in the greater service to life.”

Fear doesn’t go away, but it can drive you. Will Ferrell told the graduates from University of Southern California that often times self-confidence is the biggest obstacle to achieving our dreams. While filled with humor, his raw honesty is what made this popular topic refreshing and memorable.

Poignant moment: “You’re never not afraid. I’m still afraid. I was afraid to write this speech.”

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