Commencement Addresses are an opportunity for a successful person to share some of their experiences and wisdom with a new class of graduates who are about to take the next step in their journey. I really like watching Commencement Addresses from the people I admire to see how they view the world, how they approached their journey and what they learnt along the way.
And so, here are 9 of my favourite Commencement Addresses with my notes underneath. I hope you find them inspiring too.
Steve Jobs, The iconic co-founder of Apple gave a moving Commencement Address in 2005 at Standford. Steve talks about the fear of failure, death and the unknown of the future. Steve’s Commencement speech is one of the most famous and watched Commencement Addresses online. Steve’s talk of the fear of death and facing your own mortality could only really be understood when after his death it was revealed that he was never cured of the Cancer that blighted his final years.
- It’s impossible to know what the future holds for you, but when you look back it will all make sense. Have the confidence to follow your heart off the beaten track.
- Look for the things you love and don’t stop until you find them. Do not settle
- Don’t waste your limited time by living someone else’s life.
“Almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things just fall away in the face, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know of avoiding the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Sheryl Sandberg is currently the COO of Facebook after previously being at Google and part of the US Government. Sheryl talks about career paths, honest feedback within management, leadership and women’s equal opportunities in the work place.
- Careers aren’t always a clear ladder in a less hierarchical world
- Look for growth, impact and mission opportunities in your career, but don’t worry about always moving up
- Build skills, not your CV
- Don’t plan and map out your career, just let it happen
“Get on a rocket ship. When companies are growing quickly and they are having a lot of impact, careers take care of themselves. And when companies aren’t growing quickly or the missions don’t matter as much, that’s when stagnation and politics come in. If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat, just get on.”
Dennis Crowley is the co-founder of foursquare and was previously the co-founder of Dodgeball which was acquired by Google in 2005. Dennis talks about getting back up after repeatedly getting knocked down, persevering with an idea and following your passion.
- Success doesn’t happen overnight
- Keep tinkering with the things you love and follow your passion
- Solve problems you want to solve
- You can be anything you want to be
- Side projects and hobbies are the things that grow up to be amazing, especially if you curate them over time
- Everything happens for a reason
- Don’t let people tell you that your ideas can’t work
“People look at the foursquare story and they say “You’ve had such success in 2 years”, and I’m like, “actually I’ve had about 10 years worth of failure, and this just happens to be a good part of the roller coaster ride that happens to be success.”
Neil Gaiman is an author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. Neil talks about starting out in a career in the arts, the uncertainty of a freelance career and how to find your own path in life.
- When you start out on a career in the arts, you have no idea what you are doing. This is great because you don’t know what is possible and what is not possible
- If you have an idea of what you were put here to do, just go and do that
- If an opportunity does not take you closer to you ultimate goal, don’t be afraid to say no
- In the face of adversity, create good art
- Don’t worry about the next thing, enjoy your successes
“The old rules are crumbling, and nobody knows what the new rules are. So make up your own rules”.
Marissa Mayer is Vice President of Location and Local Services at Google and was employee number 8. Marissa has become one of the most recognisable faces at Google after giving a number of public speeches, appearances and talks on behalf of the company. Marissa’s talk is all about the things you search for in your career and in your life.
- Find what you are passionate about
- Find smart people and surround yourself with them
- Find allies to surround yourself with and who will challenge you to be the best you can be
- Find courage to do things you aren’t ready to do
- Find places you are comfortable in your environment to really thrive
“Doing something you aren’t ready to do isn’t comfortable. For me, and I assume for many of you, it gives you that uneasy, upset feeling in your stomach. That sense that this time you may have gotten to close to the edge. But in pushing through that discomfort, you’ll learn a lot more about yourself. You’ll learn to do something you didn’t thing you could do. Or you will learn where your limits are. Either is valuable. It’s important to push through that uneasiness though, because in that moment of finding your courage, you really grow and you really reach. I’ll say it again, do something you are not ready to do.”
Eric Schmidt is the current Executive Chairman of Google, and previously held the CEO position for 10 years between 2001 and 2011. Eric talks about not having a plan for the future, but letting fate and luck find your own way be taking on interesting projects and working with others.
- Don’t plan your future, just let it happen
- If you forego your plan, you forego your fear
- Make mistakes and learn from them
“Success is really about being ready for the good opportunities that come before you. It’s not to have a detailed plan of everything you are going to do. You can’t plan innovation or inspiration. But you can be ready for it. And when you see it you can jump on it and you can make a difference”.
Larry Page is the CEO and co-founder of Google. Back in 1995, Google’s vision seemed so incredibly impossible that only the crazy would have thought it was possible. Fortunately Larry and Sergey Brin were those crazy people who thought it was possible. Larry focuses a large part of his speech on this theme. Larry delivers a surprisingly funny speech that shows a likeable personality that you don’t often see from the Google CEO.
- Have a healthy disregard for the impossible
- It’s often easy to make progress on mega ambitious dreams. Since know one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition
- Always work hard on something uncomfortably impossible
- Find the leverage in the world so you can be truly lazy
“When a really great dream shows up, grab it.”
Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, the largest e-commerce platform on the Internet. When Jeff was starting Amazon, he faced a tide of people telling him his idea was stupid and it would never work. But Jeff made the decision to pursue his idea, and has since gone on to create one of the largest, most innovate companies in American history. Jeff’s talk revolves around the choices we make in life.
- Gifts are easy, choices are hard
- There are difficult choices to make in life
- Will you take the safe options or will you make the difficult choices?
“Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?”
J.K Rowling is one of the most successful authors of all time after her Harry Potter series of children’s books catapulted her to the forefront of fame. However, Rowling was not always this successful. For many years she struggled as a single parent with little money and only a dream of making a career of writing novels. It’s really no surprise that J.K Rowling has become a successful author as her speech is witty, funny and insightful. Rowling talks about the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.
- Failure teaches you things you would never learn without it
- You arise stronger after failure
- You won’t know your strength or the strength of your relationships without the adversary of failure
- Life isn’t about the acquisition of elements of a CV or achievement
- Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envisage that which is not, and therefore the fount of all innovation and invention. In it’s arguably transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power than enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared
“Some failure in life in inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might aswell have not lived at all, in which case, you have failed by default.”