Featured Image

Best Commencement Speeches of 2012

A roundup of some of the best college commencement speeches of the 2012 graduation season.

It's June, and at high schools and colleges across America, stages have been walked, caps have been thrown skyward, and hopeful graduates are embarking on the next phase of their lives. In and amongst all the pomp and circumstance of graduation season were the hundreds of commencement speeches delivered by sagacious politicians, actors, journalists, and other public figures.

When I graduated from college, the commencement speech was given by a humorless district attorney whose services were enlisted when the intended speaker—someone better suited to address a gaggle of liberal arts majors—canceled at the last minute. If you asked me today, I couldn't for all the money in the world summon to my memory a single word of the D.A.'s mundane speech.

Not all graduates are so unfortunate, however. Some students are given the parting gift of truly memorable speeches rendered by charismatic A-listers. Here's a roundup of some of my favorite college commencement speeches of 2012, rife with advice, anecdotes, and humor that both you and your students will appreciate.

Christiane Amanpour, Global Affairs Anchor of ABC News

Where: University of Southern California's School of Journalism
Memorable words: "My most fervent hope is that you will find a passion. Unless you love what you do, you can't really be good at what you do."
Watch it here.

Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City

Where: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Memorable words: "In the game of life, when the final buzzer sounds, the only stat you carry with you is the number of assists you made. So help other people put some points on the board."
Watch it here.

Steve Carell, actor and comedian

Where: Princeton University, Class Day 2012
Memorable words: "You are young. And because of that, you are wrong."
Watch the speech here (starting at 17:25).

Katie Couric, special correspondent for ABC News

Where: University of Virginia
Memorable words: "Life can deal you some crushing blows, and we all need a deep reserve of resilience to survive. Losing someone is also a reminder that life is short, and fragile. We are all terminal. And that's why we have to be grateful for the time we have and savor the joy that comes our way."
Watch it here.

Viola Davis, actress

Where: Providence College
Memorable words: "You see, the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you discover why you were born...You veer off course, but all that while, that purpose, that thing that you were specifically, divinely made for will be looming in front of you."
Watch it here.

Robert DeNiro, actor

Where: Bates College
Memorable words: "It's too late to save the tuition, but it's not too late to save yourselves, and...I think this is the most important piece of advice you will hear today: Become a movie star."
Read it here.

James Franco, actor

Where: University of Texas at Arlington's College of Liberal Arts
Memorable words: "Don't be afraid to change your life's course. Don't be afraid to reinvent yourself."
Watch it here.

Ira Glass, host of Public Radio International's This American Life

Where: Goucher College
Memorable words: "The central mission of the commencement speech is in itself ridiculous: to inspire a moment which needs no inspiration."
Watch it here.

Jane Lynch, actress

Where: Smith College
Memorable words: "My advice to you: Live in the moment. Stay fluid and roll with those changes. Life is just a big extended improvisation. Embrace the ever changing, ever evolving world with the best rule I've ever found. Say 'YES AND.'"
Watch it here.

Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State from 2001–2005

Where: Northeastern University
Memorable words: "Do something that satisfies you every day, make our society a better place, and help your fellow citizens. Give your time and talent in service to others. The need to serve others has never been greater in our nation."
Watch it here.

Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State from 2005–2009

Where: Southern Methodist University
Memorable words: "You see, education is transformative. It literally changes lives. That is why people work so hard to become educated. And that is why education has always been the key to human beings and their dreams—a force that erases arbitrary divisions of race and class and culture, and unlocks every person's potential."
Watch it here.

Andy Samberg, actor and comedian

Where: Harvard University, Class Day 2012
Memorable words: "The following majors are apparently useless as of tomorrow: history, literature, all things related to art, social studies, East Asian studies, pretty much anything that ends with studies, romance languages, and finally folklore and mythology...all those majors are now useless. Unless you can somehow turn them into an iPhone app."
Watch it here.

Adam Savage, co-host of MythBusters

Where: Sarah Lawrence College
Memorable words: "You will, at some point, probably move back in with your parents. Sorry, but it's true, it's cool, and it's only temporary."
Watch it here.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google

Where: Boston University
Memorable words: "The future doesn't just happen. It's not etched or written or coded anywhere. There's no algorithm or formula that says something will do X for Y to occur."
Watch it here.

Maria Shriver, author, journalist, and former first lady of California

Where: University of Southern California's School of Communication
Memorable words: "Today, I have one small wish for you. Before you go out and press that fast-forward button, I'm hoping—I'm praying—that you'll have the courage to first press the pause button."
Watch it here.

Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter (A Few Good Men, The Social Network)

Where: Syracuse University
Memorable words: "Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt."
Watch it here.

Barbara Walters, broadcast journalist, contributor to ABC News

Where: Yale University, Class Day 2012
Memorable words: "The friends you have made here at Yale may be the best experience you have, and they will continue to be a part of your life long after you may—heaven forbid—forget the name of your professor and whatever he taught you."
Watch it here.

Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News

Where: George Washington University
Memorable words: "You don't actually have to build a rocket or go into space, but please take us somewhere. Please keep us moving. Push us, lift us up. Make us better."
Watch it here.

Oprah Winfrey, media mogul, talk show host, and actress

Where: Spelman College
Memorable words: "You must have some kind of vision for your life, even if you don't have a plan."
Watch it here.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

college counselors commencement commencement speeches graduation student advice

About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a former writer and senior editor for Carnegie Darlet and CollegeXpress. Stephanie holds a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in Journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. 


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Bell College Consulting

The college lists on CollegeXpress are indispensable for sussing out creative additions to a student’s list, and the college-specific pages provide terrific commentary and suggestions for related schools. CollegeXpress is among the most trusted sources I use for information for my students.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress is a multi-maneuver platform that has been helping students in their college applications and scholarship hunt process. For me, CollegeXpress has been a boon. I've been able to find my dream university via CX, and I've also been able to apply to thousands of scholarships through it. All the thanks to CollegeXpress for doing such a great job for free. I express my sincere gratitude to you for doing such a wonderful job. I recommend CollegeXpress without any reservations.



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me find Allegheny with the super user-friendly search tool for both schools and scholarships. Using CollegeXpress, I was able to search for programs I was interested in studying and find colleges that offered those programs. Also, once you search for the college, CollegeXpress can get you connected!



High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me by opening my eyes to new opportunities. I learned about such easy ways to get financial help to achieve my dreams while also learning about myself and who I truly am. I know this isn't a very long explanation of what CollegeXpress has done for me, but nonetheless, I believe it's crucial to how I developed as a person throughout my time as a college student.

Lu Diehl

Lu Diehl

High School Class of 2022

I never would have found the college I plan on attending without CollegeXpress! I've always been a person of ambition and have been dreaming of studying and working on my passion for law, legal studies, and political science. Washington College is where I plan on pursuing my career. My journey with my education has been difficult, and oftentimes, I was told I would never amount to much, but now I'm dual enrolled at Caroll Community College and have had experience in the fields I am dedicated to. Without the help of CollegeXpress (even in its early days), I would never have found Washington College and the information I need to apply and become a part of their community.

College Matches