Each June, The New York Times prints excerpts of about 20 of the top graduation commencement speeches from around the country. The speeches come from actors and athletes, politicians and businesspeople, and each year I faithfully read them, looking for nuggets of inspiration or wisdom. This year, as in years past, I found several that stand out.
Here are excerpts from my favorite 2016 commencement speeches, or the best of the best. Each one offers an insight that resonates with me, because it captures an element of truth. They offer advice that I believe is not only good for college graduates, but for all of us, no matter our age or station in life.
When life tells you no, find a way to keep things in perspective. That doesn’t make the painful moments any less painful. But it does mean you don’t have to live forever in the pain. You don’t have to live forever in that ‘no.’ Because if you know what you’re capable of, if you’re always prepared, and you keep things in perspective, then life has a way of turning ‘no’ into ‘yes.’ ~RUSSELL WILSON, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Don’t bore yourself to death with a dull job or a dull partner. Take some risks. I don’t mean speeding at 90 or doing heavy drugs, but take risks to find an interesting, challenging, perhaps difficult profession. Don’t let money be the primary goal but rather interesting, enlivening activity. ~KAY WALKINGSTICK, Landscape artist, at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Make failure part of your narrative and celebrate your rejections, whether you’re speaking on a panel, having dinner with friends, or posting on social media. Let it all hang out. You failed. Everyone fails. Sharing your failures will help us all stop fearing the ‘f word’ and to start celebrating it. No one’s real life looks the way it does on Instagram. ~RESHMA SAUJANI, Founder and chief executive, Girls Who Code, at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass.
Be honest with yourself about what you think and how you feel, what you like and dislike, what angers you or scares you or saddens you or inspires you or delights you. Those feelings are called your instincts, and you ignore them at your own peril. ~HANK AZARIA, Actor, at Tufts University, Medford, Mass.
I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here’s the distinction: Your conscience shouts, ‘Here’s what you should do,’ while your intuition whispers, ‘Here’s what you could do.’ Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that. ~STEVEN SPIELBERG, Filmmaker, at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.