Words can have a massive impact on our lives. Whether written or spoken, they have the ability to create new worlds, forge new friendships and inspire us to do new things. There are many moments when great speeches are given that affect those listening, and one of the best places to hear one is at a college commencement. Plenty of big names have done one of these speeches during their career, from authors to actors, businessmen to politicians, and many of them have been truly inspirational. Some have been far more significant than others, though.
There’s a reason that Oprah Winfrey became so beloved as a talk show host. The words this woman speaks are well thought out and articulate, which is precisely what you need for a commencement speech. In 2013, Winfrey made a speech at Harvard University on how to react when things don’t go your way. She said that the more you push yourself, the more likely you are to stumble. That’s the downside of always striving to do things better than before. However, just because things didn’t turn out how you wanted, it doesn’t mean that you failed. She said that failure doesn’t exist, and you can never lose if you don’t give up on what you want to achieve.
Denzel Washington made a similar point about this two years earlier during his commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania. He reminded students that people tend to forget the failures of those who are remembered for their achievements. However, that doesn’t mean that nothing ever went wrong for them – far from it. He informed them that Thomas Edison had thousands of experiments that didn’t work out, yet people only think of his successes. If something doesn’t go your way, it just means that you’re one step closer to making it work.
While making a commencement speech in 2014 at New York City’s The New School, novelist Zadie Smith reminded listeners of the importance of being kind to others. She told the students to walk around with a smile on their face and to be grateful for the experiences offered to them by getting to know different people. She said that while private institutions may advertise money and exclusivity as the best that life has to offer, it’s the opposite that’s true. Without each other, we would find it much harder to make it through the bad times and be grateful for the good.
Comedian and television host Stephen Colbert reminded the 2011 graduates of Northwestern University that it’s never too late to follow a dream or discover a new one. He said that if we all went with our first dreams in life, everyone would be a cowboy or a princess. As we grow older and adjust to differences in life, new aspirations come along that might deviate from what we once believed. Though they may seem difficult to reach, it’s the people who aren’t afraid to go for them that almost always succeed.
The stuff that people say to us can influence how we shape our future. While we should never let the negative things get in our heads, these inspirational speeches are exactly what we need in our lives.