“You cannot let a fear of failure, or a fear of comparison, or a fear of judgment stop you from doing what’s going to make you great.
“You cannot succeed without this risk of failure, you cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism and you cannot love without the risk of loss. You must go out and take these risk. … Do what’s uncomfortable, and scary, and hard, but pays off in the long run. Be willing to fail. Let yourself fail. Fail in the way and the place where you would want to fail. Fail, pick yourself up and fail again. Because without this struggle, what is your success anyway?”
— Charlie Day, to the class of 2014 at his alma mater, Merrimack College.
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“Nobody is going to take you to the front of the line—you need to push to the front of the line
“…I want you to take the craziest dream you ever had, that dream that you’re too embarrassed to tell anyone about. And I want you to go after it.”
— Sean “Diddy” Combs, speaking to the class of 2014 at Howard University, the same college he dropped out of after completing two years. This year, they awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humanities.
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“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in a different direction.”
— Oprah to Harvard University’s class of 2013. The prestigious school also awarded the media mogul with an honorary law degree.
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“I didn’t go to college here… I didn’t go to any college at all. I’m not saying you wasted your time, or money, but look at me, I’m a huge celebrity!
“…Follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, and by all means you should follow that… I guess what I’m trying to say is life is like one big Mardi Gras. But instead of showing your boobs, show people your brain.”
— Ellen DeGeneres, speaking at Tulane University’s class of 2009—who were evacuated when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Ellen’s hometown, during their freshman year.
Courtesy of Tulane
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“The future is not fixed, it’s fluid. You can build your own building, or hut or condo, whatever.
“…My point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.”
— Bono, speaking to the University of Pennsylvania’s class of 2004.
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“I’ve never understood that concept, having something to fall back on. If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall… forward.”
— Denzel Washington, to the class of 2011 at the University of Pennsylvania.
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“While traditional paths may seem harder to find, that also mean you will learn the hard lesson sooner than most generations that you must always make the path for yourself.”
— Stephen Colbert to the University of Virginia’s class of 2013.
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“You know you don’t have to be famous. You just have to make your mother and father proud of you and you already have.”
— Meryl Streep, speaking to the Barnard College class of 2010.
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“Your degree is proof that you have what it takes to take the leap into the adventure of your unique experience.
…When you leave here today and commence the next stage of you life, you can follow someone else’s script, try to make choices that will make other people happy, avoid discomfort, do what is expected and copy the status quo. Or you can look at all that you have accomplished today and use it as fuel to venture forth and write your own story. If you do, amazing things will take shape.”
—Kerry Washington, to the class of 2013 at George Washington University, where the Scandal actress graduated from in 1998.
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“Do not confuse dreams with wishes.
...Dreams are where you visualize yourself being successful at what it’s important for you to accomplish… Wishes are hoping good things will happen to you, but there’s no fire in your gut that causes you to put everything forth to overcome all the obstacles.
“You have to dream more, and never, ever ever blame somebody else if it doesn’t happen.”
— Dolly Parton to the class of 2009 at the University of Tennessee, who honored the singing legend with an honorary doctorate.
Courtesy of UT
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“Today, you are going to walk out of here, and you’re not going to be in college anymore. You are going to be in the real world.
“And I’m not going to lie to you—the real world is freaking terrifying. Have you guys seen the movie, The Graduate? Well, the real world is nothing like that movie. When you leave here today your parents’ hot friend will not try to have sex with you.”
— Jimmy Fallon, speaking to The College of Saint Rose’s class of 2009. The Tonight Show host dropped out of the College of Saint Rose one semester shy of graduation—but when he spoke at commencement, they granted him an honorary degree.
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11 Inspirational Lessons Every Graduate Can Learn From These Famous Commencement Speakers