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Graduation speeches have become outlets for hearing some of the most important life lessons ever. After listening to Randy Pausch's Carnegie Mellon University commencement speech, I was inspired to collect the best graduation speeches of all time, so all of you can enjoy the rich insights of the speakers.

I plunged into a good number of different graduation speeches from different times, and eventually picked these as the best 10. You’ll probably recognize most of the speakers, who are prominent people in their fields – people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Randy Pausch, JK Rowling, and so on. I think the schools couldn’t have picked better speakers than them, because the most important inspiration anyone can ever get is someone who his living by example.

I’ve picked these 10 speeches because they share important wisdom that are applicable to anyone in any time, beyond just graduating students. In this age of liberal bloviators masquerading as commencement speakers, it was nice for me to hear a few people with life lessons to pass on to graduates. Each of these speeches is everything a commencement addresses should be (and brief too).

The best 10 speeches are not ranked in any order. Videos and transcripts have been included where available. I’ve included my thoughts with each speech. My personal favorites are the ones by Steve Jobs and Randy Pausch. Enjoy – I surely did!

Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon University, 2008



Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He was best known for The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, and also co-author of the book with the same name, which became a New York Times best-seller. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was told in Aug 2007 that he only had 3-6 months to live. When he gave this speech at Carnegie Mellon, it was the ninth month. He later passed away 2 months after that.

Even though Randy’s speech was the shortest of the commencement speeches in this list (less than 6 minutes), it is in no way any less impactful. Randy’s reminder to all of us is the importance of living true to our dreams and pursuing them. That life isn’t about how long we live, but about how we live. His passion in living, teaching, and his relationship with his wife really shows through in his speech.

“We don’t beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living well and living fully. For the reaper is always going to come for all of us. Thequestion is: What do we do between the time we are born, and the time he shows up? Because when he shows up, it’s too late to do all the things that you’re always gona, kinda get around to.”


Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005



“Remembering you’re going to die, is the best way I know, to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs

Whenever people talk about inspiring graduation speeches, Steve Job’s speech instantly comes up. In this speech, Steve shares his life lessons via 3 stories in his life. His birth, when he got fired from Apple, and when he found out about his cancer. These 3 stories were extremely inspiring – most people knew Steve as the hot-tempered yet charismatic CEO who heads Apple, but who would have known that his birth parents gave him up for adoption? That he quit college because his college fees were sucking up his parents’ savings? That he was once fired from the very company he founded? And that he diagnosed in cancer in 2004, and by a stroke of fate, survived it?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve reminds us that in life, there is really nothing we have to lose, because we were born with nothing to begin with. This is what I alluded to in my article How To Overcome Fear and Pursue Your Dream. Eventually one day, all of us will die. Everything that we’ve come to see as important, will lose significance on that day. What would you wish you could have done then? How would you rather have lived your life? Take that and start living true to that today. Don’t live your life in regret, because life is not meant to be lived in regret. It’s meant to be live in passion, with love, with fire, conviction, and purpose. Don’t ever settle for what you don’t want; keep fighting for what you believe in.

Update Oct 7 ’11: Steve Jobs has since passed away on Oct 5 ’11, at the age of 56. I’ve written a tribute for him in remembrance of how boldly he had led his life, and the life lessons we can learn from him:

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