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That Thing Called Perseverance

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by Lean Panganiban, as originally posted at the Philippine Online Chronicles

This article also goes by the alternative title: “Hugot lines from graduation/commencement speeches of famous celebrities.”


I know the feeling. There is always that yawning and obsessing over the ticking of the clock while your seatmate’s tummy is obviously ruminating on what to eat after the ceremony. But every so often, someone actually interesting is invited to deliver a few notes of wisdom and quiet the tummy rumbles and sighs.

These speeches from famous celebrities deliver all the feels.

  1. Jim Carey (to the graduates of the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa)

“Like many of you, I was concerned about going out into the world and doing something bigger than myself, until someone smarter than myself made me realize that there is nothing bigger than myself,”

“My soul is not contained within the limits of my body; my body is contained within the limitlessness of my soul.”

Who would have thought Jim Carrey can turn a commencement speech into a biology blurb? Did you know that he also received an honorary degree of doctor of fine arts during the ceremony? It was indeed some kind of an awesome show and tell!

  1. Stephen Colbert (to the graduates of Northwestern University, 2011)

“Thankfully dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed and you’re not some loser – but just as importantly – if you do get your dream, you’re not a winner.”

Leave it to Stephen Colbert to make the normal drag of a graduation day into something entertaining!

  1. Steve Jobs (to the graduates of Stanford University, 2005)

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

Mr. Jobs delivered this to the students of Stanford a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. The speech is an impassioned and candid commencement address about getting fired from work, following your dreams, and living fully.

  1. Amy Poehler (to the graduates of Harvard, 2011)

“I can only assume I am here today because of my subtle and layered work in a timeless classic entitled Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.”

Amy offered the graduates words of wisdom gathered from her own life experience. She urged them to count on others and take to heart the knowledge that the world is filled with smart people. Her good grasp of the human folly helps her deliver her perfectly timed and non-cruel punchlines. Now, who wouldn’t love this lady?

  1. Bono (to the graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, 2004)

“I hope you’ll pick a fight and get in it. Get your boots dirty, get rough, steel your courage. Make one last primal scream, and go. Sing the melody line you hear in your own head. Remember, you don’t owe anybody any explanations. You don’t owe your parents any explanations. You don’t owe your professors any explanations.”

Don’t you wish Bono talked at your graduation?

  1. Oprah Winfrey (to the graduates of Harvard, 2013)

“Build a résumé that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be, but who you want to be.”

What’s the queen of talk’s Ivy League advice to the graduates? Make your resume a story about your purpose!

  1. J.K Rowling (to the graduates of Harvard, 2008)

“The weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners, and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion.”

Eight (8) year after her visit, people still talk about her speech and still find inspiration in it. Publisher Little Brown will even release the speech as a book!

  1. Ellen Degenneres (to the graduates of Tulane, 2009)

“And I thought, what if they find out I’m gay? Then they’ll never watch… I finally decided that I was living with so much shame, and so much fear, that I just couldn’t live that way anymore and I decided to come out… It wasn’t to make a political statement, it wasn’t to do anything other than to free myself up from this heaviness that I was carrying around, and I just wanted to be honest… I lost my career. The show was cancelled after six years. The phone didn’t ring for three years. I had no offers. Nobody wanted to touch me at all. Yet, I was getting letters from kids that almost committed suicide, but didn’t because of what I did. And I realized that I had a purpose. And it wasn’t just about me and it wasn’t about celebrity… I was offered a talk show. And the people that offered me the talk show tried to sell it… Most people didn’t want to buy it because they thought nobody would watch me. Really, when I look back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. I mean, it was so important for me to lose everything, because I found out what the most important thing is, is to be true to yourself. Ultimately, that’s what’s gotten me to this place. I don’t live in fear, I’m free; I have no secrets and I know I’ll always be OK, because no matter what, I know who I am.”

  1. Sandra Bullock (to the graduates of the Warren Easton Charter High School, 2014)

“The rule is, you have to dance a little bit before you step out into the world because it changes the way you walk. It changes the way you walk out in the world.”

She went on to share the thoughtful bits of advice she says she’s been giving to her son, 4-year-old Louis.

10. Peter Dinklage (to the graduates of Bennington College, 2012)

“The world might say you are not allowed to yet. I waited a long time out in the world before I gave myself permission to fail. Please don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it. Do it.”

His speech is only 28 minutes long. But frankly, this could inspire anyone. This man made good life choices!


*“The graduates” by Luftphilia courtesy of Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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