By Katie Reilly
May 24, 2018

Politicians, writers, athletes, celebrities and CEOs have all delivered words of wisdom to 2018 graduates in commencement speeches during the past few weeks.

Here are a few of their most notable pieces of advice:

‘Trust that inner voice’

Journalist Ronan Farrow at Loyola Marymount University on May 5:

No matter what you choose to do; no matter what direction you go; whether you’re a doctor treating refugees or a financier making money off of foreclosures — and I genuinely hope you don’t do that — you will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do. Where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community. And I hope that in that moment you’ll be generous with yourself, but trust that inner voice. Because more than ever we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle — and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win. Because if enough of you listen to that voice — if enough of you prove that this generation isn’t going to make the same mistakes as the one before — then doing the right thing won’t seem as rare, or as hard, or as special. No pressure or anything.

Watch his full speech here.

‘Recycle. Make your bed. Aim high. Say thank you’

Oprah Winfrey at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism on May 11:

Eat a good breakfast. It really pays off. Pay your bills on time. Recycle. Make your bed. Aim high. Say thank you to people and actually really mean it. Ask for help when you need it, and put your phone away at the dinner table. Just sit on it, really. And know that what you tweet and post and Instagram today might be asked about in a job interview tomorrow or 20 years from tomorrow. Be nice to little kids. Be nice to your elders. Be nice to animals. And know that it’s better to be interested than interesting. Invest in a quality mattress. I’m telling you, your back will thank you later. And don’t cheap out on your shoes. And if you’re fighting with someone you really love, for God’s sakes, find your way back to them — because life is short even on our longest days. And another thing you already know that definitely bears repeating: Don’t ever confuse what is legal with what is moral because they are entirely different animals. You see, in a court of law, there are loopholes and technicalities and bargains to be struck, but in life, you’re either principled or you’re not. So do the right thing, especially when nobody’s looking. And while I’m at it, do not equate money and fame with accomplishment and character. Because I can assure you, based on the thousands of people I’ve interviewed, one does not automatically follow the other. Something else — you need to know this. Your job is not always going to fulfill you. There will be some days that you just might be bored. Other days, you may not feel like going to work at all. Go anyway. And remember that your job is not who you are. It’s just what you’re doing on the way to who you will become. Every remedial chore, every boss who takes credit for your idea — that is going to happen — look for the lessons because the lessons are always there. And the number one lesson I could offer you where your work is concerned is this: Become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.

Watch her full speech here.

‘Living up to your heroes is amazing, but it’s not good enough’

Chance the Rapper at Dillard University on May 12:

The highest form of respect that we can pay to the people who came before us — the people who sacrificed for us and gave us everything — is to be better than them. … Many of you will strive to be artists, doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists. And as you do that, there will be moments of fear, moments where you walk right up to the edge of what your heroes have accomplished and think to yourself, ‘What’s beyond this? I don’t know. I’m scared to go on.’ And that is the moment when you have become as great as your greatest inspiration. And that’s also when you cannot stop. Living up to your heroes is amazing, but it’s not good enough. The difference between goodness and greatness is going beyond. You have to push forward and surpass their greatness in order to pay homage to their struggle. Don’t be afraid.

Watch his full speech here.

‘Fearlessness means taking the first step’

Apple CEO Tim Cook at Duke University on May 13:

Now, if you’re anything like I was on graduation day, maybe you’re not feeling so fearless. Maybe you’re thinking about the job you hope to get, or wondering where you’re going to live, or how to repay that student loan. These, I know, are real concerns. I had them, too. But don’t let those worries stop you from making a difference. Fearlessness means taking the first step, even if you don’t know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart, more than when you stand with the crowd. If you step up without fear of failure, if you talk and listen to each other, without fear of rejection, if you act with decency and kindness, even when no one is looking, even if it seems small or inconsequential, trust me, the rest will fall into place. More importantly, you’ll be able to tackle the big things when they come your way.

Watch his full speech here.

‘Make failure your fuel’

Soccer star Abby Wambach at Barnard College on May 16:

Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to be powered by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You gotta learn to make failure your fuel. When I was on the youth national team, only dreaming of playing alongside Mia Hamm – Y’all know her? Good. I had the opportunity to visit the national team’s locker room. The thing that struck me most wasn’t my heroes’ grass stained cleats, or their names and numbers hanging above their lockers. It was a picture. It was a picture that someone had taped next to the door, so that it would be the last thing every player saw before she headed out to the training pitch. You might guess it was a picture of their last big win, or of them standing on a podium accepting gold medals. But it wasn’t. It was a picture of their long time rival, the Norwegian national team celebrating after having just beaten the USA in the 1995 World Cup. In that locker room I learned that in order to become my very best — on the pitch and off — I’d need to spend my life letting the feelings and lessons of failure transform into my power. Failure is fuel. Fuel is power.

Watch her full speech here.

‘Now is the time for you to lead’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at New York University on May 16:

So here is my request: As you go forward from this place, I would like you to make a point of reaching out to people whose beliefs and values differ from your own. I would like you to listen to them, truly listen, and try to understand them, and find that common ground. You have a world of opportunity at your fingertips. But as you go forward from here, understand that just around the corner, a whole different order of learning awaits, in which your teachers will come from every station in life, every education level, every belief system, every lifestyle. And I hope you will embrace that. You have been students, you will continue to learn all your lives, but now it is also time for you to become leaders.

In every generation, leaders emerge because they one day awake to the realization that it’s not up to someone else to fix this problem, or take up that cause. It’s up to them. So now is the time for you to lead.

Watch his full speech here.

‘Being a person with integrity is the most valuable asset you have’

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Virginia Military Institute on May 16:

Maintain and protect who you are, and remember that being a person with integrity is the most valuable asset you have. Don’t ever let anyone take it from you. Carefully consider the values and the culture of the organizations in which you seek to work. Look for employers who set high standards for personal conduct and who reward ethical leadership. Identify mentors who exemplify integrity and leadership excellence. Developing as a leader largely comes from also practicing good followership. See how the leaders you are following carry themselves, how they manage their responsibilities, study how they communicate and make decisions, observe how they learn from mistakes or missteps — their own and those of others. Importantly, recognize that integrity is not unique to any one culture. No matter where you are in the world, integrity and good character are prized by every great faith and every great tradition. Integrity means managing our lives in a way that focuses on the ideals that unite us as people.

Watch his full speech here.

‘Get back up and keep going’

Hillary Clinton at Yale University on May 20:

We have a long way to go. There are many fights to fight, and more seem to arise every day. It will take work to keep up the pressure, to stay vigilant, to neither close our eyes, nor numb our hearts, nor throw up our hands and say, ‘Someone else take over from here.’ Because at this moment in our history, our country depends on every citizen believing in the power of their actions, even when that power is invisible and their efforts feel like an uphill battle. On every citizen voting in every election, even when your side loses. It is a matter of infinite faith — this faith we have in the ability to govern ourselves, to come together, to make honorable, practical compromise in the pursuit of ends that will lift us all up and move us forward. So yes, we need to pace ourselves, but also lean on each other. Look for the good wherever we can. Celebrate heroes, encourage children, find ways to disagree respectfully. We need to be ready to lose some fights because we will. As John McCain recently reminded us, ‘No just cause is futile even if it’s lost.’ What matters is to keep going. No matter what, keep going.

Watch her full speech here.

‘Challenge all of your assumptions regularly’

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake at Harvard Law School on May 23:

From my cautionary tale to you today, I urge you to challenge all of your assumptions, regularly. Recognize the good in your opponents. Apologize every now and then. Admit to mistakes. Forgive, and ask for forgiveness. Listen more. Speak up more, for politics sometimes keeps us silent when we should speak. And if you find yourself in a herd, crane your neck, look back there and check out your brand, ask yourself if it really suits you. From personal experience, I can say that it’s never too late to leave the herd. When you peel off from the herd, your equilibrium returns. Food tastes better. You sleep very well. Your mind is your own again. You cease being captive to some bad impulses and even worse ideas. It can strain relationships, to be sure, and leave you eating alone in the Senate dining room every now and then. But that’s okay. To revise and extend a remark the President himself may recognize: You might say that I like people whose minds weren’t captured. That one was for you, Senator McCain. We’re all pulling for you.

Watch his full speech here.

‘Above all else, do not lie’

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Harvard University on May 23:

If I were asked the title of my address to you today, I would say: Above all else, do not lie. Or don’t lie too often. Which is really to say, tell the truth. But lying — the word, the idea, the act — has such political potency in America today that it somehow feels more apt. Above all else, do not lie. I grew up in Nigeria through military dictatorships and through incipient democracies. And America always felt aspirational. When yet another absurd thing happened politically, we would say, ‘This can never happen in America.’ But today, the political discourse in America includes questions that are straight from the land of the absurd. Questions such as, ‘Should we call a lie a lie? When is a lie a lie.’ And so, Class of 2018, at no time has it felt as urgent as now that we must protect and value the truth.

Watch her full speech here.

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