10 Outstanding Commencement Speeches in 2017


Thousands of students are graduating from college this month – proof that the college admissions process has a satisfying ending.  At their graduation ceremonies, business leaders, journalists, politicians and celebrities took to the stage as commencement speakers.  Here are some of, what we consider, the best.

Joe Biden, Colby College

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to students about engaged leadership, as well as the importance of empathy and dignity.  He encouraged students to get involved and be engaged in the world around them, including politics.

Message: “It’s time to regain our sense of unity and purpose.”


Theo Epstein, Yale University

Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs recalled his history with the Cubs, including the team’s monumental victory on Game 7 of the World Series.

Message: “Some players — and some of us — go through our careers with our heads down, focused on our craft and our tasks, keeping to ourselves, worrying about our numbers or our grades, pursuing the next objective goal, building our resumes, protecting our individual interests. Other players — and others amongst us — go through our careers with our heads up, as real parts of a team, alert and aware of others, embracing difference, employing empathy, genuinely connecting, putting collective interests ahead of our own. It is a choice… The latter, connecting, keeping our heads up, allows us to lead, and, every now and then, to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and, therefore, to truly triumph.”


Will Ferrell, University of Southern California

In a humorous speech, comedian Will Ferrell spoke about the fear of failure and needing to overcome it.  He also spoke about success, the need to appreciate what you have, and the importance of giving back.

Message: “No matter how cliché it may sound you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.”


Dr. Adam M. Grant, Utah State University

Adam Grant, Wharton School management professor and co-author of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, told students that sometimes quitting is a virtue.

Message: “Define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail…. If you want to be resilient, find the right amount of generosity and authenticity and grit.”


Helen Mirren, Tulane University

Tony, Emmy, and Academy Award winner Helen Mirren shared five pieces of advice for a happy life, including “treat people just like people” and “don’t overcomplicate things.”  She also offered many practical dos and don’ts.

Message: “We’re all in this together.”


Sheryl Sandberg, Virginia Tech

 Chief Operating Officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg recalled how her own personal tragedies helped her come out stronger. Sandberg told students to cultivate resilience, not just for yourself, but also to instill it in other people.

 Message: “Build resistance in yourselves.  When tragedy or disappointment strike, know that you have the ability to get through anything…An important way you can serve and lead is by helping build resilience in the world.”


Howard Schultz, Arizona State University

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shared his rags-to-riches story, which started with his childhood in public housing.  He also explained how he built his business based on values and humility, in addition to profits.

Message: “Summon your compassion, your curiosity, your empathy towards others and your commitment to service.  Give more than you receive and I promise you, it will come back to you in ways you can’t possibly imagine.”


Octavia Spencer, Kent State University

Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spencer inspired students to stay true to their authentic selves.  Students should lead their own journeys and not try to copy the paths of others.

Message: “No one came here the same way, and you won’t all achieve success the same way… Don’t let yourself get caught up in the trap of comparison…. Define success and define your best years by every day that you work hard towards achieving your goals.”


Oprah Winfrey, Smith College

 Global media leader Oprah Winfrey told students to use their talents, gifts and knowledge for the greater good…to change the world for the better.

Oprah reflected upon how much of her personal happiness comes from helping others. The more she donates her time to helping people, the more fulfilled she feels.

Message: “Make it your intention to serve through your life with purpose…Shift the paradigm to service and the rewards will come.”


Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard University

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg called upon college graduates to build a world where everyone has a place and a purpose.

Fast Fact: Zuckerberg went to Harvard, but dropped out after creating Facebook there.  He received an honorary college degree the day of his address.

Message: “Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness… But it’s not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others.”


The staff at International College Counselors would like to congratulate all of the 2017 graduates. We wish you much success in college and in the next chapter in your life. We look forward to hearing from each of you.