‘Tis the season for college graduates to sit through commencement speeches. A few of those talks may be memorable, but most will be less than. Not even a famous person can guarantee a memorable commencement address. When I graduated from journalism school in 1983, Linda Ellerbee was the speaker, and she was kind of a big deal at the time. But the main takeaway that stuck with me was that she told us we didn’t need journalism degrees to practice journalism, but it didn’t hurt, either. How’s that for motivation?
USA Today has scoured the world of academia for some memorable lines from what two experts call “the greatest graduation speeches ever given.” Here are five of the quotes, pilfered directly from the USA Today Weekend story:
- “How is it that some music can move us to tears? Why is some music indescribably beautiful? I never tire of hearing Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ or Fauré’s ‘Pavane’ or Otis Redding’s ‘Dock of the Bay.’ These pieces speak to me in the only religious language I understand. They induce in me a state of deep meditation, of wonder.” — Gordon Sumner (Sting)
- “The weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced 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.” — J.K. Rowling
- “Never let the dying hand of racism rest on your shoulder, weighing you down. Let racism always be someone else’s burden to carry. As you seek your way in the world, never fail to find a way to serve your community. Use your education and your success in life to help those still trapped in cycles of poverty and violence. Above all, never lose faith in America. Its faults are yours to fix, not to curse.” — Colin Powell
- “There is no single, simple key to this peace — no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process — a way of solving problems.” — John F. Kennedy
- “Through service, I found a community that embraced me, citizenship that was meaningful, the direction that I’d been seeking. Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit in to the larger story of America.” — Barack Obama
Perhaps one day some of this year’s commencement speeches will be added to that list. Google founder Larry Page’s address at Michigan may well be one of them.