May is the month when commencement speeches begin to get posted on YouTube. It’s fun to watch them. You almost get the feeling that you avoided spending four years and $200,000 and there you are, graduating. Or not quite.

But in any case, we are pleased to offer a quick rundown of some of the commencement speeches that have already been posted this graduation season . . .

  • Tim Cook, Apple CEO, spoke at Duke University. He told grads to “be fearless.” Sounds a little familiar but this time, Tim Cook was saying it.
  • Chadwick Boseman, film director and actor who most recently appeared in the movie Black Panther, spoke at Howard University. He offered advice on self-acceptance and gaining confidence.
  • Michael Keaton, actor, spoke at Kent Place University. He talked about the value of humility as a life skill. He also admitted that he is Batman.
  • Nikki Haley, US. Ambassador to the United Nations, spoke at Clemson University. Among other topics, she reflected on what it meant to grow up in an immigrant family in the U.S.
  • Michael Dubin, CEO of Dollar Shave Club, spoke at Emory University. He reflected on what he learned during his years as a student at Emory. Among other things, he admitted that he graduated from Emory with a 2.6 GPA.
  • Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice, spoke at Christendom College. He actually said something and reflected on his return to faith after more than 20 years of being “in the wilderness.”
  • Oprah Winfrey, media star and social powerhouse, spoke at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. One theme? Empowering young women in the age of the MeToo movement.

The Commencement Speech Genre

Commencement speeches are a unique genre in which successful people attempt to offer wisdom and advice to graduates as they start life in the “real world.” That explains why they often veer into the familiar or even the hackneyed.

But from time to time, a little wisdom and sound advice really do emerge. On YouTube, you can watch Steve Jobs speak at Stanford in 2005, Meryl Streep speak at Barnard in 2010, Fred Rogers speak at Dartmouth in 2002 and many more. Are all their speeches great? Not really, but they often bear the imprint of the big events and trends that were taking place in the years they were delivered.

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