Walking across the stage and turning tassels have become increasingly minor parts of most university graduations in recent years. Hence, many top universities compete to acquire the best possible guests to deliver captivating and inspiring speeches for their graduates. This year, several famous women provided incredible words of wisdom to move students towards change, action, and acceptance. Here are five phenomenal examples.
1. Jennifer Garner at Denison University
As a Denison alum herself, the actress delivered an insightful address that included some tips that she learned from her own life experiences. Moreover, Garner included some wonderful motherly advice, including a reminder to apply sunscreen and to never smoke. She also provided some encouragement for women graduates: “If you’re a woman — and pardon me for being binary for just a second — the stage has been set. The world is yours to grab. Go out and get it, girl.”
2. Laverne Cox at Pitzer College
Actress and activist Laverne Cox drew attention to the recent abortion laws and their impact on the transgender community during her heartfelt, reflective moment on stage. She eloquently covered one of the largest problems with many recent laws: the language used. “When we use language that excludes groups of people on pertinent issues, it can jeopardize their health and well-being. Language that is appropriate and fully inclusive is a matter of life and death for so many people out there.”
3. Glenn Close at William & Mary
Like Jennifer Garner, actress Glenn Close returned to her alma mater this May to deliver a speech on self-acceptance and real relationships. She told students to embrace their uniqueness and stay connected to the friends they made during their time at William & Mary. Close also specifically mentioned unplugging and avoiding the “enormous pressure of social media” throughout her address: “What I have learned is that if we are to remain a free and viable society, we need to spend less time looking at screens and more time looking into each other’s eyes.”
4. Oprah Winfrey at Colorado College
Famous talk-show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey roused the graduates and crowd at Colorado College with her speech. Additionally, Winfrey pushed values she lives by, including putting your talents to good use for the benefit of others. She ultimately told the graduates that it was time to make a decision: “What you can do, here and now, is [to] make a decision, because life is about decisions. And the decision is that you will use your life in service; you will be in service to life. [You’ll] speak up. You will show up. [You’ll] stand up. Sit in. [You’ll] volunteer. You will vote. [You’ll] shout out. You will help. [You’ll] lend a hand.”
5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Yale
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made history as the first African to deliver a speech for Yale’s commencement weekend. The author of Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists covered hot topics like gender equality and social justice. Finally, she reminded the esteemed grads that they have the power to shape the future of America. “What should America be? Conceptualize that America and then make the case for that America, not only in obvious ways, such as how you vote, but also in smaller ways: how you treat other people, how you think of other people … the acts of kindness you do, the people you chose to listen to and to hear. And today, hearing people can often be the best way of showing them that they matter.”
Whether or not you turned your tassel this semester, you can surely find new inspiration in these riveting speeches. These words of wisdom come just in time to kick some ass this summer. Consider spending this summer making lasting connections, volunteering for a cause that resonates with you, or even just applying sunscreen at the beach.