Lessons from Commencement

As the school year wraps up, we've entered into commencement territory, where young graduates in steamy, suffocating gowns and lopsided mortarboards are forced to sit through one last lecture.  "But something funny has happened to the familiar commencement address in the past 10 years—that something is YouTube," writes NPR's Anya Kamenetz. "We are now in a golden age of the commencement speech as a hilarious, inspiring form of popular art."

To pay their respects to the time-honored traditions of graduations past and present, NPR has built a searchable, shareable database of over 300 speeches dating back to 1774. From John F. Kennedy and the Dalai Lama to Conan O'Brien and Dolly Parton, the range is wide and diverse, but the lessons have some surprising commonalities.

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The world doesn't care how many times you fall down, as long as it's one fewer than the number of times you get back up.”

“The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity.”


I'm not telling you to make the world better, because I don't think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm just telling you to live in it.

“ I wish that someone had said to me that its normal to feel lost for a little while.”


You can't pursue something and be committed to it if you're apologizing for it at every party.


Steve Jobs' legendary "stay hungry stay foolish" address at Stanford from 2005 has been viewed nearly 20 million times on YouTube.