Commencement Addresses: Three to Consider

Commencement Addresses: Three to Consider

It's Time for Graduation Speeches

Smart dog in round glasses and an academic cap with a tassel on a gray background. Student in uniform at the graduation ceremony of a school, university, college. Training and education of puppies

It's Time for Graduation Speeches

Smart dog in round glasses and an academic cap with a tassel on a gray background. commencement addresses: three to consider

Commencement Addresses: three to consider.

Speaking to young people virtually clutching their hopefully hard-earned diplomas requires more than a little preparation, thought and for some, prayer. Regardless of how frequently one addresses large groups, the invitation to offer counsel to young adults who no longer must pretend to be interested, calls for guts, clarity and relevence. None of which seems to be abundant in the public sphere.

But in these commencement addresses: three to consider, all three qualities abound.

Last year’s University of Pennsylvania’s address given by Ken Burns caught my attention because it was so packed with hope and a kind of desperate confidence in the young graduates he spoke to. This is one of his poignant comments to the Wharton graduating class of 2022 that warrants repeating-maybe a thousand times:

…, but our future as a democracy depends on you making things better.  ‘A Republic, if you can keep it,’ as Franklin challenged us 235 years ago. “Let me apologize. “We’ve nearly broken this Republic of ours, but somehow you’ve got to fix it. You’re going to have to initiate a new movement, a new Union Army, that must be dedicated above all else—including your career and personal advancement—to the preservation of this country’s civic ideals.  You’ll have to learn, and then re-teach the rest of us that equality—real equality—is the hallmark and birthright of ALL Americans. Thankfully, you will become a vanguard against the separatism that seems to have infected our ranks, a vanguard against those forces that, in the name of our great democracy, have managed to diminish it.  I know you can do it.  But it requires your civil—not cynical—energies…” If you’d like to read Burns address in its entirety—a three-minute investment of your time, read more.

In case you’re not convinced of the need to listen to Burns’ splendid address, here’s one more reason:

…at this moment, on this memorable day for you, you sit here all potentiality and wonder.  Franklin had only two years of elementary education.  As his biographer H. W. Brands understood, schools teach you what you’re supposed to know, but also what you don’t have to know.  “With Franklin,” Brands said, “he never knew what he didn’t have to know, so he assumed he had to know everything.”  That’s the key to Franklin.   He was always searching:  Nature, art, society, politics, science, faith, himself, looking for ways to improve in all those arenas—especially himself, for he understood deeply and painfully that he was a mass of contradictions and limitations.  Just like the rest of us.”

My online search for ‘the best,’ resulted in numerous lists

for the ten or twelve best graduation addresses ‘of all time.’ Despite the tiresome superlative, this second one is indeed excellent.

Actor Matthew McConaughey’s speech to the 2015 graduating class of the University of Houston ranks twelth on one list. Remember the actor’s acceptance speech of his Oscar for The Dallas Buyers Club?

I was riveted both by the film, and then again by that acceptance speech, So I was interested to read what he said to the 2015 UH graduating class. Here are just a couple of McConauhey’s remarks that so surpasses the expected that it’s considered one of the best motivational speeches.

He begins by stating, “The sooner that we become less impressed with our life, with our accomplishments, with our career, with whatever that prospect is in front of us, the sooner we become less impressed and more involved with that and these things, the sooner we get a whole lot better at doing it.”

And then moving to his ‘fifteen truths,’ the actor says, “life’s not easy…Life is not easy. It is not. Don’t try to make it that way. Life’s not fair. It never was, it isn’t now, and it won’t ever be. Do not fall into the trap, the entitlement trap of feeling like you’re a victim. You are not. Get over it and get on with it. And yes, most things are more rewarding when you break a sweat to get them back. Fact.” 

Halfway through the forty-five talk is inserted advice about success. What it is and how you define it personally. Matthew McConaughey declares, “Continue to ask yourself that question. Now, your answer may change over time and that’s fine. But do yourself this favor. Whatever your answer is, don’t choose anything that will jeopardize your soul.” In case you’d like to read it, here. Or if you prefer the video:

Remember I promised three speeches?

Good, because it’s Harrison Butker’s that captivated me. Butker’s words are crystal-clear to the young people sitting precisely where he did just six years ago: Life isn’t about money, career, or success, it’s a mission. One we have been created to fulfill.

His remarks are common sense. Or were once. 

“Get married and have a family “shocks”his listeners.

Have no idea who he is?

Until the Super Bowl, I didn’t either. But this twenty-seven-year-old’s exhortations about becoming a saint,-embracing the weirdness of Catholicism-have intrigued me. And it seems, the media.

Returning to his alma mater, Georgia Institute of Technology, Butker begins his remarks to the 2023 graduates:

I happen to be blessed by God at kicking a funny shaped ball between two yellow posts. So as someone who is not paid to speak for a living, I’m about to pop off with hard truths….I don’t care if you have a successful career, a big bank account…All of you are here because you are smart, hard working and capable people….but the world is filled with miserable smart, hard working and capable people…

Our culture is suffering…

We are living in a relatively safe society but make no mistake…we are at war…at war with truth.

Take a few minutes to listen to this message- it warrants your ten minutes:



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