Two of the greatest commencement speeches that weren’t (and one that was)

We made it. We’ve arrived. Our journey has just begun!

Graduation season.

The time of year that we honor graduates with a commencement ceremony and a Commencement Speaker. I don’t remember the speakers at my graduations, they weren’t particularly humorous or entertaining, but I’m sure their prepared scripts included the requisite advice for following your bliss, reaching for the moon, leaving the world a little better than you found it and reminders of the virtues of hard work. If your graduating class is lucky enough to have a celebrity speaker, your commencement speech may make to some “best of” list on the internet.

That idea got me pondering… what were some of the most memorable commencement speeches I’ve seen circulating over the years? Three immediately came to mind, because I still recall parts of them frequently. While I was doing the research to share them, I learned that two of them actually were never delivered in front of an audience. (If I may interject a public service announcement: I think this illustrates how the internet creates a false sense of authority. Remember to check important facts with reliable source materials. Thank you. Now, moving on.) Regardless, the works still contain good stuff which is why they have stuck with me and why I want to share them.

1.) Baz Luhrmann – “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” – I always thought this was a speech Luhrmann delivered to a graduating class and then released it as a single. He didn’t. The funny thing is, he thought (as many did) that it was a speech Kurt Vonnegut wrote to give to an MIT graduating class. It wasn’t until a release to use the words as lyrics was sought, that it was discovered the “speech” was actually a column written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune. You can read the full text here. Here’s the video for Luhrmann’s single: 

2.) Anna Quindlen – “A Short Guide to a Happy Life” – Although a quick search of the internet may make it seem like this a speech that was delivered in person (I thought it was), it actually wasn’t. Quindlen was scheduled to deliver her speech at Villanova University in 1999; due to student protests over her selection as the commencement speaker, Quindlen withdrew to prevent bad feelings from tainting what should be a celebratory event for the students. She did deliver the speech by e-mail to a graduate who had contacted her to express disappointment over the turn of events and it became internet history. Maria Popova at Brain Pickings put together a nice treatment with some cool photos. Click here to check it out.

3.) Neil Gaiman – “Make Good Art” – This was an actual speech given at an actual commencement ceremony in 2012 at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. This abbreviated version makes me happy. 

I love the Zen Pencils version but I have watched the full speech, too. If you want to see it, click here.

How about you? Do you remember your commencement speaker? Do you have any commencement speeches that you carry in your head and heart?

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