Graduation Speeches From Women That Inspire Us

by Kelsey Vanderlip / May 18, 2022

Graduation is one of the few rites of passage left in our society. When you’re handed a diploma, it signifies the passage of a major life phase— whether you’re leaving grad school, college, or even high school. You are ushering in the next chapter of your life, saying goodbye to endless hours of preparation in order to use your newfound knowledge in positions of power, creativity, and change.

This year’s graduating class is truly unique and deserves a little extra praise. They’ve navigated a pandemic, political unrest, war, economic uncertainty, and many other difficult challenges. Now they’re about to undertake yet another challenge, entering the real world.

No matter which milestone it may be, there is something inherently freeing about handing in your final thesis or kissing your capstone goodbye. This occasion is often marked by parties and gifts (see our graduate gift guide here), but also by inspiring speakers who leave us with words of encouragement that stir many emotions. So, our team compiled our favorite graduation speakers and speeches.

Grab some inspiration from the list below—and there’s something here for every kind of new grad. 

  1.  “I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember — the power of the pause. Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite.”
    - Maria Shriver at USC Annenberg School of Communication (2012) 

  2. “When you leave here today and commence the next stage of your life, you can follow someone else’s script, try to make choices that will make other people happy, avoid discomfort, do what is expected, and copy the status quo. Or you can look at all that you have accomplished today and use it as fuel to venture forth and write your own story. If you do, amazing things will take shape.”
    - Kerry Washington at George Washington University (2013)

  3. “Now the joy begins. Now the work begins. The years of preparation, of tedious study and exciting learning, at last begin to make sense. The jumble of words and the tangle of small and great thoughts begin to take order, and this morning you can see a small portion, an infinitesimal portion, of the map of your future…”
    - Maya Angelou at Wellesley College (1982)

  4. “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life because you become what you believe.”
    - Oprah Winfrey at Wellesley College (1997)

  5. "Remember this: You are awesome. I’m not suggesting you be boastful. No one likes that in men or women. But I am suggesting that believing in yourself is the first necessary step to coming even close to achieving your potential."
    - Sheryl Sandberg at Berkeley (2016)

  6. “I would urge you to be as imprudent as you dare. Be bold, be bold, be bold.”
    - Susan Sontag at Wellesley College (1983)

  7. "I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women."
    - Nora Effron at Wellesley College, (1996)