Every year, graduates around the country gather to hear some famous person shower them with praise, feign humility, and offer nuggets of wisdom that are quickly forgotten. But every year, a few commencement speeches do entertain, do surprise, and do inspire graduates to go make the world a better place. These are this year’s best commencement speeches.
Steve Carell, Princeton University
…That’s what he said. Comedian and actor Steve Carell addressed Princeton’s Class Day this June and warned graduates about the trappings of technology. “As the world grows more and more technologically advanced, we lose our ability to connect as human beings,” Carell said. “And by ‘we’ I mean you. You are young and because of that, you are wrong.”
Andy Samberg, Harvard University
Step aside, Shy Ronnie, Andy Samberg’s not afraid of public speaking. Before announcing that he was leaving SNL, the “Digital Short” star joined the ranks of Ali G and Will Ferrell, and bestowed upon Harvard’s graduating class some life-changing pieces of advice. “I’m only truly qualified to give you three simple tips on how to succeed in life,” Samberg said. The first? “Cut a hole in a box.”
Jane Lynch, Smith College
She was dropping knowledge at Smith College, not William McKinley High, but Glee sensation Jane Lynch still stole the show. The Emmy and Golden Globe winner got personal with the graduates, sharing her belief in a “yes, and” life philosophy—taking improv comedy’s one and only rule and applying it to the everyday. Don’t worry, nobody broke out into song.
Michael Lewis, Princeton University
Moneyball, the popular book-turned-movie about the Oakland A’s, wasn’t actually about baseball. It was about man’s inability to distinguish between being lucky and being good—or so the book’s author, Michael Lewis, told the graduates of Princeton University. “Above all,” Lewis said, “recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck—and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.” Really, it’s not about baseball?
Aaron Sorkin, Syracuse University
The Social Network writer and West Wing creator used to dress up as a moose to hand out pamphlets in a mall. Now he’s an Oscar winner. His message to the graduates of Syracuse University wasn’t that you have to dress up as a moose to be successful—he talked about the flexibility of the future and overcoming life’s obstacles—but that’s what I took away from it.
Adam Savage, Sarah Lawrence College
This is no myth: Adam Savage’s commencement speech to Sarah Lawrence College was awesome. The MythBusters co-host admitted to the graduates that he still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, but he also offered them an impassioned explanation of why that’s OK—and of why liberal arts educations and a broad base of knowledge are important.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, New York University
The Supreme Court justice grew up in a housing project just blocks away from Yankee Stadium, where she delivered this year’s commencement address to the graduates of NYU. “Nothing in my childhood hinted to me I would be in a position someday to stand on the field and speak to such a large crowd,” Sotomayor said. But she urged the graduates to believe in themselves. “Keep dreaming. Keep enjoying the process. Dream big and achieve much.”
Brian Williams, George Washington University
“It’s hot and you’re hung over—but enough about your parents.” BriWi said, showing off his sense of humor to the graduates of GW, and explaining to them why he dropped out of college. How’s that for honesty from America’s No. 1 newsman?
SpongeBob SquarePants, University of Vermont
Did you ever wonder what the grown man who voices SpongeBob SquarePants looks like? No? Too bad, because here he is—singing his own version of Vitamin C’s “Graduation” for the bemused graduates of UVM.
Jake Heller, Columbia Journalism School
I swear I didn’t put this list together as an excuse to get my commencement speech on The Daily Beast. I swear. But when my boss asked me to put this list together, I thought I might as well throw mine up too. Please excuse my brutal haircut.
…And this isn’t a speech, but you should definitely watch it.