Graduation: there are so many things about that big event that you should be excited for, like celebrating with all of your friends, or basking in the relief of being done with the gargantuan task you’ve undertaken for the past however-many years. But there’s one part of graduation day that, admittedly, can get a bit overrated: the commencement speech.
FYI: we’re huge fans of storytelling, and we’d never write off anyone’s heartfelt advice!! But let’s be honest: often, the pressure of the commencement speech gets to a person, and they end up filling most of their time with a less-than-moving patchwork of cliches stolen from the ghosts of great graduation speakers past.
So we thought, if there’s already a good chance that you’re going to get a mishmash of inspiration, why not have it actually be inspiring?! Maybe even relevant??
We’ve interviewed hundreds of people—including many acclaimed commencement speakers—who’ve given us years’ worth of candid advice about how to navigate universal human struggles and intimidating inflection points like graduation day. We’ve taken some of our favorite quotes from these interviews and assembled them into what we consider to be a pretty damn good graduation speech!
(This way, if your actual graduation speaker turns out to be less than inspiring, you can just use that speech time to think about more important things, like if you’ll get the summer internship you applied for, or if your hair looks weird under your grad cap. (Spoiler alert: it does—it’s almost as if those hats were specifically engineered not to fit on a human head…))
Without further ado, here’s our ultimate graduation speech! You can click on any line that sticks out to you to watch the original Roadtrip Nation interview that quote was pulled from.
“So…you’ve graduated! Congratulations! This is kind of terrifying, right? Well, we’d argue yes and no, and here’s why: You’re about to come into this really dynamic place in your life where everything that you have known is taken away from you…and you get to take that first step.
But that’s the hard part — that first step, when you have to demonstrate that you have this creativity, this ability. It’s hard in the beginning, but it’s important to honor that process. Have the tenacity to stick out the beginnings of things, and everything else will fall into place.
From where you’re sitting, you have two choices: coast and do nothing, or try things. Maybe some things will fail, maybe some things will succeed…but if you don’t try, you’ll never find the things that work. If you hang around waiting for the right answer, you’re going to be waiting all your life, so the best thing you can do is make decisions. You have to start, but youdon’t have to have a refined goal; just get out there, start, and see where it takes you.
If you have no clue about where to start or what to do? It’s really OK to not know what you want to be when you grow up. It’s OK just to say, ‘You know what, I don’t know; I’m still thinking about it, I’m still trying new things and I’ll make that decision when I’m ready to. When you don’t know what to do with your life, it’s a really beautiful mess. Those are times when you’re going to grow the most. Sometimes when you don’t know what you want to do, it’s because you don’t know yourself. Spend some time tuning out the ‘you should’s’ and just listen to yourself. Picking the right thing based on everybody’s opinions is impossible—there’s something in your core that will tell you what’s right or wrong.
And yet…you have to know that whatever you do, you’re going to get someof it wrong, and that’s okay!! Giving yourself that freedom to make mistakes is absolutely essential. So go embrace the unknowns. Fail! Break your heart! You’ll become the person that you will be due to the adversity you face. Fear, self doubt, questioning yourself: it’s natural. If you’re afraid, it means you’re stretching yourself. Everything that holds us back is fear, and what’s fear? Fear’s just lack of knowledge.
So here’s some knowledge we wish we’d had when we were starting out: the most important thing is to recognize that everyone else is scared too—you’re not the only one who doesn’t ‘get it’…because it’s not ‘gettable!’ The best thing to do is try to make a warm peace with the rest of your confused and frightened colleagues, and take courage and comfort in that.
Surround yourself with people who dream really big. Find a community of folks you can think and create with—then think and create! Remember that you don’t need permission to start making work. If it doesn’t exist, invent it! Don’t just wait for the world to dish it up. Because the best ideas in the world aren’t yet out in the world—they’re still locked in someone’s head.
In closing, the only thing you know for sure is that your time is limited, and when you’re 30 or 40, you’re going to have to look in the mirror and ask, ‘Did I follow my heart? Did I fight for what I wanted?’ The only person there looking back in the mirror to answer those questions will be you, and you don’t want to look back and think, ‘I should’ve tried back then.’ Don’t wait!
Graduates, all we’re really trying to say is: You’ve got your whole life before you…so what the hell are you worried about?”
If you’re on an inspiration high right now and want to keep this feeling going, go check out our book, Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life—it’s chock-full of practical inspiration, and a perfect read for recent grads—or our Pinterest boards!