The Best Advice from Commencement Speeches 2016
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The Best Advice from Commencement Speeches 2016


From Spike Lee to Ryan Seacrest, some of the biggest names out there are taking the stage at graduations across the country to offer words of wisdom to the class of 2016.

But while the speeches are directed towards the college graduates, the advice is applicable to people of all ages. And who doesn’t want to hear Elizabeth Warren quote Taylor Swift or listen to Russell Wilson talk about how to got the position of the second-highest paid player in the NFL. Even if you’re a Democrat, a Republican or a 49ers fan, there’s something to be learned from all of these speakers.

Related: To the Class of 2016: Get Ready for a Long Life – and This Major Challenge

Read below for the 10 best nuggets of wisdom from this year’s commencement speakers:

President Barack Obama, Rutgers University

Obama’s commencement speech was full of criticism for Donald Trump, who wasn’t named but was the clear foil for the speech’s cutting remarks. The President infused progressive optimism into the speech, a clear contrast to Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” and held that the country’s best days are still ahead. Obama also used the opportunity to blast political novices spewing ignorance.

“Participation means voting, and it means compromise, and organizing and advocacy; it also means listening to those who don’t agree with you. I know a couple years ago, folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement. Now, I don't think it's a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former Secretary of State, or shutting out what she had to say—I believe that’s misguided. I don't think that's how democracy works best, when we're not even willing to listen to each other. I believe that's misguided.” 

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, The Jewish Theological Seminary

Speaking to students at The Jewish Theological Seminary, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew emphasized critical qualities that leaders of any sort must employ, including the importance of inclusion, as well as tolerance and respect for people from different backgrounds and traditions. Lew tied in his political experience, like helping to create Americorps and the Iran nuclear deal, to drive home his message.  

“Creating a community of faith and love means binding together people with different views. Binding together our larger community means extending the principles of respect and understanding to people and communities who hold different beliefs, and with whom we will not agree on all issues.”

Related: 28 Public Universities With the Worst Graduation Rates

Lin Manuel Miranda, University of Pennsylvania

Miranda began by encouraging students to tell their own stories. But then the Broadway star, creator of the hit musical Hamilton, delved into politics. He spoke about political gridlock and sniped at politicians and their anti-immigrant rhetoric. He reminded students of the contributions of immigrants throughout history, and addressed first-generation college students, telling them that each of their stories mattered.

“There will be blind alleys and one night wonders and soul crushing jobs and wake up calls and crises of confidence and moments of transcendence when you are walking down the street and someone will thank you for telling their story because it resonated with their own.”

Russell Wilson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Throughout his commencement address at the University of Wisconsin, the Seahawks quarterback detailed his path to success and offered plenty of inspiration. Even poking fun at himself for infamously throwing an intercepted pass in Super Bowl 2015, Wilson’s overall message was about handling life’s roadblocks and keeping going even when you’re told “no.”

“Potential just means you haven’t done it yet.”

Sheryl Sandberg, University of California at Berkeley

Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, spoke about finding ways to grow in times of deep loss and tragedy. The author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, lost her husband unexpectedly in 2015 and spoke to students about the importance of resiliency in adversity and emphasized using challenges to propel oneself into leading an even better existence than before.    

“You are not born with a fixed about of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are – and you just might become the very best version of yourself.”

Related: Here’s Why the College Graduation Rate Is So Low

Larry Ellison, University of Southern California

The founder and chairman of database giant Oracle framed his speech to the class of 2016 around the importance of following one’s own dreams instead of trying to live up to other people’s expectations. Ellison’s family had originally encouraged him to become a doctor, but his lack of interest led him to become a divorced college dropout living on a sailboat. Once he realized that following his own path meant a career working with computers and not people, Ellison, now worth $50 billion, was able to create one of the largest technology companies in the world.

“Their dreams and my dreams were different. I would never confuse the two of them again.”

Oprah Winfrey, Johnson C. Smith University

The famed talk-show host delivered the commencement address at the University where two students who were graduating attended her Leadership Academy in South Africa. Oprah offered words of encouragement to the graduates, saying that she saw a bright future for them, but that mistakes and pitfalls will happen along the way and they should know how to pick themselves up. 

“Every stumble is not a fall, and every fall does not mean failure. Being human means you will make mistakes. And you will make mistakes, because failure is God’s way of moving you in another direction.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bridgewater State University

The Massachusetts Senator managed to take jabs at her favorite target -- Wall Street, quote Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and recount her twitter spat with Donald Trump. Warren offered three key pieces of advice to graduates: spend time learning who you are, ignore the naysayers and embrace the unexpected.

“Don’t be so focused in your plans that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected.”

Related: These Students Are Making Even More Than They Expect After Graduation

First Lady Michelle Obama, Jackson State University

The First Lady, speaking at the historically black Jackson State University, discussed the issue of race in her address, invoking Mississippi’s segregation history, and how graduates could help peacefully promote change. She told graduates that she understood their feelings of discrimination and reminded them that the first steps of change happen at the ballot box

“You can hashtag all over Instagram and Twitter, but those social media movements will disappear faster than a Snapchat if you’re not registered to vote.”

Michael Bloomberg, University of Michigan

Throughout his speech at the University of Michigan, the former mayor of New York addressed the importance of taking on challenging and uncomfortable ideas, rather than hiding from them. Bloomberg blasted colleges for coddling students, adding that the real world doesn’t offer that kind of protection and that students need to be prepared.  

“The secret to success is not rocket science. It just requires true dedication and a willingness to go the extra mile…. Let’s put it this way: I know of no Nobel Prize winner who has stopped studying.”