Dear exhausted, exhilarated, terrified graduates of the class of 2016:

This is the time of year when I love to read, or watch on You Tube, the graduation advice of the speakers who interest me. Once in a while I’ll hear about a spectacular speech from someone new to me. I find them inspirational, thoughtful and entertaining. Here are my favorites from this year. If you have a long train or plane ride coming up, these will be great entertainment.

Donovan Livingston, Ed.M.’16 spoke at Harvard’s School of Education Convocation exercises. His speech (spoken-word-poem) should be heard and visualized, not just read. It has gotten over 12 million views! He will be an inspiration for many students for years to come.


Madeleine Albright spoke at the Scripps College Commencement. “There is a special place in Heaven for anyone who speaks truth to power”. She was a controversial choice for the Scripps College community. Albright was lively, humorous and made her points from her own history. She won the crowd over, and the lukewarm greeting she received was replaced with vigorous clapping as she exited.


Steven Spielberg spoke at the Harvard Commencement. His 20-minute speech is thoughtful, very humorous, engaging and personal.


Russell Wilson, former Badgers quarterback, returned to his alma mater, University of Wisconsin at Madison, to give the 2016 commencement address. “You can’t do it alone – surround yourself with good people”. For 28 years old, he is very wise.


Sheryl Sandberg gave the UC Berkeley Commencement speech. She spoke for the first time in public about her husband’s sudden death last year and that experience. “When life sucks you under you can kick against the bottom, find the surface and breathe again”. It’s moving but she gets through it, and makes many profound points for the students.


President Barack Obama spoke at Rutgers University’s 2016 commencement.  “In public and in life, ignorance is not a virtue”. He is at his best – charming, erudite, motivational and humorous.


Maria Popova, the author of one of my favorite blogs called Brain Pickings, spoke at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. In her thoughtful literary blog she reviews old and new books about a diverse range of topics. This commencement address is consistent – it is thoughtful, reflective, and intense. “Be uncynical and be good to one another”.


Lin Manuel Miranda spoke at the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement. He was his usual energetic self. He addressed “my dear terrified graduates” and talks about storytelling, “your stories are essential”, and told stories from his own past. It is a great speech, ending with emphasis on “Immigrants get the job done”.


Finally, an eighth grader is experiencing his 15 minutes of fame with his graduation speech from his middle school.  He impersonates the presidential candidates and the result is clever, funny and creative.  The young man has talent!!

ASE Favorite 2016 graduation speeches - 8th grader as presidential candidatesfox

For some oldies but goodies, check out our 2010 graduation speeches article.