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To the Class of 2020: “You cannot be both young and wise”

Congratulations on your graduation. We’re certain it’s not shaping up to be like you expected unless you read a lot of  dystopian fiction. No one ever said they couldn’t wait to throw their cap in an almost empty school as part of a virtual ceremony. 

In times like these, it’s hard to know what advice to offer graduates, so we’ll rely on some of the best commencement speeches ever. If you are interested in finding more, check “best pieces of advice to graduates” on

• "If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat. Just get on." Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard Business School, 2012. 

• "Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer… You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn't have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real." Television producer and author Shonda Rimes,  2014, Dartmouth College.

• “If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. That's the lesson. And that lesson alone will save you, my friends, a lot of grief. Even doubt means don't. This is what I've learned. There are many times when you don't know what to do. When you don't know what to do, get still, get very still, until you do know what to do." Oprah Winfrey, Stanford University, 2008.

• "You can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." Steve Jobs, Stanford, 2005.

• "Will saying 'yes' lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise." Stephen Colbert, Knox College, 2006

• We're taught that "growing up means leaving the herd, starting up the long escalator to isolation [but it that's not necessarily true]…. As you leave here, remember what you loved most in this place …. I mean the way you lived, in close and continuous contact. This is an ancient human social construct that once was common in this land. We called it a community. We lived among our villagers, depending on them for what we needed." Barbara Kingsolver, Duke University, 2008.

• “Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants." John F. Kennedy, American University, 1963.

• “Your life will be full of setbacks — how you handle them will make all the difference. So you have to stick with it. You have to be persistent.” Barack Obama, Rutgers University, 2016.


To close, Churchill, speaking here after Britain entered World War II, strikes the perfect tone for courage.

• “You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." Winston Churchill, Harrow School, 1941