The Top 10 Best Commencement Speeches of 2012

insights on life — Ramsey Mohsen @ Monday, June 18th, 2012 - 8:43 am

To say that I like commencement speeches at graduations would be an understatement. I don’t just like them- I love them. I Google for lists and lists of who spoke where, and I watch as many as I can. I take notes on their style and delivery. I soak in their advice like they’re talking to just me in the room. I do this every year because it gives me so much motivation and inspiration. A reset. Fresh perspective. There’s something to be said about hearing from successful people at graduations. Given the distinction and honor of giving a commencement speech- I also appreciate the time, effort, and detail speakers put into their address. And often their advice is so candid- so raw- and while it’s aimed at helping new graduates tackle life, I think their advice is applicable to anyone- no matter how old you are.

Below are my Top 10 favorites of 2012. I want to share with you- and make sure you share your favorites with others! (keep in mind, I watch as many as I can, but these ones in particular are my favorite)

P.S. my favorite commencement speech of all-time still remains the by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling at Harvard.

P.P.S. i have more speeches to watch. i’ll be updating this blog post as i go with my favorites, so check back in the coming week to see what has been added!


1.) Michael Lewis (writer), Princeton University

(he’s the guy who wrote the book Moneyball) There is some heavy stuff packed into this speech. His take on luck in life is a really interesting perspective that I couldn’t agree more with. I was surprised by this one, in a good way.


2.) Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Harvard

This speech starts off slow- but the middle and the end are strong. Particularly I think Sheryl’s resonated with me because of the strong entrepreneurial messages and business advice she shared. I was nodding my head all the way through this when she was sharing advice like, “Build your skills not your resume.” A must watch if you’re an entrepreneur or business owner.


3.) Neil Gaiman (artist), University of the Arts

Given he didn’t go to college- Neil even admits how weird it is for him to be giving a commencement speech. He makes comic books for a living- this was really “get your hustle on” commencement speech. Real, practical, candid advice. I really enjoyed his sentiment about just being happy. And if you’re an entrepreneur, his advice about faking it till you make it is the truth.


4.) Aaron Sorkin (writer), Syracuse University

(he’s the guy who wrote A Few Good Men, Moneyball, The Social Network) Spoken from the heart- in a very serious tone throughout. I really liked Aaron‘s delivery- certainly had me ready to jump off the couch and take on the world as soon as he ended his speech. The highlight I enjoyed from him was challenge to be better people in this world. He shared, “Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness, character.”


5.) Jane Lynch (actress), Smith College

This is one of the most entertaining and engaging speeches of 2012. I really enjoyed this one. Fun and insightful. Her and advice about taking on life with a “YES AND” attitude is so simple- yet so true (you’ll have to watch to find out what I mean). This speech I won’t ever forget. It’s a good one.


6.) Steve Carell, Princeton University

Not at all inspiring or uplifting. But- damn, this one was funny! A ‘good for laughs’ commencement speech. If you like Steve, you’ll love this.


7.) Adam Savage (tv show host), Sarah Lawrence College

Myth Busters is used to be one of my favorite shows to watch. It was interesting to hear Adam in a different setting, sharing his advice on life.


8.) Oprah Winfrey (TV show host), Spelman College

I’ll be honest- the first few minutes of this I struggled through. But the middle and the end are heartfelt- and packed with Oprah goodness. Some of this caught me by surprise. She gets into some really serious topics and speaks much like a preacher at church during various parts of her speech (which isn’t a bad thing- i just wasn’t expecting it).


9.) David Mccullough (school teacher), Wellesley High

This video became an internet sensation. The title of his speech is “You are not that special”. And it directly takes head-on the issues of over-pampering kids today and the reality of competition in the real-world. This is really a must watch given it’s popularity.


10.) Andy Samberg (actor SNL), Harvard

I’ll be honest- this isn’t the most insightful speech of the year. But if you want a good laugh, Andy certainly entertains. This is a good one to watch over a lunch. Just don’t be expecting to be inspired.

Here are other speeches I watched but  didn’t make the cut…

1 Comment »

  1. […] you may know- I’m obsessed with graduation speeches. It’s one of my secret sources of motivation and inspiration. […]


(c) 2014 Ramsey Mohsen