9 inspiring commencement quotes from Biden, Fauci and more

Then US First Lady Michelle Obama talks with graduating students prior to during her address at the University of California Merced in Merced, California  in 2009

Commencement addresses are normally made by a famous figure or graduating student. Image: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Natalie Marchant
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • US President Joe Biden, actress Kerry Washington and basketball star ‘Magic’ Johnson are among the famous faces who have delivered wise words to graduates.
  • Commencement speeches are particularly poignant in an academic year that saw massive disruption due to COVID-19.
  • JFK’s observations on peace formed one of the most famous commencement speeches in history.

Graduation day is the highlight of any student’s academic career, when they are finally awarded their degree after years of hard work.

The ceremony offers a chance to inspire graduates as they look to the future during a speech commonly known as a commencement address.

Normally made by a famous figure or graduating student, US President Joe Biden, Apple founder Steve Jobs and actress Meryl Streep are just some commencement speakers who have sent graduates on their way with wise words for the future.

These nuggets of wisdom hold particular resonance for students this year and last, who saw their academic lives disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are some of the finest and most inspiring commencement quotes ever made.

“The press always asks me why I’m so optimistic about America’s chances in the world. And I’ve said from the time I decided to run, ‘Because of this generation.’ You’re the most progressive, best-educated, least prejudiced, most open generation in American history. We need you badly. You’re ready; it’s time to get under way.”

“By staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the chatter, the name calling, the doubting - all of it was just noise. It did not define me. It didn’t change who I was. And most importantly, it couldn’t hold me back. I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values - and follow my own moral compass - then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”


“The world into which you’ll enter as you leave the confines of this beautiful campus has changed dramatically. The adjustments that you’ll have to make, in order to function in the world that awaits you, are substantial. No doubt it’s going to be tough. However, what I’ve seen of how you’ve responded to this pandemic thus far, gives me confidence that you will adjust and you will thrive.”

“If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the power, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

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“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

“I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”

“You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that can write the story that you were meant to tell.”

“Never let anyone put you in a box or tell you what you can do. Make sure you paint your own picture and go your own path, and continue to think outside the box.”

“This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal. There’s only change, and resistance to it and then more change.”

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