Meryl Streep, Oprah and Michelle Obama: The best celebrity commencement speech quotes

Lauren Keary
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Meryl Streep, Oprah and Michelle Obama: The best celebrity commencement speech quotes

Every year, celebrities are invited to take the stage at commencement ceremonies in colleges across the US.

From Laverne Cox to Mindy Kaling, over the years some of the biggest names have passed on advice to new graduates. Ellen DeGeneres used her signature sense of humor to inspire the class of 2009, while J.K. Rowling touched on magic to speak to a room full of college students graduating during the peak Harry Potter fandom years.

Laverne Cox

Cox spoke to ​the 2019 graduating class of Pitzer College about how the current conversation around abortion issues does not include the transgender population.

“As you go out into the world, you’re going to be faced with a lot of difficult decisions, things that will make you uncomfortable, that are nuanced and difficult,” she said. “But when we are leaving people out, we are not really doing the work to be inclusive. No matter how enlightened we think we are, there is still a lot of work we have to do.”

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah quoted activist Angela Davis this year at Colorado College.

“You have to act as if it were possible to radically change the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling touched on magic at Harvard in 2008.

“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."

Helen Mirren

Dame Helen Mirren doled out some relatable advice on hangovers in her 2017 Tulane University commencement speech in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“The trick is to listen to your instinct, grab the opportunity when it presents itself and then give it your all. You will stumble and fall, you will experience both disaster and triumph, sometimes in the same day, but it’s really important to remember that like a hangover, neither triumphs nor disasters last forever. They both pass and a new day arrives. Just try to make that new day count.”

Ellen DeGeneres

DeGeneres spoke about individuality at Tulane University in 2009.

“So to conclude my conclusion, follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the a**. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.”

Denzel Washington

Washington spoke about turning your failures into success in 2011 at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. You’ve got to take risks. You will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose. You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. Never be discouraged. Never look back. Give everything you’ve got. And when you fall throughout life, fall forward.”

Mindy Kaling

The actress spoke at her alma mater, Dartmouth College, in 2018 to inspire graduates to have the determination she had when she was in their shoes.

“I was not someone who should have the life I have now, and yet I do. I was sitting in the chair you are literally sitting in right now and I just whispered, “Why not me?” And I kept whispering it for seventeen years; and here I am, someone that this school deemed worthy enough to speak to you at your commencement. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, but especially not yourself. Go conquer the world. Just remember this: Why not you? You made it this far.”

Michelle Obama

The former First Lady spoke about opportunity at Dillard University in 2014.

“You all have opportunities and skills and education that so many folks who came before you never could have dreamed of. So just imagine the kind of impact that you’re going to make. Imagine how you can inspire those around you to reach higher and complete their own education.”

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep spoke at Barnard College in 2010 about making your parents proud.

“You know, you don’t have to be famous, you just have to make your mother and father proud of you. And you already have.”

Jennifer Garner

The actress gave some very relevant and meaningful advice.

"When it comes to Halloween costumes, go funny over sexy. Why would you dress like a flirty nurse when you could be a mailbox? It's an opportunity."