Wisdom is timeless. We never get too old to hear it, learn it, or benefit from it.
While not all of us are graduating from college this year, it’s safe to say we are all graduating from something in our lives. Whether it’s old habits, homes, jobs, or even parenting, we’re all graduates to some degree. (No pun intended.) So why let new college grads hog all the wisdom? The following quotes highlight poignant life lessons we can all learn from the 2014 graduation speeches.
1. Bill Nye: Knowledge can be acquired anywhere.
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. Respect their knowledge and learn from them.”
These were the words of Bill Nye, who gave this year’s commencement speech at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Considering the source of this lesson (everyone’s favorite brainy scientist), it’s safe to say it is true. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. The world is filled with infinite diversity, perspectives, and unique experiences. When you meet someone you don’t like, challenge yourself to learn something from them.
2. Charlie Day: The most fulfilling things in life come with risk.
“You cannot succeed without this risk of failure, you cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism, and you cannot love without the risk of loss.”
While you may not have expected the quirky, illiterate janitor from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to share wisdom, Charlie Day delivered this brilliant advice to Merrimack College’s graduating class. Day also spoke about fear and acting in spite of it. The driving point of his speech was to not let fear become a barrier.
3. Bill Gates: Optimism is not irrational.
“Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness.”
Bill Gates spoke these words at Stanford University’s 2014 Commencement. After a heart-breaking account of his trip to a diseased and poverty-stricken town in Africa, Gates confidently gave this advice and spoke about the importance of innovation. Optimism is not naive, and sometimes hopelessness can be an irrationally negative perspective.
4. Peyton Manning: Being a beginner is not a weakness.
“When you are chided for your naïveté—and you will be—remind your critics that an amateur built the ark and experts built the Titanic.”
Peyton Manning delivered this clever remark at the University of Virginia. Echoing the theme of Bill Gate’s quote, Manning is saying to disregard the naysayers, while maintaining faith in your own innovative ideas. He went on to talk about being a newbie, and how it doesn’t eliminate you from being able to contribute value. Well said.
5. Jim Carrey: Choices are made from love or fear.
“The decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. So many of us chose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.”
Of course there were plenty of jokes in Jim Carrey’s commencement speech, but this was one of his most notable statements at the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa. “Fear disguised as practicality” is the key phrase. How many of us live our lives this way, avoiding certain dreams because they “just couldn’t happen?”
6. Rainn Wilson: Happiness doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“Happiness is so fleeting — it’s like cotton candy. It looks amazing, delightful, fluffy and pink. You joyously eat it and almost immediately regret your decision. Your fingers are sticky, you’re undergoing an insulin crash from the half-pound of sugar you just sucked down, and you’re hungry again almost immediately. In this me-me-me culture, focus on yourself and you will find only misery, depression, emptiness. Focus on helping others and you will find joy, contentment, gratitude and buckets and buckets of eudaimonia.”
The delightfully quirky Rainn Wilson gave this advice at the University of Southern California. Comparing fleeting happiness to blood sugar swings is a pretty genius way of saying “don’t fall for the hype.” Personal possessions, money, or other self-focused versions of happiness are about as reliable as cotton candy for a diabetic. And in case you were wondering, eudaimonia is basically Greek for happiness. (I had to look it up.)
7. Melinda Gates: Hardship spawns our greatest efforts.
“If you want to do the most, you have to see the worst.”
These are Melinda Gates painfully truthful words, spoken at Stanford University’s graduation ceremony. After telling a personal story of interacting with poor AIDS victims in hospice, Mrs. Gates extracted the positive, much like her husband did in his speech. There’s nothing more motivating than hardship – especially witnessing the hardship of others.
8. Marc Benioff: The secret to life? Give stuff away.
“The real joy in life comes from giving. It comes from service. It comes from doing things for other people. That is what is so powerful about this. Nothing will make you happier than giving.”
Although these are probably not the words you’d expect from a CEO, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, said just that at the University of Southern California. Coming from someone with wealth and a successful business, this says a lot. You can feel the certainty in his words – he’s been around the block and wealth isn’t everything.
9. John Legend: You can’t be happy with yourself if you’re not even being yourself.
“Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure. The things that are at your core. The things you know you were put on this earth to do.”
Ask a soul singer the meaning of soul, and you might regret it hours later, when they’re still talking and philosophizing. Luckily, musician John Legend kept it concise at the 2014 University of Pennsylvania. This speaks to the idea that everyone “belongs” somewhere. Everyone has a passion, gift, knack, or whatever you want to label it. Maybe you already have an inkling as to what your’s is.
10. Parker Mantell: Doubt is more of a setback than actual setbacks.
“Doubt, as has been observed, kills more dreams than failure ever will. Yet if doubt were a disease, its cure would be confidence.”
You probably haven’t heard of Parker Mantell, as he’s not famous. He is, however, the inspiring student who gave the 2014 graduation speech at Indiana University (which is now going viral). Mantell had the courage to give this epic speech despite his stuttering problem, an obstacle he mentioned during the speech.
We can all circumnavigate our failures and setbacks in one way or another, but doubt is pervasive. It will eat up any motivation we have, limiting our potential until we silence it.
Featured photo credit: thatericalper via thatericalper.com