Career (and Life) Advice From Famous Graduation Speakers

If you’re looking for a pep talk, here’s a sampling of advice from of this year’s commencement speakers.

Famous commencement speakers composite, including President Obama, Julie Andrews, Steven Chu, Melinda Gates, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
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Every year about this time, before embarking into the so-called real world, college graduates throughout the country receive not just a diploma but advice from graduation speakers, who are often successful celebrities, politicians or other luminaries at the top of their field. That's all well and good, but the rest of us could use that advice, too. After all, it isn't as if, several years out of college, people have mastered the real world and no longer need any help. That's why the midlife crisis is so popular. Arguably, just about everybody is trying to figure how to work this crazy thing called life.

So if you're looking for a pep talk related to your career and life, here is a sampling of advice from this year's commencement speakers so far.

[Quiz: Which Celebrities Tweeted These Financial Quips?]

If at first you don't succeed ...

"Whether you start a business, or run for office, or devote yourself to alleviating poverty or hunger, please remember that nothing worth doing happens overnight. A British inventor named Dyson went through more than 5,000 prototypes before getting that first really fancy vacuum cleaner just right. We remember Michael Jordan's six championships; we don't remember his nearly 15,000 missed shots."

-President Barack Obama, who spoke at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, on May 5. Moments later, he added: "The point is, if you are living your life to the fullest, you will fail, you will stumble, you will screw up, you will fall down. But it will make you stronger, and you'll get it right the next time, or the time after that, or the time after that."

The world can be a better place – if you make it better.

"There are so many opportunities for giving in this world. Don't engage in random acts of kindness – engage in planned acts of kindness. There are at-risk children who need to be mentored. There are people who go hungry every day, there are those who are infirm and have no one to look after them. Some have experienced a paralyzing loss. Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can't stand. Speak for those who can't speak. Be a beacon of light for those whose lives have become dark. Fight the good fight against global warming. Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world you want to live in."

-Julie Andrews, film legend, spoke to the University of Colorado—Boulder on May 10. She also had this nugget of wisdom: "... fear is a part of life. The trick is to recognize it and then press on anyway."

When the door slams in your face, find a key.

"We all have dreams we follow. Often, we build large parts of our lives around pursuing those dreams. So when there comes a point at which a door gets slammed in your face – and there inevitably will – it can be crushing. But what I'm here to say is ... how you react to these setbacks can end up defining you more than the pursuit of the dream itself."

-John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Lasseter spoke on May 19 at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. He added that even more than following your dreams, "it is more important to follow your passion. Because when your dreams get shattered and you trust your passion, guess what? You get a lot more dreams, and they will come true."

[Check out: Map of Notable 2013 College Commencement Speakers.]

Failure is an option.

"Aim high and don't be afraid to fail. It's OK to fail, as long as you give it your best, fail fast and move on quickly. Now you ask: How do you do that? How do you fail fast? And efficiently. You think about the problem, and you work on the most critical and essential part of the challenge first – don't do the easy stuff.

-Steven Chu, a physicist who was the U.S. Secretary of Energy from 2009 until April 22, 2013. He delivered the college commencement at his alma mater, the University of Rochester, on May 19. He added later, "Over the course of my scientific career, I would say that roughly three-quarters of the things I tried either failed or morphed into something, oftentimes better."