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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This should be the "we" generation.

"...You can change the way you think about other people. You can choose to see their humanity first – the one big thing that makes them the same as you, instead of the many things that make them different from you. It is not just a matter of caring about people. I assume you already do that. It's much harder to see all people, including people whose experiences are very different from yours, as three-dimensional human beings who want and need the same things you do. But if you can really believe that all 7 billion people on the planet are equal to you in spirit, then you will take action to make the world more equal for everyone."

-Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She spoke to graduates at Duke University in Durham, N.C., on May 12. She also had something to say about connecting with people through technology. She is for it. "I want to encourage you to reject the cynics who say technology is flattening your experience of the world," Gates said. "Please don't let anyone make you believe you are somehow shallow because you like to update your status on a regular basis."

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The world moves fast, so move with it.

"The history of technological innovation and economic development teaches us that change is the only constant. During your working lives, you will have to reinvent yourselves many times. Success and satisfaction will not come from mastering a fixed body of knowledge but from constant adaptation and creativity in a rapidly changing world. Engaging with and applying new technologies will be a crucial part of that adaptation."

-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who spoke to graduates at Bard College at Simon's Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass., on May 18. Earlier in the speech, he quoted baseball great Yogi Berra, saying, "The future ain't what it used to be," and noting that Berra "also astutely observed, 'it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.'"

Your goals: Don't call us, we'll call you.

"Don't think about what you want from life. Think about what life wants from you. If you're observant, some large problem will plop itself in front of you. It will define your mission and your calling. Your passion won't come from inside. It will come from outside."

-David Brooks, political and cultural columnist for The New York Times, who spoke to Sewanee—University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., on May 11. He later added that it's also very important to marry well – it's the most important decision anyone will make in their lives. "If you have a great marriage and a crappy career, you will be happy. If you have a great career and a crappy marriage, you will be unhappy," he said.

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Plan for the unplanned.

"... all the planning and preparation in the world can't prepare you for the many twists that are coming your way. Just today, one of you may meet the guy you will marry – or the guy you will divorce. You can't predict it all. People will tell you to plan things out as best you can. They will tell you to focus. They will tell you to follow your dreams. They will all be right.

"But they will also be a little bit wrong. Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected. Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to entertain the improbable opportunity that comes looking for you. And never be so faithful to your plan that when you hit a bump in the road – or when the bumps hit you – you don't have the fortitude, grace and resiliency to rethink and regroup."

-Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who delivered her commencement speech to graduates at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., on May 19. She added, "So to all of you who have always known what you wanted to be when you grow up, go get 'em. But for everyone, plans or no plans, keep a little space in your heart for the improbable. You won't regret it."