Most graduation ceremonies, though an exciting rite of
passage, are mundane. The march of pomp and circumstance.
The endless speeches from faculty members. But every once
in a while someone will find a way to make the ceremony
memorable, or impart words of wisdom that hit home with
students heading off into the real world.
Here are five popular graduation clips from around the
“Be true to yourself”
In 2009, Tulane University’s “Katrina Class” invited Ellen
Degeneres to give the commencement speech. Without
her usual dancing through the aisles, she gave life advice
to graduates in true Ellen style, encouraging graduates to
be true to themselves.
“You’ve survived a hurricane. What else can happen to you?
Some of the most devastating things that happen to you
will teach you the most. And now you know what questions
to ask at your first job interview, like, ‘Is it above sea
level’?” said Degeneres.
The grad rap
Not every memorable graduation speech is given by a
celebrity. Most are given by students in their teens,
braving thousands of onlookers and trying desperately to
plow through their message without stuttering too much.
Some brave souls think out of the box, like Henry Tappen,
who delivered this original
rap to his high school class in 2004.
“Life isn’t fair. Deal with it!”
The Dartmouth class of 2011 had a decorated war hero and
former president, George W. Bush, on the stage during
their graduation, but they received their commencement
speech from a late-night talk show host instead. Conan O’
Brien is as intelligent as he is hilarious, and has
become one of the most sought after commencement speakers
since this speech went viral on YouTube.
“Today you have achieved something special, something only
92 percent of Americans your age will ever know: a college
diploma,” opened O’Brien. “With your college diploma, you
now have a crushing advantage over 8 percent of the
“Life is an improvisation”
Colbert is a former theater major at Northwestern and
returned as an alumnus to deliver the commencement speech
for the graduating class of 2011. Colbert won over the
crowd, delivering his speech in his usual satirical style.
But he took on a surprisingly sincere tone when advising
that graduates serve what they love.
“You’ve been told to follow your dreams. But what if
it’s a stupid dream?” Colbert said. “Thankfully,
dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first
dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and
princesses. Life is an improvisation. You have no idea
what will happen next. And like improv, you can’t
“In my experience, you will truly serve only what you
love, because service is love made visible,” he continued.
“If you love friends, you will serve your friends. If you
love community, you will will serve community. If you love
money, you will serve money. And if you love only
yourself, you will serve only yourself and have only
yourself. So no winning. Try to love and serve others, and
hopefully find those who will love and serve you in
In 2011, Jessica Freedman crossed the stage at her Cal
Poly San Luis Obispo graduation. Her family cheered her on
with the exception of her brother, Eric Freedman, who was
serving as a Marine over seas. And like most homecomings, this one is a tear jerker.
Nicole Pollard currently resides in Canyon Country,