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Commencement speeches that made us laugh, cry and aspire to be better people

Saturday, June 14, 2014
Summer is just on the horizon, which means it's graduation season. And while no one loves sitting through long ceremonies, an amusing, heartfelt or inspiring commencement speech can bring a little joy and humor to the usual pomp and circumstance.

Check out some highlights from our favorite 2014 commencement speeches.

"Don't be an a**hole" - Shonda Rhimes (Dartmouth College)


While the writer and producer of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal made jokes about beer pong and maybe said poop more than any commencement speaker in the school's history, she did bring the real talk to the graduates, criticizing meaningless hashtag activism:

    "A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething

    Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It's a hashtag. It's you, sitting on your butt, typing into your computer and then going back to binge watching your favorite show. For me, it's Game of Thrones."


She also encouraged the graduates to appreciate the opportunities college has and will allow them:

    "Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week... And don't be an asshole."

Watch Shonda Rhimes' full speech
Read Shonda Rhimes' full speech

"One of you will sort out the details of my prenup" - Mindy Kaling (Harvard Law School)


Actress and comedian Mindy Kaling returned to her hometown of Cambridge, Mass. to offer her advice to the graduates and as expected, she went for the LOLs right from the start, citing Harvard Law's illustrious alumni like Elle Woods, "from the trenchant documentary 'Legally Blonde.'"

Kaling joked about the types of cases the young legal minds would face:

    "You will help a cable company acquire a telecom company. You will defend BP from birds. You will spend hours arguing that the well water was contaminated before the fracking occurred. One of you will sort out the details of my prenup."


But she also encouraged the graduates not fall into mindless celebrity worship:

    "Celebrities give too much advice, and people listen to it too much. In Hollywood, we all think we're these wise advice givers, and most of us have no education whatsoever...for two years I played an obstetrician-gynecologist on TV and damned if I don't think I can deliver a baby."

Watch Mindy Kaling's full speech

"Do not pick your nose in public" - Sandra Bullock (Warren Easton Charter High School)


Academy Award-winning actress Sandra Bullock went for more practical advice when she surprised the graduating class of a New Orleans high school, including gems like:

    "You have to dance a little bit in the morning before you leave the house because it changes the way you walk."

    "Eat something green every day, with every meal."

    "Do not pick your nose in public. How about we just go get a tissue?"

    "If someone doesn't want to play with you, it's OK. Not everyone is going to love us. Go find someone who is going to want to play with you and appreciates what you have to offer."

Watch Sandra Bullock's full speech

"Being a hater isn't cool" - John Legend (University of Pennsylvania)


Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter John Legend just wants us all to feel the love. He argues that the opposite of love isn't hate, but instead fear and hate is a byproduct of fear:

    "We're taught when we're young that the opposite of love is hate. But it's not. Hate is a byproduct. Hate is a result. Being a hater isn't cool. Nobody wants that. But hate comes from one thing: fear. And fear is the opposite of love. It's not a coincidence that when we talk about bigotry, we often talk in terms of fear: homophobia, xenophobia. Fear is what blinds us. Fear is corrosive. Fear makes us hold back. It whispers to us, tells us that we'll fail. It tells us that our differences are too much to overcome. Fear locks us in place. It starts fights. It causes wars.

    And fear keeps us from loving. Even though we're made to love, we're often afraid to love. We're afraid of being hurt deeply... But you're never going to really love something or someone unless you put those fears aside. Don't hold back. Being in love means being ready to give freely and openly, and being ready to risk something. Risking pain and disappointment, conquering your fears, and becoming anew."

Watch John Legend's full speech
Read John Legend's full speech

"Dream bigger" - Sheryl Sandberg (City Colleges of Chicago)


We all know Sheryl Sandberg would like to see us all "lean in," but the Facebook COO had a few more words on chasing one's dreams:

    "Dream bigger - both for yourself and the world around you. As you extend your reach, you will see that what once seemed unattainable is now within your grasp."


But she also offered advice on not being overwhelmed by those big dreams:

    "Getting from point A to point Z can be daunting unless you remember that you don't have to get from A to Z. You just have to get from A to B. Breaking big dreams into small steps is the way to move forward."

Read Sheryl Sandberg's full speech
Watch Sheryl Sandberg's full speech

Related Topics:
education distraction celebrity graduation

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