Whether or not certain musicians, actors, politicians and entrepreneurs have completed college, they’re often asked to deliver commencement speeches at small liberal-arts schools, state colleges and prestigious Ivy league institutions alike. If they accept, their task is simple: Convey a message of humor, pathos, wisdom and humility, and above all, use this opportunity to collect an honorary diploma in case they need something to fall back on.
As the nation’s collective Class of 2014 collects their diplomas, we’ve selected a handful of celebrity orations from the previous 20 graduation years that have made us giggle, tear up or want to go get ’em. −By Kenny Herzog
Tone: Self-deprecating, incendiary.
Theme: Don't take yourself too seriously, but never underestimate your potential to change the world.
Key Quote: "I'm not a hippy. I do not have flowers in my hair. I come from punk rock. The Clash wore army boots, not Birkenstocks. I believe America can do this. I believe that this generation can do this. In fact, I want to hear an argument about why we shouldn't."
Tone: Expectedly sarcastic, sneakily reflective and hopeful.
Theme: Don't get so caught up in ambition that you forget to be decent and unselfish.
Key Quote: "No more winning. Instead, try to love others and serve others and hopefully find those who love and serve you in return."
Tone: Good-natured, imploring.
Theme: A degree is not the means to an end, and you’ll be up against stiff competition, so get serious and make something of yourself.
Key Quote: “Get out, get a job. For God’s sake, get a job.”
Tone: Daffy, matter-of-fact.
Theme: There is no better voice to listen to than the one inside yourself.
Key Quote: "When I was your age, I was dating men. So what I'm saying is, when you're older, most of you will be gay."
Tone: Loony, subversive.
Theme: Don't forget to laugh, especially at yourself. And remember, we're all dust in the wind.
Key Quote: "Many of you will go on to stellar careers and various pursuits. And four of you—and I'm not at liberty to say which four —will go on to star in the porno industry."
Tone: Cautionary, melancholy.
Theme: We'll all die one day, but the point of our short life is how we live it.
Key Quote: "All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure − these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."
Tone: Introspective, menschy.
Theme: Being a musician is a privileged calling and noble occupation.
Key Quote: "Being a musician is not something you chose to be, it is something you are, like tall or short or straight or gay. There is no choice. Either you is or you ain't."
(A full transcription of the speech is available here.)
Prevailing Tone: Hopeful, serious, Kennedy-esque.
Theme In a Nutshell: Change and progress don't happen overnight, but everyone can, and should feel obligated to, make even the smallest contribution toward a better humanity.
Key Quote: "All it takes is one act of service, one blow against injustice, to send forth that tiny ripple of hope."
Tone: Relentlessly witty, generous.
Theme: You will fail, and it will be the best thing that ever happened to you. Eventually.
Key Quote: "At Harvard, five different guys told me that they would one day be President of the United States. Four of them were later killed in motel shoot-outs."
Tone: Pop-culture literate, practical.
Theme: No one gets great at anything alone, all fears are both valid and conquerable, and as long as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is toppling movie villains, everything will be OK.
Key Quote: "Would it kill you to be nicer to your parents? They have sacrificed so much for you, and all they want you to do is smile and take a picture with your weird cousins."
Tone: Down-to-earth, anecdotal.
Theme: As an educated young adult, your greatest responsibility isn't to your boss, but to yourself and to the world.
Key Quote: "I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they're a-coming for ya. It's a combination of life being unpredictable and you being super dumb."
Tone: Bracing, laureate-like.
Theme: We can learn a lot by deeply considering not only our own, but other peoples' experiences and points of view, and from being just a little less righteous and self-absorbed.
Key Quote: "If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable."
Tone: Humble, sly.
Theme: This world is what you make it, not what any one person or previous generation tells you it's doomed or destined to be.
Key Quote: "Don't forget that by being here today you have now achieved something I was not able to achieve."
Tone: Authoritative, lyrical.
Theme: Find empowerment in spirituality and self-possession, rather than letting our societal roles define us. And don't be lazy.
Key Quote: "Let excellence be your brand."