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7 Commencement Speeches Every Graduate Needs to Watch

7 Commencement Speeches Every Graduate Needs to Watch

It’s #GradSZN.

That means that our timelines and feeds are flowing with pictures of Black Excellence, Black Girl Magic and Black Boy Joy, who are getting undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees, doctorate degrees, law degrees and more. Not only is it great seeing all the Melanin Magic obtain degrees, it’s also exciting seeing African American students, and public figures, inspire and motivate people sitting in the graduation seats or watching via internet.

Here are seven commencement speeches that every graduate needs to watch:


Kirstie and Kristie Bronner, made history by being Spelman College’s first set of identical twins to graduate as co-valedictorians in 2013. Their speech centered around life being like a helicopter or ship propeller.  They said life’s propellers could include family, friends, God, life experiences, professors and education.

“In order to do anything of significance in this life, we have to embrace our propeller. We have to walk boldly in the face of fear.”

They expounded on the importance of getting out of your comfort zone to fulfill your purpose. These faith-based sisters also talked about balance, and how it’s required to succeed.


Legendary actor, Denzel Washington, delivered a riveting speech to Dillard University. He told the graduates to put God first, fail big, dream big, help others and be thankful.

“Dreams without goals are just dreams, and they ultimately fuel disappointment. So have dreams but have goals; life goals, yearly goals, monthly goals, daily goals.”

Washington said discipline and consistency, along with working hard and planning,  are keys to achieving any goal. The award-winning actor ended his speech by challenging the graduates to make a difference, instead of make a living.


Harvard graduate, Donovan Livingston, took a different approach by delivering a spoken word poem titled “Lift Off.” Livingston decided to do a spoken word poem, because he said it was his most authentic self. His speech spoke about diversity, inclusion, education, self-love and determination.

“No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning. Lift off.”


TV host and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey, spoke to Harvard University’s 2013 graduating class. She told stories about her career, and her journey to establishing OWN; the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Media outlets deemed her network a failure after a year. Oprah named that year, the worst year in her professional life. The journey of turning her network around wasn’t easy, but she did it.

“Trouble don’t last always. This too shall pass.”

The media phenomenon said that you are bound to stumble at some point when you’re striving to raise the bar. She reminded the graduates that it’s alright to mourn, and feel bad during the valley moments, but you have to learn from every mistake. Those mistakes are meant to teach you who you really are.

She ended her speech by telling students that: “true success comes from fulling the highest, most truthful expression of themselves as human beings.” Meaning, it’s important to use everything you have to uplift yourself, and those around you.


Actress, Kerry Washington, delivered a commencement address to her alma mater the George Washington University in 2013. Washington reflected on the importance of storytelling and how it transforms us.

“You are the hero of your story.”

She said being a hero is pushing beyond the bounds of what’s comfortable. She learned how to push beyond her comfort zone during her collegiate career at GWU. She gave an example of auditioning for the role of a frog in a college musical, and how she was afraid that the role would be difficult and embarrassing.

Although this wasn’t her dream role, she pushed past her comfort zone and got the role of the lead frog. That role ultimately changed her thinking, in regards to how she uses her body to do what she does on a daily basis.


Former First Lady Michelle Obama gave a heart-wrenching speech to Tuskegee University’s 2015 graduating class. She heavily reflected on her time in the White House, and time during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. She related the pressure students feel of doing well, to the pressure she felt as a public figure.

The constant pressure and ridicule forced Michelle to take a look at her life.

“I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me.”

She learned to ignore the “noise,” and focus on herself. Her self-work helped her to be most effective in the White House, as she tackled issues including education and health.

She challenged the graduates to live up to their most authentic selves, and trust themselves to carve their own path to make an impact. She also told them to act with their mind and their heart, because they need choose their own path and not someone choose it for them.


Writer and producer, Shonda Rhimes, spoke to her alma mater: Dartmouth College’s 2014 graduating class. Her conversation points included: ditch the dreams and become a doer, the day after graduation will be the worst day, and no one can do everything perfectly.

“Who you are today; that’s who you are. So, be brave, be amazing, be worthy.”

Rhimes told the story of living in her sister’s basement, and dreaming of being Nobel Prize, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison. Rhimes realized that enough was enough, and went on to film school. Years later, Rhimes had dinner with Morrison, and she knows that opportunity came from her becoming a doer.  

These are a few people who challenge graduates to move towards the direction of their dreams with confidence, boldness, and assurance that anything is possible.


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