They Encourage, Challenge, and Entertain

5829638363_7b65791374_bThis time every year, thousands of young people graduate from colleges and universities. We usually celebrate this occasion by a ceremony (a traditional event) we call graduation or commencement.

The word graduation emphasizes what they have finished; commencement emphasizes the beginning of a new chapter (period of time) in their lives.

Well-known men and women from the worlds of business, politics, religion, and entertainment are often asked to come to these ceremonies to speak to the graduates. Some speeches encourage (give students courage or confidence). Some challenge (ask them to try something difficult). Some entertain (provide enjoyment or pleasure).

Some speakers are memorable (easy to remember or worth remembering) for who they are. Others for what they say. This year has provided some interesting twists (unexpected situations) and given us speakers who will be memorable for other reasons.

This year some speakers will be remembered for the speeches they didn’t give. According to NPR (National Public Radio), almost a dozen “big-name commencement speakers” withdrew (decided not to participate) or had their invitations cancelled because of student protests (something you do or say when you disagree with someone or something). These speakers included Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, and Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, but it is becoming more common (happening more often).

Jill Abramson will be remembered for the speech she did give just a few days after being fired from (being told to leave) her job as editor (the person in charge of a newspaper or magazine) of the New York Times. She began her speech by smiling and telling the students that “I’m talking to anyone who has been dumped (to  a relationship ended suddenly by someone else)….” And she encouraged students to be resilient – to become strong, happy, or successful again after a difficult situation.

Thanks to YouTube, some commencement speeches have become very popular. For example, Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University has been viewed almost 20 million times. In that speech he told students that everyday he asked himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” If the answer was “no” too many days in a row (one after another), he said he knew he needed to change something. He died just a few years later when he was only 56 years old.

Recently NPR (National Public Radio) made it easy to find and listen to or read popular commencement speeches when they created The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever – a collection of more than 300 speeches. You can look at the list of speakers to find someone you want to hear or read, or click on one of the different themes, or topics, to find a list of speeches that talk about that theme.

I found David Brooks, a New York Times writer I enjoy reading, on the list and smiled at his humor and wisdom. For example, last year he told graduates that “The daily activity that contributes the most to happiness is having dinner with friends. The daily activity that detracts (takes away from) most from happiness is commuting (traveling a long distance to work). Eat more. Commute less.”

I’m curious – if you could speak to graduating university students, what would you tell them?

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo by Senator Boxer used under Creative Commons license. 


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13 Responses to They Encourage, Challenge, and Entertain

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Warren

    This afternoon I am resting after my morning shift. I went trekking yesterday in order to see again a beautiful waterfall nearby.
    For today a part for lawn mowing the front/back yard no physical activities

    That is hard, I am not sure what to tell them for several reasons.

    On of the most important one is that I do not take myself seriously. That’s is why I prefer the speaker that makes fun of everything/everyone.

    One I liked is Eric Idle’s for the graduation of his daughter.

    Since you mentioned Steve Jobs, I would remember the students that behinds every Steve Jobs there are hundreds if not thousands that fail.

    So, be prepared to meet Mrs. Failure get over it and go on.

    I would also wish to those without “connections” good luck finding a job in today’s job market.

    And finally, since I was born with a strong feeling of impermanence of life I would tell them to enjoy it, but respecting what we all have more precious. That is our Planet.

    See, I am already feeling ridiculous so I’ll stop right here.

    Thanks Warren

  2. Betty says:

    Thank you Dear Warren

    I am so happy to read your article, it is extremely useful for me.

    I follow Steve Jobs’ advice, that is : live each day as if it was my last day. That’s why I started learning Latin Dance two weeks ago, for the first time in my life.

    Sorry I don’t have sexy short skirts, nor have I a sweet and strong man as my dance partner. I don’t need them to start learning Latin Dance. I only need to remember that my time is limited. I just have to follow my heart and intuition. Somehow they already know what I truly want to become – a happy and healthy human being.

    Where is everyone? Even Emiliano has not shown up for a few days.

    I know Dan has been busy hiking, and Tania has been busy going to concerts.

    How about you Emiliano? I hope you and Cuca and Gatufo are very well. Please do let us know how you are getting on. By the way, I have visited your blog web page just now. All those words look like Korean words to me. I hope I can understand them but I haven’t got a clue what they mean.

    Thanks again Warren, Jeff and Lucy, my ultimate source of food for brain.

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  3. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    I’m the first one to leave a message on this subject and I’m glad to. Interesting issue! As always, Jeff and Warren brought us something good again. It is important to know about strange cultures. Here in Brazil things happen differently.
    Aecio from Brazil, the country located below line of equator, where there are no sins.

  4. Tania says:

    Hi! I have opened the web with “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever”.
    First of all, you have to know that I am very happy as I have started to be familiar with great name from the U.S.
    thanks to the ESL Podcast team.
    What could I say?
    Many, many years ago, I read “Un Uomo Finito” by Giovanni Papini.
    When I am very tired I often remember the last words from this novel.
    (I did not find the novel in English, so , I try to translate myself.)
    “I am indeed un uomo finito , but it will have to recognize at least that I am finito because I clung to too many things,
    and I am nothing because I wanted to be all.”
    Don’t try to do all you think, all you wish.
    Don’t say “Io venni sol per isvegliare altrui”. (I just came to wake up the others.)
    Or, “Ignem veni mittere in terram”.(I came to bring the fire on the Earth.)
    Do just what you can do the best.
    Be a lucid person knowing your limits.
    Our life is too short. And the small things give us the happiness, the joy of living within a normal family.

  5. Tania says:

    Hi! May I share with you some of the famous commencement speeches?

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
    “Truth eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on its pursuit.”

  6. Tania says:

    Arnold Schwarzenegger:
    “Just remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”

  7. Tania says:


    Billy Joel:
    “Being a musician is not something you chose to be, it is something you are.”

  8. Tania says:


    Bill Gates:
    “Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”

  9. Tania says:


    Meryl Streep:

    “This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal.
    There’s only change, and resistance to it and then more change.”

    “The work itself is the reward. At least I’ll be interested, even if nobody else is.”

  10. Tania says:


    Toni Morrison:

    “Nobody has the exact memory that you have. What is now known is not all what you are capable of knowing.
    You are your own stories and therefore free…”

  11. Dan says:

    I am not sure I would agree with those student protesting the presence of some speakers.

    The simple fact of disliking someone does not necessarily mean that that person cannot teach you something.

    You have to listen to first and maybe after that boo that person speech.

    For instance, I do not like very much Bill O’Reilly, but sometimes/rarely I agree with what he has to say.

    Hey Betty, I am not sure about that, but I believe what Jobs said is a Ghandi’s quote.

    “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever” Isn’t that nice? I like Ghandi’s quotes.

    Bye and thanks

  12. Dan says:

    I did watched again Eric Idle’s speech today. That’s funny Lol!

    As I was saying yesterday, if I picture myself on a podium giving a speech like that I feel ridiculous.

    A part for not taking myself seriously, I do not believe there are rules/recipes for living one’s life good for everyone.

    Those students are going to get wrong and fail as everyone else and find out what is good for them regardless all the speeches they listen to.

    That is one of the many reasons I like the funny ones. At least you have a good time and laugh wich is always a good thing.


  13. Lassana says:

    Hi Everybody,

    What I could say to student graduates is that when they start as new professional in their area, first they have to listen advices of experienced professionals like seniors and be very motivated !

    Beginning the first job is particular. We found out a new environment and it is important to fit to it. Give the best of yourself, be creative, have a lot of courage because of the employment situation which is no good and other situations, difficulties that we encounter in our life, be always confident in the future !

    See you soon.


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