5 Entrepreneurial Lessons From Inspirational Commencement Speeches

Inspirational Commencement Speeches

Before the handshake, the diploma exchange, the turning of tassels, or the tossing of caps, this year’s crop of college graduates will experience a treasured tradition: inspirational commencement speeches.

The speech serves as a last lesson of sorts for students; parting words of wisdom and advice, often from some of the most successful people in the country (or, in many cases, the world).

Though commencement speakers are addressing graduates, the anecdotes, lessons, and stories contained within the speeches are applicable to all audiences—from the parents sitting in the crowd to the viewers watching commencement speech clips on YouTube years later.

Some of the most inspirational commencement speeches are rich with advice particularly helpful for entrepreneurs. Reflections on failure, building a career, choosing an untraditional path, finding yourself, changing the world—they’re stories of and for entrepreneurs of all kinds.

Be Entrepreneurial

Remember: if the most unique ideas were obvious to everyone, there wouldn’t be entrepreneurs. The one thing that every entrepreneurial journey has in common is that there are many, many steps on the road to success.

– Tory Burch, Babson College, 2014

Don’t let other people box you into their system of rules. They will tend to produce mediocre results for you. Make your own rules, hack the system and change the world.

– Wayne Chang, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2016

What are the tools and the mindset for the flexibility and adaptability of the new jungle gym and the career playground? Entrepreneurship! Everyone needs to think like an entrepreneur—even if still only a few will be starting new businesses.

– Reid Hoffman, Babson College, 2012

Love What You Do

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

— Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

“Build a résumé that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be but it’s a story about who you want to be. It’s a résumé that doesn’t just tell a story about what you want to accomplish but why. A story that’s not just a collection of titles and positions but a story that’s really about your purpose.”

— Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University, 2013

“Now is the time to consider all the infinite possibilities with introspection, deliberation and thoughtfulness. Visualize the road ahead. Think about what excites you, what really gets your engine going. Engage in some real soul searching. Take a good, hard look at your strengths and weaknesses. A fulfilling professional life can be found at the intersection of what you love and what you’re good at. And when you think you’ve discovered it, go at it full throttle.”

Katie Couric, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2015

Your Plans May Change

“As many of you think about the future, remember it’s okay to have your definition of entrepreneurship change. In fact, prepare to have your definition of your goals and desires changed. Prepare for yourself to change. Because, if you can’t imagine a world different from the one you see today, you will never be able to build a better one.”

— Kevin Colleran, Babson College, 2015

“Don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb. If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career.”

— Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard Business School, 2012

“Let life surprise you. Don’t have a plan. Plans are for wusses. If my life went according to my plan, I would never ever have the life I have today. You are obviously good planners, or you wouldn’t be here. Stop it! Stop it now! Don’t deprive yourself of the exciting journey your life can be when you relinquish the need to have goals and a blueprint.”

— Jane Lynch, Smith College, 2012

Learn from Failure

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”

— J.K. Rowling, Harvard University, 2008

“Know that compromise is rooted in strength, not weakness. You’ll have ups and downs. How you handle the downs will build character. How you handle the ups will tell the world a lot about who you are.”

— Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Babson College, 2016

“The world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.”

— Aaron Sorkin, Syracuse University, 2012

Yes, You Can Change the World

“To really make change, we must have courage: the courage to imagine something new, the courage to act, and the courage to persist through setbacks.”

— Patrick Awuah Jr., Babson College, 2013

“You have a lot of work to do. You are the leaders of tomorrow, and it will be your job to pick up the baton so often mishandled by the leaders of today.”

— Madeline Albright, Wellesley College, 2007

“Each one of you has the power to change the entire world. Changing the world is not a big deal. It’s a question of are you interested? If you are, you can make it.”

— Muhammad Yunus, Babson College, 2016

Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership

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