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Commencement speeches to move and inspire

This week’s trend takes place every May and June as speakers are announced for graduation ceremonies at universities, colleges and high schools across the country. The speeches have generated an immense amount of interest, including from executives who use them for quick and rich insight, staff motivation, the joy of hearing a fascinating story and even valuable advice.

This annual trend of using endearing commencement speeches for inspiration or a teaching tool has become a big draw, which I feel fits well with hospitality. The speeches delivered during the ceremony are used to reiterate and remind Generation Y about the challenges and problems in today’s society that are not faced exclusively by their generation, so naturally, they can be a real eye-opener and inspiration for many audiences, young and old.

“Wired,” a monthly publication reporting on how emerging technologies affect culture, the economy and politics, incorporates the graduation-speech trend into a basic yet simple and informative chart with 24 clichés pulled from more than 86 graduation speeches.

Another attractive hook centering around the commencement-speech trend is the social-media impact and the enhancement to one’s corporate profile and/or status that delivering one of these speeches promises. The ROI is another reason (which should not come as a surprise) CEOs, politicians and celebrities are eager to receive an invitation to don a cap and gown. Embarking on the duty of delivering advice and wisdom comes with the potential of reaching “uncountable numbers” who are viewing the commencement ceremony footage online in addition to the students, family and friends seated in the graduation audience.

One of the most iconic speeches ever given dates back to the infancy of the trend in 2005 when Steve Jobs addressed the graduating class at Stanford University. During the speech, he shared the story of being fired by Apple and how it is was one of the best things to ever happen to him. Why? In Steve Jobs words, it enabled him to become a “beginner” once again. And one of his most memorable pieces of advice is the simple wisdom that “anything one ever does in life should be because they love it.”

Fast forward to this week when actress Sandra Bullock surprised students at Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans at their graduation as she spoke about dismissing failure and enjoying life. “Stop worrying so much,” she said. “Stop being scared of the unknown, because anything I worried about didn’t happen. Other stuff happened. The unknown we can’t do anything about.”

On the other hand, Oprah Winfrey promotes a life where the world acts as one’s classroom from the moment they are born until the moment they die, while British novelist and author of the Harry Potter books J.K. Rowling describes the values of failure in life. While most do all it takes to avoid experiences of failure, she believes they are absolutely necessary in defining people.

Linked here is a list of some of the best commencement speeches. If you have ever experienced or been moved by a speech delivered at a graduation ceremony, I would enjoy hearing what your takeaway was. Thanks in advance for sharing your comments!

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