I absolutely love American commencement speeches and I’ve watched quite a few over the years. This year my top favourites speeches were delivered by three powerful and inspiring women.
Michelle Obama offered a scathing, barely veiled critique of Donald Trump on Friday as she delivered her final commencement address as first lady, warning graduates of City College in New York that while their diverse backgrounds are to be celebrated, they should beware of those who “build up walls to keep people out.”
“No, no, here in America, we don’t let our differences tear us apart. Not here. Because we know that our greatness comes from when we appreciate each other’s strengths, when we learn from each other, when we lean on each other, because in this country, it’s never been each person for themselves, no we’re all in this together. We always have been. Here in America, we don’t give in to our fears, we don’t build up walls to keep people out, because we know that our greatness has always depending on contributions from people who were born elsewhere but sought out this country and made it their home.”
Oprah had powerful words of wisdom for the graduating class of 2016 at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina. The event was particularly close to Oprah’s heart because two students from the inaugural class of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls South Africa were part of the commencement ceremony. In 2002, Oprah says, she visited Nelson Mandela, who encouraged her to build the Leadership Academy. In the speech, Oprah stresses the importance of always trusting your inner voice.
“I have been led by that little voice my entire life,” she says. “That voice is your energy. It is your intuition. It is your voice of God, your higher power, your higher self that everybody has that allows you to make the right decision even when other people are wrong, that allows you to do the right thing when nobody and especially when nobody else is watching….Every stumble is not a fall, and every fall does not mean failure. Being human means you will make mistakes. And you will make mistakes because failure is God’s way of moving you in another direction.”
Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s chief operating officer) gave an emotional and heartfelt speech for the graduating class of 2016 at UC Berkeley. Her speech addressed some of the lessons she had learnt from the sudden loss of her husband who died after falling from a treadmill while exercising in a gym.
“It is the greatest irony of my life that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude – gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children. My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude – not just on the good days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it…. Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strike, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything. I promise you do.”