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8 Memorable Celebrity Commencement Speeches

Dale David
Written By
Dale David
Published On
May 08, 2023
a group of graduates throwing their caps in the air

Caption: Photo courtesy of Glamour

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re pretty sure that’s how the tradition of graduation speeches came to be. 

Some of the world’s best speakers are actually—you guessed it—your favourite celebrities.

Check out eight of the most memorable celebrity commencement speeches below!

1. Taylor Swift

At New York University’s Class of 2022 commencement exercises held at the Yankee Stadium, Taylor Swift was honoured with an honorary doctorate in fine arts. She also took the stage to deliver one of the best commencement speeches of all time. 

The world knows all too well just how witty Doctor Taylor Swift can be. Whether it’s a hit song that tops the Billboard charts or a celebrity graduation speech, her words are never less than thought-provoking—and the cheers from the packed stadiums are always at full volume.

Memorable Moments:

  • “…Life can be heavy, especially if you try to carry it all at once. Part of growing up and moving into new chapters of your life is about catch and release. What I mean by that is, knowing what things to keep and what things to release. You can’t carry all things, all grudges, all updates on your ex, all enviable promotions your school bully got at the hedge fund his uncle started. Decide what is yours to hold and let the rest go. Oftentimes the good things in your life are lighter anyway, so there’s more room for them. One toxic relationship can outweigh so many wonderful, simple joys. You get to pick what your life has time and room for. Be discerning.”
  • “My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best things in my life. And being embarrassed when you mess up is part of the human experience. Getting back up, dusting yourself off and seeing who still wants to hang out with you afterward and laugh about it? That’s a gift.

    The times I was told no or wasn’t included, wasn’t chosen, didn’t win, didn’t make the cut…looking back, it really feels like those moments were as important, if not more crucial, than the moments I was told ‘yes.”
  • “As long as we are fortunate enough to be breathing, we will breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out. And I’m a doctor now, so I know how breathing works.

    I hope you know how proud I am to share this day with you. We’re doing this together. So let’s just keep dancing like we’re…

    … the class of ’22.”

2. BTS

BTS isn’t just the biggest band on the planet, they’re also influential youth ambassadors (and presidential favourites!). The South Korean President appointed the band as diplomats and “special presidential envoys for future generations and culture.” Even world leaders a few oceans away from their home country also recognize just how much of an impact they have— President Biden invited them to speak at the White House’s anti-Asian hate summit

Throughout their career, they have always managed to move the youth with their inspiring messages—and their appearance at YouTube’s Dear Class of 2020 event was no exception! It’s a celebrity graduation speech that will live in your head rent-free. 

Memorable Moments:

  • BTS’ Jin: “My memory of graduation is a little different. It was before my debut as BTS. I was around 20, just a high school graduate going into university. Back then, the notion of becoming an adult was something quite scary. Anxious about making my way into an unfamiliar world, I was cautious about everything I said or did. Sometimes, I’d feel restless, watching my friends go on far ahead of me, and attempting to keep up with their speed would only leave me breathless.

    I soon realized that their pace was not my own. What held me together during these times was a promise I made with myself to ‘take it slow.’ I’d go at my own pace, steadily. From then on, it became a habit of mine to take extra time for myself. For instance, when learning choreography, I begin practice days earlier than the others. If any of you feels lost in the face of uncertainty, or the pressure of starting anew, don’t rush. Take a deep breath. You may find that any moment can be turned into opportunity. Allow yourself to take it easy. Take it one step at a time. You might discover the important things you were missing, and they will reach out to you.”
  • BTS’ Suga: “This might not be the grand finale that you had imagined, and a fresh start might seem far away. But I wish to tell you: Please don’t be afraid, don’t worry yourself. The end and beginning, beginning and end are connected. There are some things you can only do in isolation, such as focusing only on myself and breaking my own barriers. One small person can dream the biggest dream, paint the largest picture, and make endless possibilities come true. When we meet again, I look forward to seeing your dream, your picture, and your endless possibilities out in this world.

    Take your hands off what you can’t control, and get your hands on what you can change. As you and I continue on in life, we will find ourselves in so many situations out of our grasp. The only thing we can control is ourselves. Get your hands on the changes you can make, because your possibilities are limitless. After all, I also had no idea I would become BTS either.”

3. Stephen Curry

As a Golden State Warrior and NBA All-Star Game MVP of 2022, Stephen Curry is no stranger to the champion life—and he championed the class of 2020 during the height of the pandemic with his celebrity commencement speech at Chase’s #ShowMeYourWalk event!

Memorable Moments:

  • “I’m grateful for this opportunity to congratulate you, the undefeated class of 2020…You are my kind of people; you know that. You’re record-setting, history-making, and you show up to win, even in the greatest of adversity. You follow through on the promises to yourself. You adapt. You create. You inspire, and you continue to dream big and hope.”
  • “We are here today to celebrate because we believe the work that you’ve done should be celebrated, no matter what’s going on right now.”
  • This commencement honors the early mornings that turned into late nights, the grind every single day to better yourself, and every single moment of sacrifice that you’ve gone through.”

4. Arianna Huffington

As an award-winning author and the co-founder of The Huffington Post, you can count on it that Arianna Huffington has a magical way with words. Her celebrity graduation speech at Smith College’s 2013 commencement ceremony can only be defined with one word: #Preach.

Memorable Moments:

  • “Commencement speakers are traditionally expected to tell graduates how to go out there and climb the ladder of success, but I want to ask you, instead, to redefine success. Because the world you are headed into desperately needs it. And because you are up to it. Your education at Smith has made it unequivocally clear that you are entitled to take your place in the world on equal footing, in every field, and at the top of every field. But what I urge you to do is not just take your place at the top of the world, but to change the world.” 

5. Will Ferrell

He’s one of the most famous comedians of all time and a total pro at giving celebrity commencement speeches. Will Ferrell’s commencement address in 2017 was an absolute smash hit, connecting with the graduating class of his own alma mater, the University of Southern California.

Memorable Moments:

  • “To those of you graduates sitting out there who have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to do with your life, congratulations. For many of you who maybe don’t have it all figured out, it’s okay. That’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result.”
  • “Trust your gut, keep throwing darts at the dartboard. Don’t listen to the critics – and you will figure it out.”

6. Barack Obama

When have the graduation speeches of the 44th President of the United States ever not resonated with his audiences? During the “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020” television broadcast, Barack Obama challenged everyone to “set the world on a different path.” 

Memorable Moments:

  • “This pandemic has shaken up the status quo, laid bare a lot of our country’s, deep-seated problems, from massive economic inequality, to ongoing racial disparities, to a lack of basic healthcare for people who need it. It’s woken a lot of young people up to the fact that the old ways of doing things just don’t work. That it doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick, and that our society are not democracy only work when we think not just about ourselves but about each other. It’s also pulled the curtain back on another hard truth, something that we all have to eventually accept once our childhood comes to an end.

    You know all those adults that used to think [they were] in charge or knew what they were doing? Turns out they don’t have all the answers. A lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions. So if the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you.”

7. LeBron James

The star-studded “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020” event was a treasure trove for memorable celebrity commencement speeches—and 18-time NBA All-Star, LeBron James was the host of this TV special. 

Memorable Moments:

  • “And now it is time to go to a new place. It is time to chase every dream, accept every challenge, strive for greatness, honor every promise, and recommit to your community. I know that’s the last thing you want to think about right now in a place you’ve been sitting in for the last two months, really, I mean, the last 18 years for you guys, but it’s the truth. The community needs you. And when I say to the community, I mean your rec league, your church, your youth group, and most of all, your school. They need you. Most importantly, building your community is how you change the world.”

8. John Legend

At Duke University’s 2021 commencement ceremony, award-winning musician John Legend gave one of the most legendary celebrity graduation speeches that encouraged everyone to embrace our shared humanity. 

Memorable Moments:

  • “When you feel lost in this tangled web of problems, know that in truth, the way out of it is simple. Instinctual, really. It’s LOVE. Love should be your North Star. Let it guide you. Maybe this sounds more like song lyrics than a serious point. But I believe it with every fiber of my being.

    Think about what it actually means to let yourself feel and show love for your neighbors. It means being curious about their lives. Genuinely wanting the best for them. Investing in their success.

    And once we recognize our interdependence—our mutuality—it’s clear that love is precisely what our society needs: To take care of and look out for each other. There are nearly 8 billion people on the planet: 8 billion strangers. What does it mean to love people we don’t know? It means letting go of fear and embracing our shared humanity.”

Make It Memorable with Celebrity Influencers

Thinking about working with celebrity influencers for your events or campaigns?

The Influence Agency is here to make it happen. We’re a leading digital marketing agency that features the largest database of influencers in North America. 

Working with celebrities on campaigns is easier when The Influence Agency is behind you. Contact us to learn more!

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