Five 2017 Commencement Speakers Who Get What Matters Most

The 2017 graduation season is just about to conclude. Graduation is one of those natural times to pause, reflect, and think about what matters most to you, what mark you want to make on the world. And it’s never too late to tread that path of thinking again. Those of us sitting as parents in the audience, or just watching the speeches online can take time and think about our own priorities. How far have we progressed in our personal journeys?

Looking across the many great commencement speeches this year, here are five that stood out to me. 

Tim Cook at MIT on Finding Where You Fit

Watch Tim's Commencement Speech

Apple’s CEO Cook talks about how he spent his time as a young man thinking, “Is this all there is?” At grad school, he tried meditation, religion, and read many philosophers and authors, trying to find purpose and meaning. Then he found Apple.

“Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple and had launched the Think Different campaign. He wanted to empower the crazy ones -- The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. – to do their best work. If we could just do that, Steve knew we could really change the world. Before that moment, I had never met a leader with such passion or encountered a company with such a clear and compelling purpose – to serve humanity.”

That’s when things clicked for Cook. “I finally felt aligned. Aligned with a company that brought together challenging, cutting-edge work with a higher purpose…Aligned with myself, and my own deep need to serve something greater.”

What wonderful guidance for those looking to find the organizations that work right for them.

Theo Epstein at Yale on Connecting with Your Team

Watch Theo's Commencement Speech

The president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, gave this speech at Yale's Class Day. Cubs fans will probably appreciate this speech the most, but anyone will benefit. Using the story of the Cubs’ long-awaited 2016 World Series win as a backdrop, he tells the audience how important it is to connect and rally around one another.

“…Some of us — go through our careers with our heads down, focused on our craft and our tasks, keeping to ourselves, worrying about our numbers or our grades, pursuing the next objective goal, building our resumes, protecting our individual interests. Other players — and others amongst us — go through our careers with our heads up, as real parts of a team, alert and aware of others, embracing difference, employing empathy, genuinely connecting, putting collective interests ahead of our own. It is a choice.”

Will Farrell at USC on Forging Ahead

Watch Will's Commencement Speech

Ferrell’s talk is one of the most entertaining and funny this year, full of great stories from his college days at USC and his early years in comedy and on SNL. He even sings. And he has some great messages, too. 

He shares some setbacks in his path to success, talking openly about being afraid. Yet, “My fear of failure never approached my fear of what if I never tried at all.” 

He tells the graduates that his most meaningful successes were his marriage and his boys and along with his contributions to charities meaningful to him. “No matter how cliché it may sound, you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.”

“Trust your gut. Keep throwing darts at the dartboard. Don’t listen to the critics. And you will figure it out.”

Helen Mirren at Tulane on Moving Through Fear

Watch Helen's Commencement Speech

The talented Helen Mirren spoke at Tulane’s commencement this year showing her usual poise and intelligence. She shared "Helen’s Top 5 Rules for a Happy Life."

I especially appreciated number four -- don’t be afraid of fear.  “For the moments when you are challenged by other fears – like “Am I good enough?” “Am I smart enough?” “Will I fail?” – throw caution to the winds, look fear straight-away in its ugly face, and barge forward.”

She also lauded the graduates and their generation for wanting to make things better and their focus on helping for the greater good. 

“We’re counting on you. We’re counting on you to be our “Generation Empathy” – our “Generation Cares” …our “Generation Game-changers. That’s how I see your generation – as empathetic, caring, game-changers — but also as one that is radical, brave and often making trouble. And I hope you’ll never stop because you are doing the right things at the right time at the right age.”

Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard on Purpose

Watch Mark's Commencement Speech

Facebook’s Zuckerberg’s talk dove deep into purpose. 

“Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.” 

“To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge — to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose.”

Zuckerberg goes on to lay out three ways to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose: by taking on big meaningful projects together, by redefining equality so everyone has the freedom to pursue purpose, and by building community across the world.

Photo credit: Tulane News