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Ten Commencement Speakers You Wish You'd Had

Ten Commencement Speakers You Wish You'd Had

Liz Dwyer | GOOD Magazine

3. J.K. Rowling, Harvard University, 2008: In her speech, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” Rowling reflects on her experience writing herself out of poverty. She told graduates about the benefits of failure, saying, “failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

4. Bono, University of Pennsylvania, 2004: U2’s frontman struck the perfect balance between humor—he poked fun at annoying rock stars with causes and fans following him into bathrooms—and raising the call for this generation to end the spread of HIV and extreme poverty in Africa.

I’m not a hippie, I do not have flowers in my hair, I come from punk rock, The Clash wore army boots not Birkenstocks. I believe America can do this! I believe that this generation can do this. In fact I want to hear an argument about why we shouldn’t.

I know idealism is not playing on the radio right now, you don’t see it on TV, irony is on heavy rotation, the knowingness, the smirk, the tired joke. I’ve tried them all out but I’ll tell you this, outside this campus—and even inside it—idealism is under siege beset by materialism, narcissism and all the other isms of indifference. Baggism, Shaggism. Raggism. Notism, graduationism, chismism, I don’t know. Where’s John Lennon when you need him?

5. Wynton Marsalis, Northwestern University, 2009: Marsalis is known for giving music and song-filled commencement speeches. At NYU’s commencement in 2007, he simply got on stage and played his trumpet for almost two minutes. Two years later, in 2009, he briefly spoke to a nearly rained-out crowd at Northwestern University, referencing lessons he’s taken from jazz legends and honestly addressing the realities of life.

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