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Event Inspiration/Articles/Planning/Five Memorable Graduation Speeches

Five Memorable Graduation Speeches

Drew Stoga


I don’t remember who spoke at my college graduation. Now that I think about it, I didn’t even go. To be fair, if my school had booked President Obama, I definitely would have gotten out of bed.

Sure graduation speeches can be boring, but they can also be inspirational, moving and even funny.

Graduation ceremonies (not to mention graduation parties) are being planned right now all across the country. We thought some of you students and planners could use a little inspiration, so check out our list of five of the most memorable graduation speeches:

1. John F. Kennedy – American University, 1963

JFK’s famous commencement address was a poignant, extremely well written and delivered call for peace, plain and simple. It rings as necessary and true today as it did almost fifty years ago.

2. J.K. Rowling – Harvard University, 2008

All of you Harry Potter fanatics are in luck. Thanks to the glory of YouTube  you can watch J.K. Rowling’s commencement speech. Part 1 is here, part 2 here. Unfortunately the speech contains no mention of quidditch.

3. Jon Stewart – William & Mary 2004

In recent years, it has become commonplace for schools to book comedians to speak at graduation. Carrot Top and Larry the Cable Guy aren’t getting these gigs (though Sacha Baron Cohen did speak at Harvard in 2004 in character as Ali G). Schools are getting witty, intelligent humorists like Jon Stewart. Read his extremely entertaining 2004 William & Mary speech here.

4. Conan O’Brien- Harvard University, 2000

Late night funnyman Conan O’Brien delivered a hilarious speech at his alma mater, Harvard University, in 2000.  I particularly like this segment:

Students of the Harvard class of 2000, 15 years ago I sat where you sit now. And I thought exactly what you are now thinking. What’s going to happen to me? Will I find my place in the world? Am I really graduating a virgin? Still have 24 hours. Roommate’s mom very hot. Swear she’s checking me out. There was that Rob Lowe movie.

5. David Foster Wallace – Kenyon College, 2005

On the more serious side of things, late author David Foster Wallace’s gave a brilliantly honest commencement speech in 2005. It’s not exactly a pick-me-up but I imagine that if they were listening closely, the lucky students in attendance would have known been truly moved by what they heard. You can read it in full here, but at the very least check out his opening comments:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”


Congratulations in advance to all of this years graduates!

Planning a graduation party? Let us help you find the perfect entertainment.

Please leave a comment below and let us know your memories from graduation as well as your favorite commencement speeches of all time.