Ursula Burns, Mellody Hobson, Donna Brazile: Top 2015 college commencement speeches

Ursula Burns delivers the 2015 commencement address at Howard University (Photo by Mike James for Steed Media Service)

Some might say the most exciting part of the college experience is finishing. Thousands of students wait anxiously every year for the day when they can walk across the stage in front of their colleagues, professors and family with a degree after four years consecutive years of endless pressure. But not so fast! Before these eager students are awarded with that fancy little piece of paper they all want so badly they, must turn off their social media distractions and listen to one final speech, the commencement.

Now, typically commencement speeches are looked upon as dreadful hour-long lectures given by a high profile candidate on how to achieve success in the real word by using corny cliches and ancient metaphors. As for the graduating class of 2015 they would most likely disagree. This years commencement speakers set the bar to all new heights with their out-of-the-box approach to delivering motivational messages. The speakers touched on controversial topics like racism, cultural appropriation, and religion leaving students with quotes that will stick for a lifetime.

Only a select few will have the pleasure of bragging on the president of the United States or the first lady speaking at their graduation. For many people graduation is considered the most important day until they walk down the aisle and say “I Do.” Well, until that time comes the rolling out staff wants to congratulate the class of 2015 and wish all of you great success in your chosen career path. The lineup of speakers this year contained a diverse group of people representing a large variety of career fields giving graduates a ray of hope right before they get a taste of reality. Check the highlights below to find out who made rolling out’s top picks for 2015 commencement speakers.

President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota, on May 8. “Your path will not always be easy, and your way forward will not always be clear. But you have worked hard for this moment. And if you hold fast to that faith in yourself and in your country and in our God, then the greatest moments of your journey are the ones that still lie ahead.”

Xerox Corporation chairman and CEO Ursula Burns delivered the address at Howard University’s 2015 commencement in Washington, DC on May 9: “America is both the greatest nation on earth and still a mess place – a work in progress. No generation can complete the task but every generation must try.”

Photo source: Tuskegee University
Photo source: Tuskegee University

First lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address at Tuskegee University on May 9. “And if you rise above the noise and the pressures that surround you, if you stay true to who you are and where you come from, if you have faith in God’s plan for you, then you will keep fulfilling your duty to people all across this country … You will feel the bumps smooth off. You’ll take part in that ‘never-failing miracle’ of progress. And you’ll be flying through the air, out of this world — free.”

Denzel Washington MC Lyte Dillard University Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 1.34.13 PM

Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington delivered the commencement speech at Dillard University in New Orleans on May 9. “I pray that you put your slippers way under the bed tonight, so that when you get up in the morning, and you have to get on your knees to reach them. And while you’re down there, say thank you. Thank you for grace, thank you for mercy, thank you for understanding, thank you for wisdom, thank you for parents, thank you for love, thank you for kindness, thank you for humility, thank you for peace, thank you for prosperity. Say thank you in advance for what’s already yours.”

Tim Scott (YouTube screenshot)
Tim Scott (YouTube screenshot)

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott gave a commencement address at the University of South Carolina on May 9. “I want to give you three small pieces to the life puzzle that I wish I knew when I was sitting in your seats. One piece is that failure is not final if you refuse to quit. The second piece is that if you want to stand out in life, stand up for someone who cannot stand up for themselves. The third piece is to hold on to your dreams.”

(Photo source: William & Mary News)
(Photo source: William & Mary News)

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the commencement at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on May 16. “You should know that sometimes your passion finds you – that’s exactly what happened to me.”

The president of The National Urban League, Marc Morial, addressed Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 18: “As you go out into the world remember Black lives matter, your life matters, all lives matter.”

Actor Robert De Niro addressed the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts commencement ceremony on May 22: “You discovered a talent, developed an ambition and recognized your passion. When you feel that, you can’t fight it, you just go for it. When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. Yeah, you’re f—ed. The good news is, that’s not a bad place to start.”

Political commentator and strategist Donna Brazile is the keynote speaker at Spelman College's 128th Commencement and an honorary degree recipient. (Photo by @Sistarazzi for Steed Media Service)
Political commentator and strategist Donna Brazile was the keynote speaker at Spelman College’s 128th Commencement and an honorary degree recipient. (Photo by @Sistarazzi for Steed Media Service)

Political Strategist Donna Brazile addressed the women of Spelman College during the commencement ceremony in Atlanta on May 17.: “Why you? Because there’s no one better. Why now? Because tomorrow is not soon enough.”

Chairman of Pixar Animations Mellody Hobson spoke at the University of South California in Los Angeles on May 15: “A lot of graduation speeches encourage students to be passionate about something. I want to discuss being passionate about someone. So now . . . I want to be brave and talk about love. For some of you, even the word might make you squirm. I get it. For a long time, I avoided the subject. Career. Business. Those were my priorities.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick addressed the men of Morehouse College during the commencement ceremony in Atlanta on May 17: “Learn to let a setback be just a setback and not a defeat. The marches on that bridge taught us just how important it is for future generations to get back up and keep on marching. It’s a lesson that bears living today.”

lauren martinez

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