The Commencement: Advice for Graduates from Pop Culture Guest Speakers

“And make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people.”

This isn’t exactly the sort of fluffy, “Reach for the stars!” sort of message one expects to hear at their college graduation. But then again, these aren’t exactly times that call for fluff. And anyway, how totally disappointing and bummer-inducing would it be to hear a totally cliché commencement speech from Aaron Sorkin?  The writer behind The West Wing and The Social Network addressed the 2012 graduating class at Syracuse University over the weekend, delivering some very serious, eloquent, and at times, heartwarming real talk.

Watch Sorkin’s speech below, and check out some other inspiring words of wisdom for the Class of 2012 from other pop culture and literary icons through the years.

John Legend (University of Pennsylvania, Kean University)
This year, the R&B musician, songwriter and actor received an honorary degree from Howard University. But he’s also given two commencement speeches: first in 2009 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he waxed philosophical on leading a soulful life and the “politics of empathy,” and then again in 2011 at Kean University.

Amy Poehler (Harvard University)
Leslie Knope herself spoke at last year’s Class Day at Harvard. Amid all the jokes and one-liners, Poehler left graduates with a message about the importance of collaboration and humility in succeeding in the “real world.”

David Foster Wallace (Kenyon College)
As one might expect from the late, great infinite jester, Foster Wallace’s 2005 speech to Kenyon graduates includes a crazy parable at the beginning, is self-reflexive and self-aware of the liberal arts education, perhaps a bit too long and above all, beautifully written.

Ellen DeGeneres (Tulane University)
The television, film and comedy icon had the unique and extremely stressful task of addressing the Tulane Class of 2009, the class that would have entered the university the semester following Hurricane Katrina. Naturally, she tackles it with humor, grace and important truths. This speech also produced this heavily Facebook-status-quoted soundbite: “When I was your age, I was dating men. So what I’m saying is, when you’re older, most of you will be gay.”

Steve Jobs (Stanford University)
Stay hungry. Stay foolish. Always.

Lil B (New York University)
Not a commencement speech, but The BasedGod still has plenty of inspiring words for the Class of 2012. The Power of Yes is applicable on more days than just grad day.

And, just because…

Chris Rock – "No Sex In The Champagne Room"
Not from this year, but Chris Rock’s wise words for the GED Class of 1999 are still relevant today. Congratulations, graduates!

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