The Best Commencement Speeches of 2012

From getting dumped to fighting for your reproductive rights, we picked out our favorite (and one not-so favorite) speeches from this year's round of graduations.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

From getting dumped to fighting for your reproductive rights, we picked out our favorite (and one not-so favorite) speeches from this year's round of graduations. 

Okay, so we understand that commencement speeches are all a blur (this writer has had two commencements, one with Christiane Amanpour and one with Big Bird) and paying attention to them is a bit hard considering poor acoustics and all the champagne being passed around. Plus, how many times can you tell a group of young people to go be brilliant without getting redundant?

That said, maybe that's why looking at these speeches from a safe distance on a Friday afternoon makes them resonate with us a little better. So whether you're looking for a bolt of inspiration, or need some college nostalgia, or have a few minutes to set aside this afternoon, here are our notable commencement speeches from this year*.

The Speech You Wish Was Yours:

Who: Neil Gaiman

Where: Philadelphia University of the Arts

Why We Picked It: If you're an artist of any kind you need to watch this. We were already a fan of Gaiman's inspirational children's books, so the bar was already set pretty high. And Gaiman delivers by succinctly and poignantly eliminating the "why's", "how's" and "where's" that plague artists. Just get down to the core of producing: Make. Good. Art.  Oh, and there's this kickass cartoon of the speech.

The Line:

The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and dance and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked … that's the moment you may be starting to get it right.

The Speech That Makes You Wish You Were a Smith Woman

Who: Jane Lynch

Where: Smith College

Why We Picked It: It's on topic. And Lynch hits that sweet spot of melding our current political climate.

The Line: 

You will have many opportunities to embrace what the world has for you. I can’t wait to see the ways in which you say “AND.” Remember that Smith Woman entitlement I spoke of earlier? I’m counting on yours to ferociously guard the women’s health care rights our sisters won for us years ago. I know you women of Smith will greet that fight with a big “YES AND,” and any one who tries take them away from you with a huge “NO WAY."

The Speech That Sounds Like "Hope and Change"

Who: President Obama

Where: Barnard

Why We Picked It: This is probably the speech that people will read into more than just a simple rah-rah commencement. What's it mean for young people? What does Obama's reelection mean for young people?  And what do young people think of Obama?  Here's the speech that gives a bit of insight into all that. 

The Line:

Because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher. I’ve seen your passion and I’ve seen your service ... I’ve seen a generation eager -- impatient even -- to step into the rushing waters of history and change its course.

The "Look at Me Now" Speech

Who: Steve Carell

Where: Princeton

Why We Picked It: We've been rejected before. Oh, and Carrell has an astute way of picking up on our current silly habits--and now we're a little less afraid to ask people out on dates. 

The Line:

When I was in college, I wouldn't "text" a girl to ask her out on a date. I would ask her, in person. One human being to another. And when she said "No," which she always did, I would suffer the humiliation and self-loathing that a young man needs for his, or her, personal growth.

A text does nothing more than protect us. It protexts us ... if you will. It keeps us safe. It is like a warm blanket that insulates us from the truth — the truth of how unappealing I was to Amy Miller. Well, look at me now, Amy. Princeton Class Day speaker. Suck on that.

The Speech That Everyone Needs

Who: Aaron Sorkin

Where: Syracuse

Why We Picked It:  Because we need to be knocked down a peg from time to time.

The Line:

...make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You're a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You're barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they're a-coming for ya.

The ICYMI Speech

Who: Fareed Zakaria

Where: Duke, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins 2011 Class

Why We Picked It: Well, if Fareed Zakaria thought the speech was good enough to give three times, there's got to be something there worth savoring right?

The Line: "My favorite one is Art Buchwald. Buchwald gave a very short Commencement speech.  He said, “As you can clearly see, we’re leaving you a pretty perfect world. Don’t screw it up."  (all three variations of it).

*We mainly focused on college speeches, but one Wire staffer is adamant that the David Simon speech to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School deserves a post on its own.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.