Inspiring Commencement Speeches for Your Future

Inspiring Commencement Speeches for Your Future

By: Abbas Virji
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Ah graduation, that moment where you realize you’re about to step into the ‘real world.’ The valuable exploring you may have done during your time at SFU will start to look like time well-used, because your interests are no longer limited to what your major offers – you’ve taken the time to pursue other passions. Even if you’re not graduating, take these commencement speeches into account, and strive for something meaningful through your years of post-secondary education. Nonetheless, graduation marks an important milestone in your life.

You may think your career will be set in stone after you graduate – which is possible – but typically careers do not unfold in a predictable fashion, in part because of the complex, constantly changing world we live in. In today’s world where types of positions rapidly change with different technologies (or a shift in the economic/political landscape), change is an important part of our lives. What may have once seemed novel and new may be outdated in as quickly as a year or less – just look at the smartphone evolution, for example. This results in an ever-changing job market, with position titles and descriptions also constantly changing.

This isn’t a new trend though. Many of today’s top entrepreneurs became entrepreneurs because they adapted to changing markets within the world. They saw an emerging market and capitalized on it, despite opinions of what other people thought “wouldn’t sell well.” It’s about taking risks, and getting up after you fall.

Most of the following people did at least some/a little of what I mentioned, which is why they are featured here. Here is a list of the top five commencement speeches (in my opinion) in relation to the chaos theory of careers. I’ve included a quote that stands out, and then you may click the link associated with it if you’d like to read more.


DJ Patil has some inspiring words in relation to failure, and mentions how his failure in high school mathematics ended up driving his motivation, and establishing his career. He was the former head of a data team at LinkedIn, and developed the ‘People You May Know’ feature:

“You are about to embark on your next great journey. And we are all counting on you to fail fast. While our society is moving forward faster than ever, we are also facing a world with massive challenges. The solutions won’t come from debates, they will come through trying, failing quickly, and then trying again with increased resolve…” Read more…


Jerry Zucker, a film director that directed movies such as Airplane and Ghost mentions in his commencement speech how graduates first buy furniture, but end up regretting the decision when they realize other opportunities they could have invested in. A mistake he says that you do not want to make in your career search:

“Don't do anything that 30 years from now you'll look back at and say, "Oh, my God, why the hell did I do that?!" I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone start a sentence with, "If only, when I was younger, I would have...." So I did a little informal survey for you, and I found out that, amazingly, all these people had the same regret. When they graduated from college, sadly, they bought furniture…” Read more…


Stephen Colbert, who needs no introduction, highlights in his speech that you should never hold back from opportunity. He also signifies the importance of having a general idea of what you want to achieve in your life:

“But while we may be leaving you with an economy with fewer job opportunities for the new graduate to slip into and while traditional paths may seem harder to find, that also means that you will learn sooner than most generations the hard lesson that you must always make the path for yourself…” Read more…


Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, similarly mentions the importance of not hesitating when accepting an opportunity. When she was about to decline an offer to work at Google because it didn’t meet her expectations and the company was still in its infancy, Eric Schmidt (Google’s CEO at the time) told her “Don’t be an idiot.” The rest is history:

“[Careers are] not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym. As you start your (post-HBS) career, look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume…” Read more…


Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple Inc., highlights the importance of pursuing your passion. Even though he had dropped out of college, the calligraphy classes he took as electives because of interest helped in the Macintosh’s revolutionary (at the time) proportionally spaced fonts, which was a huge selling point for publishers.

“You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work…” Read more…

So there you have it, some (hopefully) inspirational commencement speeches from some fairly remarkable people. Remember, a career is never set in stone. What is important is to continuously strive and aim for something, because there is nothing to lose from doing so. As Sandberg mentioned, don’t start mapping your career now – things will certainly change from what you expected. But pursue your passion, and do what you love.

Posted on October 10, 2013