12 Celebs Who Gave College Commencement Speeches

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“You’ve made it and you’re fucked.”

Graduation ceremonies can be long and tedious — unless you’ve got an A-list celeb giving the commencement address obv!

These college grads hit the jackpot when it came to commencement speakers and learned some valuable lessons along the way.

Here’s who took the stage at college graduations:

1.

Taylor Swift


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Taylor Swift received an honorary doctorate degree when she took the stage to talk to New York University students in May 2022. In her speech, Taylor talked about her career and accepting that life is going to be a little “cringe” sometimes. She added that it’s important to know that everyone makes mistakes — and it’s how you grow from them that’s important. 

“I know it can be really overwhelming figuring out who to be, and when. Who you are now and how to act in order to get where you want to go. I have some good news: it’s totally up to you. I also have some terrifying news: it’s totally up to you,” Taylor said on stage

2.

Robert De Niro

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NYU / Via youtube.com

In 2015, Robert De Niro also took the stage at NYU, giving Tisch School of the Arts students a little bit of tough love about the realities of life. The actor bluntly opened his speech by telling grads, “You’ve made it and you’re fucked.” He went on to get real about working in entertainment and the sometimes painstaking process of auditioning but encouraged students to keep going.  

“You discovered a talent, developed an ambition, and recognized your passion. When you feel that, you can’t fight it — you just go with it. When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense. You aren’t just following dreams, you’re reaching for your destiny…You’re an artist — yeah, you’re fucked. The good news is that’s not a bad place to start,” Robert said. 

3.

Meryl Streep

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Columbia University / Via youtube.com

Meryl Streep shared almost 30 minutes of wisdom with the graduates of Columbia University’s Barnard College back in 2010. She took students through the trajectory of her career, sharing that at the end of the day, it’s most important to be yourself. She also emphasized the importance of empathy and how it’s a fundamental part of creating a happy and successful life.

“You don’t have to be famous. You just have to make your mother and father proud of you…and you already have,” Meryl concluded her speech. 

4.

Ken Jeong

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UNC Greensboro / Via youtube.com

The Hangover actor Ken Jeong was actually the perfect choice for a commencement speech considering the comedian was actually a doctor before he found success in the entertainment industry. He spoke to the graduates of UNC Greensboro in 2019 and definitely kept everyone laughing. But in addition to his humor, he also told grads to find their passion and be persistent in achieving their goals. 

“I encourage you, good times and bad, keep moving, keep finding your passion. I honestly say to every single soul in this coliseum: If I can do this, and if I can do what I want, so can you. You have the light and the future and the universe ahead of you,” Ken said. 

5.

Dolly Parton

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University of Tennessee / Via youtube.com

In 2009, Dolly Parton addressed graduates of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a commencement speech, something she thought she’d never do. She opened by saying she didn’t like to give advice because what works for one person may not work for another — but she ended up being pretty inspirational. Dolly encouraged the crowd to dream more and fight for the things they wanted.

“Do not confuse dreams with wishes. There is a difference. Dreams are where you visualize yourself being successful at what’s important to you to accomplish. Dreams build convictions because you work hard to pay the price to make sure that they come true. Wishes are hoping good things will happen to you, but there’s no fire in your gut that causes you to put everything forth to overcome all the obstacles. So you have to dream more and never, ever, ever blame somebody else if it doesn’t happen,” Dolly said. 

6.

Lisa Kudrow

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Vassar / Via youtube.com

Lisa Kudrow returned to her alma mater, Vassar College, in 2010 to address recent graduates in a touching speech about dealing with failure. Lisa says when she first started out as an actor, she often experienced rejection and almost gave up on her dreams of being an actor. Fortunately, it all led up to her big break on Friends

“I understand that because the 20s is that time in your life when you’re really getting acquainted with self-doubt when there’s so much seemingly at stake. So let me reassure you, it’s not supposed to be easy. You are supposed to have moments of uncertainty about which path to take because the 20s are full of crossroads. When one door closes, another door always opens,” Lisa said on stage. 

7.

Tom Hanks

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YaleUniversity / Via youtube.com

In 2011, Tom Hanks spoke in front of Yale’s graduating class, where he encouraged students to take fear head on. During the speech, Tom shared his love of history and referenced events throughout the United States’ past where fear was overcome to create a better place. 

“To stand on the fulcrum between fear and faith — fear at your back, faith in front of you. Which way will you move? Move forward, move ever forward and tweet out a picture of the results,” Tom concluded his speech. 

8.

Will Ferrell


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Will Ferrell gave an “unorthodox” speech during Harvard University’s Class Day in 2003. Although Will said he wouldn’t be using humor in his speech and wasn’t going to “sugarcoat” his thoughts, it ended up being almost 10 minutes of hilarity. Will shared fake quotes, dished his advice on everything from dealing with incompetent assistants to tax fraud, and ended his speech with a song. 

“I’m sorry, graduates. But this is a world where you aren’t allowed to use your cell phone on airplanes, during live theater, at the movies, at funerals, or even during your own elective surgery. Apparently, the Berlin Wall went back up because we now live in Russia. I mean just try lighting up a cigar in a movie theater or paying for a dinner for 20 friends with an autograph. It ain’t that easy. Strong words, I know. Tough talk. But more like tough love. Because this is where my faith in you guys comes into play, Harvard University’s graduating Class of 2003, without a doubt, the finest, most talented group of sexual beings this great land has to offer,” Will said at one point

9.

Jennifer Garner

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Denison University / Via youtube.com

In 2019, Jennifer Garner gave a speech at Denison University, which she attended in the early ’90s. In addition to receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters, Jennifer shared some truths about vaping, sunscreen, and the friends you make in college. She also explained three important things all people should be disciplined about. 

“Impose self-discipline around three things: have a book on your bedside table at all times and read it, obviously. Be in charge of your consumption of social media, and foster a sense of humor about yourselves because otherwise, you run the risk of being boring,” Jennifer shared. 

10.

Steve Carell

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Steve Carell took the stage at Princeton University’s Class Day in 2012, hilariously discussing the impact of technology on the world and offering new grads some helpful hints…that weren’t really that helpful. In addition to reminding students not to tell “that’s what she said” jokes to their parents and noting the superiority of dogs over cats, Steve also got serious for a moment. 

“Every once in a while, put something positive into the world. We have become so cynical these days. And by we I mean us. So do something kind, make someone laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously,” Steve concluded. 

11.

John Krasinski

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Brown University / Via youtube.com

John Krasinski returned to his alma mater, Brown University, in 2019 to address new graduates and discuss how one decision can change your entire life. He encouraged students to get involved and pursue as much as they could until they figured out their passion. John explained that’s happened for him when he joined the school’s sketch comedy group. 

“Not because I got in, not because I started acting. It was through that group that I found my way into this community. It was through that group that I met my people and all of a sudden I was surrounded by the most inspiring peers. One of the best decisions I made in my life was just to lean all the way in,” John said. 

12.

Mindy Kaling

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Dartmouth / Via youtube.com

In 2018, Mindy Kaling spoke with the students of Dartmouth College, where she graduated in 2001. While Mindy was excited to be sharing her words of wisdom with the recent grads, she reminded the students that just one story can’t give you the entire roadmap to being successful. She did offer some insight into her personal success story though, explaining that it all had to do with confidence. 

“I’ll tell you my secret, the one thing that has kept me going through the years, my superpower: delusion. This is something I may share with our president [Donald Trump], a fact that is both horrifying and interesting. Two years in, I think we can pretty safely say that he’s not getting carved onto Mount Rushmore, but damn if that isn’t a testament to how far you can get just by believing you’re the smartest, most successful person in the world. My point is, you have to have insane confidence in yourself, even if it’s not real,” Mindy shared. 

Which celebrity commencement speech was your favorite? If yours didn’t make the list, tell us in the comments!



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