7 Commencement Quotes that Aren’t Just for Grads

With this year’s graduation season well underway, we’ve seen leaders from across sectors give inspiring speeches to the 2017 graduating class. While these speakers are delivering their wisdom to graduates about to embark on their professional journeys, that doesn’t mean that individuals who are already established in their career can’t gather some valuable takeaways.

This week’s NextGen Leadership post highlights our favorite leadership oriented quotes from 2017’s round of commencement speeches.

  1. “So I am here today to ask you to get engaged, not engaged like I did, back at 19. But engaged with some issues. And the kinds of issues I’m talking about are policy issues. And I know that some of you are already deeply committed to fights that matter to you, and I want to say thank you for that. So, my message to you, is please don’t quit after you leave school. We need you.” – Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator, Massachusetts (University of Massachusetts at Amherst)
  1. “Trust your gut. Keep throwing darts at the dart board. Don’t listen to the critics and you will figure it out.” –Will Ferrell, Actor (University of Southern California)
  1. “Go out there and get in the way. Get in trouble, get in necessary trouble and make some noise.” –John Lewis, U.S. Congressman, Georgia (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts)
  1. “We build resilience into ourselves. We build resilience into the people we love. And we build it together, as a community. That’s called ‘collective resilience.’ It’s an incredibly powerful force – and it’s one that our country and our world need a lot more of right about now. It is in our relationships with each other that we find our will to live, our capacity to love, and our ability to bring change into this world.” –Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook (Virginia Tech University)
  1. “You can advocate for environmental justice, and you can be the CEO who commits to cutting your company’s carbon footprint. You can march for workers on a picket line, and you can be their voice inside the Department of Labor. You can march for Black lives on the street, and you can ensure law enforcement accountability by serving as a prosecutor or on a police commission. The reality is on most matters, somebody is going to make the decision—so why not let it be you?” – Kamala Harris, U.S. Senator, California (Howard University)
  1. “My plea to you is that throughout your careers, you become and remain actively involved in shaping policies regarding research and uses of new technology, in your profession, through your professional societies, and as a participant in the democratic process of this country. If you don’t, someone far less informed will. You know that science matters. Facts matter. Knowledge matters. Logic, reasoning and respect for those who hold a different point of view all matter.” – Kathryn Thornton, Former Astronaut, NASA (Sweet Briar College)
  1. “On the most basic level, you might just save yourself from being — in the words of Atlanta rapper T.I., from his song with Rihanna — ‘unhappy with the riches cause you’re piss poor morally.’” –Natasha Trethewey, Former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize Winner (Emory University)

Did you hear a speech that really resonated with you that we didn’t mention? Share your favorite piece of advice from this year’s commencement speeches in the comments. Additionally, for more information on all things professional development, check out all of the NextGen Leadership program’s blogs here.

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I like quotes 5 and 7 the best. When I was in my early mid 20s I was facing a dilemma of which career path to choose. Many people recognized that I have a gift for leadership and suggested that I pursue management positions. I also have an entrepreneurial spirit along with a gift for music so I wanted to pursue that route. Too add onto this, I also had a strong belief that I was not good enough to be a leader or make decisions. I believed this until someone explained to me how the world works. Someone will be hired to do the job and it can be you or it can be someone else. If you apply for the position and do not get hired, then you can rest easy that whomever is making the decisions is more qualified than you. If you do not apply for the position and you believe that you are qualified to do it, then you can never rest easy because someone less qualified than you may be making the decisions.

I’ve had over 4 years of management experience and 4 years of supervisory experience with one company. And now I am on my 2nd year as a supervisor with the State of Oregon. I am making decisions that impact people’s lives, which can sound scary, but someone has to do it and I was selected by a panel of leaders to do it.

Side note:
I also personally believe that it is important for people to continually re-evaluate their skills and transfer to the most fitting positions. Disney has this method of requiring managers to transfer positions every 3 to 5 years. This allows for continual growth and learning opportunities. I’d like to see Government agencies encouraging more movement within the ranks.