Teaching the greatest commencement speeches of all time

According to CNN

From Obama to Steve Jobs:

I have earlier shared great commencement speeches. See this lesson plan. Now I would like to share these. This is not a uniquely American tradition, although it certainly is not something we are accustomed to at this degree in Norway.

“Students expect somebody who is reasonably famous and who will inspire them in some way,” says Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, a publication that covers commencement season each year. “It’s been that way for a long time … (celebrity speeches) cost money, but a lot of students feel it’s their commencement — they’ve earned it.” “Most students don’t want a speaker who goes on for too long,” says Jaschik. “(As speaker) you want to make a point (and) move on.”

Some speeches can be life-changing. In 2019, Morehouse College commencer and billionaire investor Robert Smith pledged to pay off the student loan debt of his audience of over 400 graduates, donating $34 million to the historically Black college in Atlanta, Georgia.

Lesson plan

Choose one of the speeches below, or find another one of your own choice, and write a short blog post where you answer these questions;

  1. Why did you choose this one?
  2. What made this speech memorable?
  3. Did you learn anything new?
  4. How would you attempt to persuade a friend or family member to watch this?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wellesley College, 2015

Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

Key quotes:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Barack Obama, Howard University, 2016

Change requires more than just speaking out–it requires listening, as well. In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree and being prepared to compromise.

Dr. Anthony Fauci | 2021 Spring Commencement Address | UNC-Chapel Hill


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