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Inspiring graduation speeches to get you through the last few weeks of school #MotivationalMonday

The end of the school year is just around the corner. We can smell the sweet scent of long summer afternoons spent lying in the garden, and Solero dripping down your forearm.

But in the meantime, there are exams to take and more lessons to sit through! Argh. To help you get through these last few weeks of term when it’s *so* hard to concentrate on what your teacher is talking about because the backs of your legs have start sticking to the plastic chairs in the classroom (a sure sign summer is on its way), we’ve collected some of the very best graduation speeches.

In the States, graduation speeches (or ‘commencement speeches’, as they call them) are a big deal. Especially at uni, and especially when there’s a solid gold celebrity behind the mic. Some of them are funny, some are thoughtful and others are seriously motivational. Here are some of our faves.

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling – the brilliantly funny writer, actor, comedian, star of the Mindy Project and all-round shero – gave this speech at Harvard in 2014.

“And now, the part of my speech where I am supposed to give you advice. And I thought, what advice could I give you guys? Celebrities give too much advice and people listen to it too much. In Hollywood, we all think we are these wise advice givers and most of us have no education whatsoever. Actors can become governors, pundits, or even high ranking officials in religions made up sixty years ago. Well then, who should be giving advice? The answer is people like you. You are better educated and you are going to go out into the world and people are going to listen to what you say, whether you are good or evil, and that probably scares you because some of you look really young. And I’m afraid a couple of you probably are evil. That’s just the odds.”

JK Rowling

From the outside, JK Rowling’s life might look at a magical as Hogwarts, but it certainly wasn’t always like that. In her speech at Harvard in 2011, she talks about failure and the importance of imagination. In fact, her speech was so brilliant that they literally published a book of it – Very Good Lives – but you can read the transcript of the speech here for free.

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Mary Schmich

You might have heard this one before, because director Baz Luhrmann liked it so much he turned it into a hit spoken-word song. Seriously. Mary Schmich wrote her article in the style of a graduation speech in the Chicago Tribune way back in 1997 – but the message remains as true today as it was back then.

“The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t. Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the “Funky Chicken” on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.”

Amy Poehler

Often seen alongside her BFF and long time comedy pal Tina Fey, Amy Poehler is a force of nature in her own right. Star of Parks and Recreation, author of Yes Please and creator of Smart Girls, Amy Poehler knows a thing or two about saying yes to opportunities. In this speech at Harvard in 2011, she passes on some of the lessons she’s learned from her years in improvised comedy… which isn’t all that different to real life, it turns out.

“I moved to Chicago in the early 1990s and I studied improvisation there. I learned some rules that I try to apply still today: Listen. Say “yes.” Live in the moment. Make sure you play with people who have your back. Make big choices early and often. Don’t start a scene where two people are talking about jumping out of a plane. Start the scene having already jumped. If you are scared, look into your partner’s eyes. You will feel better.”

Bradley Whitford

Bradley Whitford starred in the cult classic series The West Wing for eight seasons. Since then he’s played minor roles in a bunch of tv shows – you might recognise him as Jake’s dad in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or a guest star on Transparent. His graduation speech at the University of Wisconsin in 2004 is often overlooked (probably because it’s not on YouTube) but it’s got some of the best advice I’ve ever heard for figuring out what you want to do with your life. You can read the full transcript here.

““Number One: Fall in love with the process and the results will follow. You’ve got to want to act more than you want to be an actor. You’ve got to want to do whatever you want to do more than you want to be whatever you want to be, want to write more than you want to be a writer, want to heal more than you want to be a doctor, want to teach more than you want to be a teacher, want to serve more than you want to be a politician. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.”


And now, the next step on your journey is right back into that classroom until summer. Go on, we believe in you.

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