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home : Graduation : Words of Wisdom :

Commencement Gems

Fortunately, there are some commencement speakers who spend their time on the stump wisely, offering interesting, succinct and often amusing observations on life. Here are some of the better lines:


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Ann Richards, former governor of Texas:

"Have some sense about work. No one ever died muttering, 'I wish I had spent more time at the office.'"

Bob Newhart, comedian:

"Humor makes us free. That may seem like an odd conclusion, but as long as the tyrant cannot control the minds of free men, they remain free. Humor abounded behind the Iron Curtain and in POW camps. Humor is ... our way of dealing with the inexplicable."

Ellen Goodman, writer:

"This afternoon, I solemnly promise that these have not been the best years of your lives. The truth is that people who look back to college as the peak experience have had the dreariest of adulthoods."

David McCullough, Writer:

"I have some calculations for you to consider: reportedly, the average American watches 28 hours of television every week, or approximately four hours a day. The average person, I'm told, reads at a rate of 250 words per minute.

So, based on the statistics, were the average American to spend these four hours per day with a book, instead of watching television, the average American could, in a week, read

  • The complete poems of T.S. Eliot.
  • Two plays by Thornton Wilder, including Our Town.
  • The complete poems of Maya Angelou.
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Book of Psalms.

Read, read, read is my commencement advice."

Maya Angelou, writer:

"Courage is the most important of virtues because without courage you can not be sure that you can practice any other virtue with consistency."

Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney:

"Fear of failure is a far worse condition than failure itself, because it kills off possibilities."

Art Buchwald, newspaper columnist:

"Another piece of advice I have for you when looking for a job is, how does one get through to a person on the phone when you are being stonewalled by a snooty secretary? And here are a few suggestions that might make you get through. Whenever a secretary asks what I'm calling about, I say, 'Please tell Mr. Goldstone I just crashed into his car in the parking lot and I want to give him my insurance company's name.' And if that doesn't work, this one usually does: 'Please tell Mr. Goldstone that we just got his test back from the lab.' And if that one fails, his one has never failed: 'Please tell Mr. Gladstone that I just found his American Express card on a water bed at the Silk Pussycat Motel. Does he want me to mail it in, or bring it to him?'"

Louis V. Gerstner Jr., chairman/CEO, IBM:

"I can assure you that no computer - even one that can process 200 million possible brushstrokes, or scan 200 million notes per second - will ever paint a Monet, compose a Beethoven symphony, or write with the eloquence of Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou. And we shouldn't ask them to. Let us use this very powerful, amazing technology to help us with the problems it can solve. But let us as people choose the problems we must solve."

Shirley Chisholm, Congresswoman:

"Be as bold as the first man or woman to eat an oyster."

Gary Larson, cartoonist:

"I wish you much weirdness in your lives."

Kurt Vonnegut, writer:

"(Joseph Heller [author of Catch 22] and I) were at a party thrown by a multibillionaire out on Long Island, and I said, 'Joe, how does it make you feel to realize that only yesterday our host probably made more money that Catch 22, one of the most popular books of all time, has grossed worldwide over the last 40 years?'

Joe said to me, 'I have something he can never have.'

I said 'What's that Joe?'

And he said, 'The knowledge that I've got enough.'"


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