Surprisingly Great Commencement Speeches By Famous People Who Didn't Even Graduate From College
Graduation day is filled with a myriad of conflicting emotions. It marks the first day of the rest of your life, the day your training wheels are taken off, the day your many years of education transition to many years of application, and, most importantly, it marks the day Ramen noodles are no longer considered an appropriate meal for someone your age.
On graduation day, you sit down among your peers, tassels blocking your eyes, and marinate in the words of our nation’s finest. But sometimes, you'll look down at the program to see where these genius’ spent their four years of deference and read that they “did not complete” or “did not attend”. SAY WHAT?! Is my school reminding me I can be successful without a college degree on the day I'm getting my college degree? This is your English 101 professor’s way of saying F.U. for skipping that class on dramatic irony. Here are 6 of the best commencement speakers that never went to college.
Steve Jobs- 2005 Stanford University
However you chose to define success, Steve Jobs will most likely make your list. I’m sure the Stanford class of 2005 was thrilled to have this icon stand before them in matching garments and deliver this beautiful speech. That is, until he begins his speech. Not only does Jobs admit to not attending college in the second sentence of his speech, he twists the knife further by saying he couldn’t see any value in college and that dropping out was one of his best decisions. So, to clarify, on a scale of good decisions, not going to college ranks among inventing the iEVERYTHING, co-founding Pixar, and wearing slimming turtlenecks.
Jobs also says dropping out of Reed College allowed him to stop taking the required classes he didn’t find interesting and focus on classes he enjoyed, like calligraphy. In fact, this calligraphy class is the primary reason the first Mac and subsequent Apple products have beautiful and varied typography, which made them stand apart from PCs and eventually propel Apple to success. DANG, Steve Jobs! I wanted to take calligraphy, but I didn’t have any room in my schedule. It was too packed with Organic Chemistry and a hundred levels of Spanish. What am I going to do with Spanish? Make a Spanish iPhone? That already exists! It’s called the regular iPhone!
Memorable quotes from this speech:
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith.”
You mean like the brick that you're throwing at me right now, with a paper wrapped around it reading, "These last four years were a waste. Oh, and go ahead and throw out your iPod Nano. Those are about to be obsolete."
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Uh oh. I knew I should have worn underwear under this robe! He has x-ray vision!
“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.”
But, I’m so smart. That is the opposite of foolish. I learned that at Stanford. Where I am graduating from. Right now.
Bill Gates- Harvard 2007
In his Harvard commencement address, Bill Gates mentions all the other uber successful friends he lured away from Harvard, and almost brags about being Harvard's most successful dropout.
Memorable quote from this speech:
“I’m a bad influence. That’s why I was invited to speak at your graduation. If I had spoken at your orientation, fewer of you might be here today.”
Thanks for giving them graduates the heads up, Bill — FOUR YEARS TOO LATE. This is such a jerk move that I WILL NOT be contributing money to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
. . . Actually, I will. It's a great cause and Bill Gates is a wonderful person. DAMN YOU, BILL GATES.
Brian Williams- George Washington University 2012
Brian Williams, anchor and co-manager of NBC’s Nightly News, has stood atop the commencement podium more than once. He spoke to Fordham University in 2011, George Washington University in 2012, and Elon University in 2013. That's three schools, coincidentally the same number of schools he dropped out of. PATTERNS! Williams' speech at George Washington University is especially notable as it's the home of his final attempt at higher education. The students are forced to witness an eloquent Williams being paid generously for leaving the school they just worked hard to stay in. "How is that fair?" you ask? Oh, you must not have heard — there’s no such thing as justice. Or don’t you watch the nightly news?
Memorable quote from this speech:
“I did tell them when they called — it's really okay, I've got this. I told them when they called, I said, you know, I dropped out of GW. It was my third and final attempt at college. And they said, ‘Oh, no, that's cool. Come on ahead.’ And so today I want to share with you a bit of the story of how I came academically to achieve the sum total of 18 college credits. Thank you very much.”
I'm talking like advice from a guy that couldn't muster up more than 18 credits? This is VERY bad news.
Ellen DeGeneres- Tulane University 2009
Ellen’s speech to the graduating class of 2009 is wonderful. It is poignant, motivational, extremely well written with a rope of unstoppable humor threading through its entire 18 minutes. It is perfect. AND SHE DIDN’T GO TO COLLEGE. Now, it normally takes people years into adulthood to realize that no matter how hard you work, someone else is going to be able to supersede you without even trying. Welp, Tulane class of ’09, you get to learn it today! On perhaps your most vulnerable day in life! After you survived a hurricane! CONGRATULATIONS!
Memorable Quote from this speech:
“I thought that you had to be a famous alumnus - alumini - aluminum - alumis - you had to graduate from this school. And I didn't go to college here, and I don't know if President Cowan knows, I didn't go to any college at all. Any college. And I'm not saying you wasted your time, or money, but look at me, I"m a huge celebrity.”
After hearing that seriously depressing news, these graduates would've needed a pick-me-up. Thankfully, the ceremony ended just in in time for them to go catch Ellen!
Oprah Winfrey- Harvard 2013
In 2013, Oprah Winfrey herself gave a commencement speech at ivy Harvard University. As one of the most notably exclusive institutions in America, it rejected approximately 32,000 people this year alone. But not Ms. Winfrey. She never received a rejection letter from Harvard. Or an acceptance letter. From any school. Ever. Oprah explains in her speech that, even though she did not graduate from Harvard, her personality is as Harvard as they come. Oprah is literally the only person on the planet who could get away with saying that. If anyone else who had not graduated from Harvard said they were "as Harvard as they come" to 1500 fresh Harvard grads, they'd be pelted by 1500 copies of Stephen G. Breyer's Administrative Law and Regulatory Policy. Oh, you didn't know all Harvard grads carry Stephen G. Breyer's Administrative Law and Regulatory Policy around with them at all times? That's why YOU don't say you're "as Harvard as they come".
Memorable quotes from this speech:
"It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point, you are bound to stumble. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher and higher, the law of averages predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do, I want you to remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction. Now, when you’re down there in the hole, it looks like failure. When that moment comes, it’s okay to feel bad for a little while. Give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost. But then, here’s the key: Learn from every mistake, because every experience, particularly your mistakes, are there to teach you and force you into being more who you are."
Whatever Oprah, just give everyone a free car and get the heck out of there.
. . .
There's no free car? No free anything? Not even $5??? THEY GOT LOANS TO PAY.
Who are some other notable commencement speakers that never attended college? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments below!