I can’t remember all the speeches at my commencement ceremony. But I do remember looking up on the stage to see my best friend, the valedictorian of our class, sitting there among all the luminaries, and wondering how in the world she did that when English was her second language. It still blows me away.
Commencement addresses contain wisdom and inspiration for all of life’s transitions, and for a manic-depressive, that’s pretty much every day. So I’ve plucked the very best sound bites from famous speakers like Oprah Winfrey, Desmond Tutu, Jon Stewart, and the other names people like to drop at cocktail parties to help us forge ahead on our spiritual journeys, remember our dreams, and to find hope, purpose, and peace in our lives.
Oprah Winfrey: Transform Your Wounds into Wisdom
Turn your wounds into wisdom. You will be wounded many times in your life. You’ll make mistakes. Some people will call them failures but I have learned that failure is really God’s way of saying, “Excuse me, you’re moving in the wrong direction.” It’s just an experience, just an experience.
–Wellesley College commencement, 1997
Elie Wiesel: What Are You Waiting For?
My good friends, we are all waiting. We are waiting, if not for the Messiah, as such, we are waiting for the messianic moment. And the messianic moment is what each and every one of us tries to build, meaning a certain area of humanity that links us to all those who are human and, therefore, desperately trying to fight despair as humanly as possible and–I hope–with some measure of success.
–DePaul University commencement, 1997
Jon Stewart: The Right Path
How do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? The honest answer is this: You won’t. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience.
–The College of William and Mary commencement, 2004
Margaret Atwood: You Always Have a Choice
When faced with the inevitable, you always have a choice…. As I learned during my liberal arts education, any symbol can have, in the imaginative context, two versions, a positive and a negative. If you spill your milk, you’re left with a glass which is either half empty or half full…. You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it, and this, paradoxically, alters reality. Try it and see.
–The University of Toronto commencement, 1983
Toni Morrison: You Are Your Own Stories
You are your own stories and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human…. And although you don’t have complete control over the narrative (no author does, I can tell you), you could nevertheless create it…. So, from my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.
–Wellesley College commencement, 2004
The Dalai Lama: The Importance of Patience
It is important to have determination and optimism and patience. If you lack patience, even when you face some small obstacle, you lose courage. There is a Tibetan saying, “Even if you have failed at something nine times, you have still given it effort nine times.” I think that’s important. Use your brain to analyze the situation. Do not rush through it, but think. Once you decide what to do about that obstacle, then there’s a possibility that you will achieve your goal.
–Emory University commencement, 1998
Desmond Tutu: Spread Your Eagle Wings
And God says to all of us, you are no chicken; you are an eagle. Fly, eagle, fly. And God wants us to shake ourselves, spread our pinions, and then lift off and soar and rise, and rise toward the confident and the good and the beautiful. Rise towards the compassionate and the gentle and the caring. Rise to become what God intends us to be–eagles, not chickens.
–Brandeis University commencement, 2000
Tony Snow: The Power of Love and Prayer
Never underestimate the power of other people’s love and prayer. When you put someone else at the center of your frame, the entire world changes for you.
–Catholic University commencement, 2007
Therese J. Borchard writes the daily Beliefnet.com blog Beyond Blue. Her memoir “Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes” is just out, followed by a handsome book of therapy notes called “The Pocket Therapist” in April 2010. Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com.