At the George Washington University 2010 commencement, Michelle Obama gave an awe-inspiring address and a call to action, which I know my fellow classmates have since carried out in their lives. “Keep going. Keep giving. Keep engaging,” she told us, and her words still inspire my passions today. Graduation season often contains a cocktail of emotion: from joy to confusion to anxiety to relief. Luckily for the class of 2017, there are words—spoken and written—to help with the transition to the next stage in life and beyond. Even if you’re not graduating, this time of year—the flowers, the weather, and the sunshine—often brings welcome feelings of new beginnings after a long, dark winter. Here are 11 commencement speakers—and their cherished books—to guide you through whatever new beginning awaits you this summer.
Congratulations to the Class of 2017!
Months after George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University, its transcript—posted on the New York Times website—was shared more than a million times. Saunders’s words, now memorialized in CONGRATULATIONS, BY THE WAY, tap into the shared desire to lead kinder and more fulfilling lives.
Over the course of his distinguished career, award-winning historian David McCullough has not just given many commencement speeches, he’s spoken before Congress, the White House, colleges and universities, historical societies, and other esteemed institutions. In this collection of his speeches, McCullough identifies core American values which will serve graduates throughout their lives.
Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook of THE AMERICAN SPIRIT
In her 1996 address at Wellesley, Nora Ephron told students: “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.” Filled with insights and observations that instantly ring true, the reflections in I REMEMBER NOTHING are a reminder of how Ephron lived her life unapologetically.
Toni Morrison’s address to the Wellesley graduates of 2004 overflows with sage advice and inspiring quotes to live by. Morrison’s books will provide you with enough life lessons to get you through life’s most challenging seasons. SULA is a novel about friendship, unforgivable betrayal, and how a friendship survives through sharply divergent paths of womanhood.
In his 2016 commencement speech at Caltech, practicing surgeon Atul Gawande encouraged students to “[pursue] ideas with curiosity, inquisitiveness, openness, and discipline. As scientists, in other words.” He takes the same approach in his book BEING MORTAL, in which he argues that there should be more focus on how medicine can provide a comfortable and dignified end-of-life experience for patients and families.
Shonda Rhimes delivered some tough love in her Dartmouth commencement address saying, “dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives.” Rhimes’s book YEAR OF YES offers inspiration for the dreamers who need to take action. Her straight-forward advice for living out your dreams boldly? Say “yes.”
Wellesley invited yet another illustrious writer to address its graduating class in 2015: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her speech she urged students to “make feminism a big, raucous, inclusive party.” Adichie’s latest manifesto, DEAR IJEAWELE, underscores the message of her address by offering insights from her life that can help us to raise young girls as feminists.
Mindy Kaling delivered a riotous address to the Harvard Law School Class of 2014, where she listed off her outstanding accomplishments, including having a burger named after her at Mr. Bartley’s—Harvard Square’s staple burger stop. In WHY NOT ME? Kaling turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud-funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to.