It’s May and graduation for social workers is happening across the country. Your grades are in, and you’re set to walk across the stage . . . hopefully😎. If you’re lucky, you get to be present at an awe-inspiring commencement address on your big day.
In case your alma mater’s commencement speech leaves you wanting, Social Worker Success has got you covered. You have two choices:
A. You can spend hours searching through 350+ commencement speeches . . . OR
B. You can keep reading to see the list I made for you of some of the best commencement speeches ever.
I suggest option B.
Check out nine of my favorite commencement speeches t0 motivate and inspire social workers.
1. Naval Admiral William H. McRaven (The University of Texas at Austin, 2014)
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
If you think when you are a leading a vital portion of the United States Navy, your time is too important to tend to chores like making your bed . . . you’d be wrong. Admiral McRaven shares the importance of this daily activity and other lessons he learned during his Naval career with graduates before they embark to be world-changers.
2. Steve Jobs (Stanford University, 2005)
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs shares threes stories from pivotal moments in his life: connecting the dots, love and loss, and death. He shares wisdom learned from dropping out of college, dropping into calligraphy classes, and getting fired. He emphasizes the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work and to not waste your life living someone else’s life.
3. Denzel Washington (University of Pennsylvania, 2011)
“I found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks.”
Preach Denzel . . . Preach! Oscar and Tony award winning actor Denzel Washington draws on some of his own pivotal failures in his life and career, urging graduates to “Fall Forward”. Love this quote too: #YouWillNeverSeeAUHaulBehindAHearse.
4. Atul Gawande (Williams College, 2012)
“The difference between triumph and defeat, you’ll find, isn’t about willingness to take risks. It’s about mastery of rescue.”
I love surgeon and best-selling author Atul Gawande books. He does not disappoint in this address. Gawande has an incredible way of telling brief, mesmerizing stories. He shares insight about dealing with complexity and uncertainty. Sounds like most social work jobs I know.
5. Tony Snow (The Catholic University of America, 2007)
“To love is to place others before you and to make their needs your priority.”
Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow’s may be the most #socialworky thing ever. In his speech, Snow shares his “road-tested” tips for living a whole and bold life. He tells stories of going “off-road”, and how he is better for it.
6. J. K. Rowling (Harvard University, 2008)
“It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”
Why did it take me so long to find this gem? Rowling’s speech made me laugh with her a Gryffindor shout-out, and later cry hearing experiences with vicarious trauma. Rowling shares her insights from her own life, setbacks, and how she emerged stronger and wiser.
7. Sheryl Sandberg (Barnard College, 2011)
“Your life’s course will not be determined by doing the things that you are certain you can do. Those are the easy things. It will be determined by whether you try the things that are hard.”
Facebook COO and best-selling author Sheryl Sandberg, of course, encourages graduates to lean in, but she also gets at the heart of a challenge for me: overcoming my internal barriers.
You need all the energy you can muster to take on the external challenges in your life. Work hard to remove internal barriers in life. Social Worker Success aims to help you overcome both.
8. Jim Carrey (Maharishi University of Management, 2014)
“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actor, author and philanthropist Jim Carrey provides some expected and trademark physical humor. He also delivers poignant remarks about what he learned from his father. This speech was fun.
9. Soledad O’Brien (University of Delaware, 2012)
“People will say you can’t do good and do well. They’re wrong, that’s idiotic advice.”
Former CNN anchor and Emmy-winning correspondent Soledad O’Brien just nails it with this gem of a quote that sums up how I feel about a social work career. Social workers can do good and live well too: we can be physically and mentally well, paid well, and well-respected. Believe it. Own it.
I’m a big fan of watching videos for inspiration (here and here are some other faves). The common theme in these commencement speeches is what to do with failure, how do you embrace it, and what to do to overcome it.
Do you have any favorite commencement speeches? Leave a comment below and tell me which ones. **Bonus: If you’ve ever given a commencement speech, I’d love to talk with you about it.