Earlier today, in honor of the season (and Larry Tribe's "thank your parents for boning" NYU speech, at left), I shared my favorite commencement speech and asked for yours. We got some responses, people citing writers like Kurt Vonnegut, comedians like Jon Stewart, and captains of industry like Steve Jobs. What makes a good speech? There doesn't seem to be any one rubric. A successful speech can be a serious person being funny, a comedian with gravitas, a writer getting loopy, a businessman thinking deep. I guess the only essential "rules" for success are obvious: don't be boring, be insightful, and be as honest as possible. Hey! That sounds like graduation advice. After the jump, find ten, in no particular order, of our (and your) favorite commencement speeches.
1) The aforementioned David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College, May 2005
"The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."
2) Will Ferrell, Class Day Speech, Harvard University, June 2003
(Parts 2-5 on YouTube)
3) Steve Jobs, Stanford University, May 2005
4) Jon Stewart, College of William & Mary, May 2004
"And the last thing I want to address is the idea that somehow this new generation is not as prepared for the sacrifice and the tenacity that will be needed in the difficult times ahead. I have not found this generation to be cynical or apathetic or selfish. They are as strong and as decent as any people that I have met. And I will say this, on my way down here I stopped at Bethesda Naval, and when you talk to the young kids that are there that have just been back from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don't have the worry about the future that you hear from so many that are not a part of this generation but judging it from above."
Full transcript, with audio!
5) Tony Kushner, Vassar College, May 2002
"A few rare souls are genuinely native to daylight but in my experience most of us, if we have souls, have the nocturnal kind; they aren't dark but darkness may be their element, darkness is a comfort to anything so divided against itself. There, see! Who needs a rabbi?"
Full, dizzying transcript.
6) Eileen Myles, Hampshire College, May 1998
"[Birth is] just a great act, that great act makes all the other ones possible, it's an act of allowing, of not destroying, of giving, letting life pass through, and I thought I should bring this to you, what a frightening thought, a woman's body being the archway to the future, and as we stand here, and some of you will be giving birth, or being there, and holding her, and some of you have already done this, and here are your kids, they sit in their seats today, graduating from college. This is greatness, to pass through and know, to know that it's happening to you, to be awake at the moment of birth."
7) Winston Churchill, Harvard University, 1943
"Gentlemen, I make you my compliments. I do not wish to exaggerate, but you are the head-stream of what might well be a mighty fertilising and health-giving river. It would certainly be a grand convenience for us all to be able to move freely about the world - as we shall be able to do more freely than ever before as the science of the world develops - be able to move freely about the world, and be able to find everywhere a medium, albeit primitive, of intercourse and understanding."
8) Conan O'Brien, Class Day speech, Harvard University, 2000
"There is also sadness today, a feeling of loss that you're leaving Harvard forever. Well, let me assure you that you never really leave Harvard. The Harvard Fundraising Committee will be on your ass until the day you die. Right now, a member of the Alumni Association is at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery shaking down the corpse of Henry Adams. They heard he had a brass toe ring and they aims to get it. Imagine: These people just raised 2.5 billion dollars and they only got through the B's in the alumni directory. Here's how it works. Your phone rings, usually after a big meal when you're tired and most vulnerable. A voice asks you for money. Knowing they just raised 2.5 billion dollars you ask, 'What do you need it for?' Then there's a long pause and the voice on the other end of the line says, 'We don't need it, we just want it.' It's chilling."
Full, hilarious transcript.
9) Kurt Vonnegut, Rice University, May 1998
"In time, this will prove to have been the destiny of most, but not all, of the Adams and Eves in this, the Class of 1998 at Rice, and the graduate students as well. They will find themselves building or strengthening their communities. Please love such a destiny, if it turns out to be yours — for communities are all that is substantial about what we create or defend or maintain in this World."
10) Stephen Colbert, Knox College, June 2006
"This seems like a very nice place. They have a lovely Web site. Besides, have you seen the world outside lately? They are playing for KEEPS out there, folks. My God, I couldn't wait to get here today just so I could take a breather from the real world. I don't know if they told you what's happened while you've matriculated here for the past four years. The world is waiting for you people with a club. Unprecedented changes happening in the last four years. Like globalization. We now live in a hyperconnected, global economic, outsourced society. Now there are positives and minuses here. And a positive is that globalization helps us understand and learn from otherwise foreign cultures. For example, I now know how to ask for a Happy Meal in five different languages. In Paris, I'd like a 'Repas Heureux' In Madrid a 'Comida Feliz' In Calcutta, a 'Kushkana, hold the beef.' In Tokyo, a 'Happi- Shokuji ' And in Berlin, I can order what is perhaps the least happy-sounding Happy Meal, a 'Glückselig Mahlzeit.'"