Commencement Speeches: The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

A commencement speech is given to graduating students, typically by a notable figure, at the ceremony marking their graduation from a school, college or university. It is usually an inspirational and uplifting address that touches on life lessons and encourages graduates to look ahead to the future. The speaker usually offers wisdom and advice, discussing courage, hard work, perseverance, and success. The speaker may also offer heartfelt encouragement to the graduates and their families.

A commencement speech is an important milestone in a student’s life. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past years spent at school and prepare for future endeavors.

In the United States, an estimated 3.2 million commencement ceremonies occur yearly, most occurring at colleges and universities. It is one of the most popular ceremonies of a student’s academic career, as it marks the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

An example of 18 influential commencement speeches held in the United States, along with their significance and impact on the students who attended are listed below:

  1. Steve Jobs at Stanford University (2005): Steve Jobs’ speech was important to students as it emphasized the importance of following one’s passion, embracing failure, and taking risks. His personal stories resonated with graduates, inspiring them to pursue their dreams and create a meaningful impact.
  2. J.K. Rowling at Harvard University (2008): J.K. Rowling’s speech held great significance for students as she shared her own experiences of failure and perseverance. Her message of embracing imagination, empathy, and the power of resilience struck a chord with graduates, encouraging them to overcome challenges and find purpose in their lives. #jkrowling
  3. Oprah Winfrey at Stanford University (2008): Oprah Winfrey’s speech was important to students as she emphasized the importance of finding one’s purpose and making a difference in the world. Her journey from adversity to success resonated deeply, inspiring graduates to embrace their own unique path and create positive change. #oprahwinfrey
  4. Barack Obama at Howard University (2016): Barack Obama’s commencement speech at Howard University was significant to students, particularly from the African American community. His address highlighted the challenges faced by minority communities and urged graduates to use their education to contribute to society and bring about social progress. #barackobama
  5. Sheryl Sandberg at Harvard University (2014): Sheryl Sandberg’s speech resonated with students, especially women in the audience, as she addressed issues of gender equality, leadership, and career advancement. Her message of empowerment and breaking down barriers in the workplace inspired graduates to pursue their ambitions and overcome gender biases. #sherylsandberg
  6. Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University (2015): Michelle Obama’s speech resonated with students, particularly those from marginalized communities, as she shared her own experiences and addressed the challenges faced by African Americans. Her message of resilience, self-worth, and embracing one’s identity offered empowerment and motivation to graduates.
  7. Maya Angelou at Spelman College (1982): Maya Angelou’s speech was important to students, particularly women of color, as she emphasized the power of education, self-confidence, and resilience. Her empowering words encouraged graduates to overcome adversity and make a difference in their communities.
  8. Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the University of California, Berkeley of California, Berkeley (2006): Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s speech resonated with students, particularly those interested in law and social justice. Her address focused on the importance of equality, the rule of law, and the pursuit of justice, inspiring graduates to fight for equal rights and make a difference in society.
  9. Madeleine Albright at Mount Holyoke College (1997): Madeleine Albright’s speech held significance for students, especially women pursuing careers in politics and diplomacy. Her address emphasized the importance of education, global engagement, and the role of women in shaping the world’s future.
  10. Denzel Washington at the University of Pennsylvania (2011): Denzel Washington’s speech resonated with students as he shared personal anecdotes and emphasized the significance of hard work, perseverance, and maintaining a strong work ethic. His words inspired graduates to pursue excellence and remain committed to their goals. #denzelwashington
  11. Toni Morrison at Barnard College (1979): Toni Morrison’s speech was important to students, particularly women, as she emphasized the power of literature, storytelling, and the role of women in shaping society. Her address encouraged graduates to use their voices and narratives to challenge societal norms and create positive change.
  12. Michelle Obama at The City College of New York (2016): Michelle Obama’s speech resonated with students as she addressed race, inequality, and education issues. Her address emphasized the significance of diversity, empathy, and the power of education in shaping a better future. Her words encouraged graduates to make a positive impact in their communities. #michelleobama
  13. Tim Cook at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2017): Tim Cook’s speech held significance for students interested in technology and business. His address focused on the importance of privacy, ethics, and the responsibilities of technology companies. His words inspired graduates to use technology as a force for good and prioritize societal well-being. #timcook

These commencement speeches had a lasting impact on the students who attended. They offered wisdom, inspiration, and guidance, encouraging graduates to pursue their passions, embrace challenges, make a positive impact, and contribute to a better world.

Having seen the commencement addresses listed above, however, my favorites were notable ones that didn’t get as much attention as those listed above but were equally important because of the wisdom imparted to the students (and families) in attendance. Here are my top 5:

  1. Shonda Rhimes, the acclaimed television producer, screenwriter, and creator of hit shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” delivered a powerful and memorable commencement speech at Dartmouth College in 2014. Her address captivated the audience with its authenticity, wit, and insightful messages. During her speech, Rhimes shared her personal journey and reflected on the importance of embracing fear and pursuing one’s passions. She candidly spoke about her own struggles with self-doubt and the transformative moment when she decided to say “yes” to opportunities that scared her. Rhimes emphasized the significance of stepping outside one’s comfort zone and taking risks, as those are often the moments that lead to personal growth and success. One of the most resonant themes of Rhimes’ speech was her discussion of the value of hard work. She stressed that talent alone is not enough; it is the effort, discipline, and persistence that truly make a difference. Rhimes highlighted the need to embrace the challenges and setbacks that come along the way, as they provide valuable learning experiences and contribute to the overall journey of self-discovery and achievement. #shondarhimes
  2. Viola Davis the renowned American actress and advocate, delivered a powerful commencement speech at Barnard College in 2019. Her address captivated the audience with its authenticity, vulnerability, and empowering messages. During her speech, Davis shared her personal journey and reflected on the challenges she faced as a woman of color in the entertainment industry. She candidly discussed the intersectionality of gender and race, shedding light on the existing systemic barriers and inequalities. Davis emphasized the importance of embracing one’s identity and using it as a source of strength and empowerment. One of the central themes of Davis’ speech was the power of embracing imperfection and vulnerability. She encouraged the graduates to shed the pressure of perfectionism and to be unapologetically authentic in their lives. Davis shared her own experiences of self-doubt and the liberating realization that true strength lies in acknowledging and embracing vulnerability. Davis also spoke passionately about advocating for equal representation and inclusion. She underscored the importance of breaking down barriers and creating spaces where all voices are heard and valued. Davis urged the graduates to use their education and privilege to pave the way for others and to fight against injustice. #violadavis
  3. Admiral William H. McRaven, a highly decorated retired Navy SEAL and former U.S. Special Operations Command commander delivered a memorable commencement address at the The University of Texas at Austin in 2014. His “Make Your Bed” speech resonated with the audience and has since gained widespread recognition for its profound messages of resilience, perseverance, and the power of small actions. Admiral McRaven began his address by recounting his experiences during Navy SEAL training, specifically highlighting the first task of the day—making your bed. He emphasized the importance of this seemingly mundane task as a symbol of discipline, attention to detail, and the ability to accomplish the little things in life. He stressed that even in the face of adversity, starting the day with a completed task sets the tone for productivity and a sense of achievement. Throughout his speech, Admiral McRaven shared various anecdotes and lessons he learned during his military career. He recounted stories of the SEALs’ demanding training and the importance of teamwork, highlighting the idea that no one achieves greatness alone. He urged the graduates to embrace the power of collaboration, emphasizing that their success would be tied to their ability to work together with others.
  4. Fred Rogers, the beloved television personality known for his iconic show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” delivered a heartwarming and inspirational commencement speech at Dartmouth College in 2002. His address captivated the audience with its warmth, kindness, and timeless messages of empathy and compassion. During his speech, Fred Rogers reflected on the importance of human connection and the power of love in positively impacting the world. He encouraged the graduates to embrace kindness and to approach every interaction with empathy and understanding. One of the central themes of Rogers’ speech was the value of taking time for reflection and self-care. He emphasized the importance of slowing down, being present in the moment, and cultivating inner peace. Rogers believed that by taking care of oneself, individuals can better care for others and contribute to a more compassionate society. Rogers also touched upon the significance of learning from mistakes and embracing vulnerability. He encouraged the graduates to accept their imperfections and to view them as opportunities for growth and learning. His message of self-acceptance and self-compassion resonated deeply with the audience, inspiring them to approach life with grace and understanding.
  5. Stephen Colbert, the celebrated comedian, writer, and television host, delivered a memorable commencement speech at Knox College in 2006. Known for his satirical persona on “The Colbert Report,” Colbert’s address at Knox College showcased his wit, humor, and thought-provoking insights. During his speech, Colbert entertained the audience with his trademark comedic style while imparting wisdom. He seamlessly blended humor with deeper reflections on life, purpose, and embracing the unknown. Colbert encouraged the graduates to embrace uncertainty and take risks, reminding them that the path to success is rarely straight and predictable. One of the central themes of Colbert’s address was the importance of finding one’s passion and pursuing it wholeheartedly. He encouraged the graduates to follow their dreams, even if it meant encountering setbacks or challenges. #stephencolbert
  6. Need some inspiration or want to hear some positive messages of hope? One of the best places to catch a great commencement address is on C-SPAN. You can see some of the speeches that have taken place here.

And for all of my favorite commencement speeches and TED talks, you can find them (and links to several of the speeches listed above on my blog at

Life is short, we have work to do – let’s get to it!


Life Lessons From Covid Puzzle Time


We’ve had an abundance of it as a result of the #Covid19 pandemic which has made me think a lot about the way I spend my time.

What inspired me was the sharp increase in guitar and musical instrument sales as well as puzzles; the “things you can do when you have an abundance of time on your hands” activities. My neighbors and I have two large tables downstairs in a community room which presently has no less than 4 puzzles on them. It’s the coolest thing as it’s not uncommon to find boxes of puzzles on each table as many residents have been contributing to our endeavor. We now have 4 full cabinets of puzzles, most of which we have completed and some of which have been put on hold because of the colors being too close to each other.

We’re at the point where we’ll complete a thousand piece puzzle and then shift to something easier like a 100 – 300 piece puzzle that usually is left on the table after someone visits Walmart or the Dollar Store.

During Christmas, I tried to order some additional Liberty puzzles online and was amazed at how many of them were sold out. I love @libertypuzzles and I think I wasn’t the only one who thought of them around Christmas time when shopping for puzzles for family and friends.

This (below) was one of my favorites. I refer to it as the “work on the puzzle – crave coffee” puzzle. We purchased it for $1.00 from the Dollar Store.

When working on a puzzle of Venice, a group of us decided that we were never going to go to Venice because of how difficult the puzzle was – even though 3 of the people who helped put it together had traveled to Venice at least two time in the past. Whenever we would get really frustrated I’d say to them “come on you guys – you’ve been there before this should be easy!” which just made them more frustrated. When we finally finished it, back into the cabinet it went with an abundance of relief that it was completed.

I May Be A Puzzinstigator

So before I proceed further with this story, you should know that I am one of the puzzinstigators (puzzle instigators); one of the people who can’t stand it when the puzzle table has nothing on it. I may be one of the people who takes trips to Walmart, the dollar store, or Amazon to make sure we have enough puzzles to keep us occupied. It is a great bonding experience and yes, it’s nice to be able to select which puzzle should be the next one to complete.

When the pandemic was at it’s worst and we had reached 200,000 deaths in our country, I found myself feeling more depressed and quite homesick. I went online and ordered 3 puzzles, one that was a Vermont country setting, another that was a Maine Lighthouse, and the last one which was a map of New England. The writing on the New England Map was so small that there were several calls to “put it back in the box and do it later!” “I have no interest in going to New England – ever!” one of them said.

Like most of the others, we ended up completing it and this morning I sent it to a friend from home in Rhode Island because I wanted the puzzle to go somewhere where it would feel loved and appreciated – because you know, puzzles are sensitive like that.

The puzzle pictured at the top of this post has been our nemesis since the beginning of the year. One night when we were watching Jeopardy (and yelling out the answers), one of the residents came in with a paper bag and walked over to me and said “I have some puzzles that I picked up at the Church – they were giving them away for free..” “Excellent, thank you!” I said.

She pulled out three boxes of puzzles but the one above was the one that got to me. As Robert Redford said in “The Natural” (a movie I have watched at least 10 times during the last year), “there’s nothing like a farm.” The colors, texture and so many different shades of blue and green; this was a wonderful puzzle. The other thing I loved about it was that even though the puzzle was 1000 pieces, some of the pieces were quite large which made me think this would be an easy puzzle for all of us to put together and that we would have it completed in record time.


It’s now May – the puzzle was completed only a few hours ago. No less than 6 of us worked on putting it together, but on any given night we were lucky if we connected more than 5 – 10 pieces.

This past Saturday night I came to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore so I sat at the puzzle table for hours, sorting out the pieces by colors and shapes – trying to get to a place where we could have it completed. What often happens when we have puzzles like this is that some of the other residents will say “give it up, put it back in the box and do something easier” which sounds really tempting right? – except when you’re one of the people who has worked so assiduously on putting it together. Even after only a few pieces are connected, once you start, it’s very hard to look back or give up.

And I think that, for me, this has been one of the major lessons of this pandemic.

Yes, there are times when I am frustrated, times when I want to take the puzzle apart before it is complete and just put the pieces back in the box for another day instead of taking a long hard stare at colors, shapes and textures. It is easier to just say “forget it, I’ll do this later.”

It’s quite the metaphor when thinking about these last several months.

But completing puzzle after puzzle after puzzle with friends and working together while staying socially distanced, with masks and hand sanitizer has been a blessing that has kept a lot of us going and having quality conversations away from politics, Covid or the traumatic events that have affected every state in our nation.

“Here – I think that piece goes next to it.” instead of “what? you voted for (insert opposition candidate here)?”

I have a much greater appreciation for time and the value of conversations around interests and events of the day. I also appreciate the thoughtfulness of our friend who thought of us when she saw all the puzzles on a table at her church – and ended up bringing them home.

As tragic as the covid pandemic has been, and continues to be, there are several life lessons which should not be overlooked. The importance of relationships and friendships, thoughtfulness, and most importantly, the value of time.

Driving Mr. Nate

Driving Mr. Nate
Driving Mr. Nate (Just like his mom, he falls asleep while reading design magazines)

This is Nate. He’s my 10 y/o cat named after Nathaniel Hawthorne. He’s extremely affectionate and is wonderful at giving head bonks whenever you pick him up. When he sleeps, he snores, and it is one of the most soothing sounds I have ever heard. He’s a wonderful little guy.

“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The last face to face conversation I had with my mom was about Nate.

Once after visiting her, I gathered my bags to drive back home to New Hampshire. On this day, she said she wanted to help me carry my bags downstairs. I thought this was strange as normally I always gave her a hug and a kiss and left her in her room – sitting contently with her coffee and Sunday New York Times. But this time, she wanted to walk downstairs with me. I told her that she didn’t need to, that I would carry my bags and Nate in his carrier, but she insisted. I told her “No I have it”, “No, I have Nate”, “No, you can’t carry that, it’s too heavy” (I know how I pack – mom not so much). But she continued to persist so I gave in and handed her my boat bag with the computer, some clothes, and food in it. It was the lightest of everything I had.

Once we were downstairs I reached for the boat bag she was carrying and said “Okay, I’ll take it” as I was going to carry everything to the car and say goodbye to her at the front door. But again she said, “no, I’ll wait here with Nate and the bags, you go get the car.” I was thinking “what the heck?” – never in my life did it occur to me that this would be the last time I would see her.

The worst part about the memory I have of this day was that throughout my 25-year career in healthcare, I saw this all the time! – People waiting for their loved ones to leave and then the next thing you knew, they would die. That there always seemed to be this strange dynamic with the way they interacted with each other that would make you (or them) think “wow, that was weird..” and then they’d be gone.

One time, during the early 1990’s ish, I was in my office at the addiction treatment center where I worked in Connecticut. The phone rang and it was one of my patients, William, calling to tell me he was going to be in the hospital for a few nights longer then he thought. He had an “opportunistic” infection. He was a most amazing and insightful young man who had developed an addiction to cocaine, which along with his anxiety and depression had compromised his AIDs – symptoms, care, and medications.

As I listened to him on the phone, I was amazed by how much he was telling me about what he wanted to accomplish once he had completed our program. “I want to be an AIDS educator,” he told me. “I think I can really help a lot of people and the thing that I really want to tell them is ‘don’t ever think that it can’t happen to you’.” I was inspired by our conversation and told him “don’t worry, just feel better and I’ll hold a place for you”.

The next morning I arrived at my office and listened to the voicemail from his nurse at the hospital who informed me he had died around 4:00am that morning.

I knew that dynamic – and missed it – again and again and again.

So on a bright, sunny Sunday morning in early February of this year, mom helped me load Nate and my bags into the car and watch as I wrapped the seatbelt through the handles on Nate’s carrier while I told her how quieter he was when he sat in the front seat next to me. I didn’t even think about how strange this all was – which still baffles me.

I gave her a hug and a kiss said goodbye and never saw her alive again.

“Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nate had not always come with me when I initially went to visit mom on the weekends but I when I started driving back and forth more frequently and staying a little longer, I decided not to leave him alone. So back and forth we drove to and from Rhode Island every weekend.

A few times mom would ask “why don’t you leave him here with me?” “Mom – I’ll be back next weekend,” I said.  I think for her it was like being able to visit with the grandkids and spoil him while the parents were away. But the more significant thing was the fact that she also had her cats, Callie and Trey staying with her. As the Assisted living facility where she was staying only allowed one pet, we had to negotiate for the other.

I said to mom “really, the last thing we need is for the med nurse to come in in the morning and see three cats… the goal here is not to get evicted”.

“They won’t evict me”. she said, defiantly.

But Nate always traveled with me, sitting in his carrier quietly as we’d listen to audiobooks while trying to avoid heavy traffic during the Sundays when the Patriots played.

And together we were all settling into our more comfortable routine and it seemed like mom was settling into being back on the island – her home and spending time with friends she had not seen in years.

I never expected her to leave so soon and I miss her every day.

This grief thing? – not a fan.

Why I Will Never Own A Gun


I don’t want to hear it anymore. 

I’ve seen post after post about gun rights. Who should own a gun and who shouldn’t. Here’s the thing: I will never, ever, ever own a gun.

Yeah, I know – you’ve owned guns because you’ve used them hunting in the state where you’re from. And that’s an acceptable reason to own and use a gun and yes, it’s your 2nd Amendment right and I support that.  Not a fan of automatic assault rifles that can shoot several bullets in a few seconds is all I’m sayin’

But as we sit on the eve of having anyone in the world able to create an unregistered weapon from a 3D printer recipe on the internet – whelp, that’s where I’m stepping off of this train of the second amendment debate.

Here’s the article about 3D guns

I grew up with guns (several of them) in our home. Every single day, I only had to look up at the wall in our family room to see my father’s very extensive collection of guns. From the early 1800’s on forward, he had several guns, pistols and rifles and swords. He hunted as a young boy, joined the Navy and knew (was taught by his dad and trained by the Navy) how to use his guns. The ammunition was kept separately and far away from the guns he had (Mom – an ER Nurse – made sure of this).

The picture above is a photo of my grandmother – she didn’t hunt. She was a fisherman who used a drop line to catch fish. See a fishing pole in this picture? – It’s because there isn’t one. The Northeast is known for fishing. Watch any fisherman head miles out into the North Atlantic during the late summer / early Fall months when hurricanes and strong Nor’easters are prevalent and you will know how tough fishing can be. In our family, our freezer was filled with frozen fish that helped keep food on our table through the winter months. Ask me to join you for a dinner consisting of bluefish or mackerel and I will politely turn you down because I have had far too much… okay, maybe Cod.

My grandmother’s mom died shortly after giving birth to her. A few years later, her father was struck and killed by a cable car when he was crossing the street, leaving my grandmother in the care of her older sister and her sister’s boyfriend.  They didn’t have an easy life. But my grandmother made it through to marry my grandfather and give birth to my mom and her brother (my uncle).

To this day, I have never met a woman as firmly grounded in her values as my grandmother. How do I know this? – Because I tried to buy a gun.

It didn’t go over well and it wasn’t even real.

Once when I was visiting my grandmother, she gave me some money and said to go to the little store down the street to get whatever I wanted. So off I went and walked down the street trying to decide what I was going to purchase.

Upon reviewing all of the toys available to me, I selected a very small, bright orange squirt gun. (Nope, not kidding, it was a squirt gun). It was about two inches long and seemed to hold a lot of water in it. It wasn’t even one of those semi-automatic super soaker squirt guns that you see today; it was an “old” one (yeah, you probably weren’t even born yet so just keep reading..). Happily, I walked home, ready to fill it and squirt people – aka my grandmother (who was taking care of me while my parents were away).

When she saw the gun I had purchased she became apoplectic. “Take it back!” she demanded. I couldn’t understand why. “Take it back!” she said again. “Little girls do not use guns!” (I was six or seven years old at the time).

I walked back to the store, sad and dejected because she did not approve of my hunter / gatherer & squirt decision. I traded it in and returned with a super ball which I played with outside until it was time for dinner.

Over dinner, my grandmother explained to me that yes, some people owned guns that they used for hunting but that I did not need one. She also explained that police officers carried guns to protect those of us in our community and again affirmed that I would never need a gun. If there was a conflict that needed to be resolved, she explained, then this was what our brains were for. That we used our ability to communicate with each other tactfully and in a way that reduced any potential for violence.

“Use your head”, she said “that’s what it’s for; to communicate with each other and resolve arguments and misunderstandings. And if you ever need help, ask us!”

To this day, I have never forgotten the conviction she had during that conversation. 3 degrees and 2 graduate certificates later, I know for sure that I have enough knowledge, conviction, empathy, tact and compassion to know that I have a keen ability to resolve a lot of different conflicts. Guns will not be playing a part in my life (at least not of my choosing anyway).

As much as I often miss my grandmother, I’m glad that she is not around to see what the internet and 3D printing have produced as it relates to guns.

And while I will never know if guns in the possession of someone else will ever affect my life or the lives of my family and friends, I have learned that there are just some things in life that you can’t predict or control.

After 9/11 and United 93 (the flight that crashed in Shanksville, PA), I also learned that you can’t predict what will happen if terrorists take over your flight and try to fly it into a building or something else.  And that you certainly can’t predict who will stand up and try to overpower them, even if there is the potential that they will also die.

But this is where my head goes whenever there are increasing discussions about guns and gun violence:

Sometimes when I’m sitting by myself at a gate in an airport waiting for a plane, I look around for “that guy” or “that girl”. The one I think looks like they have the ability to stand up, fight back and overpower the terrorists and try to save those who are on the plane. I look at their posture, stance and non-verbals – trying to find the heroes among us – the ones you don’t notice and don’t know who walk among us every day. To me, these are people who don’t need guns. They have a keen, MacGyver like sense to figure out what to do and how to do it, quietly and collaboratively in a tribal, patriotic “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” sort of way – no matter who they are, no matter where they’re from, no matter what their gender, religion, education, nationality, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation is.

They’re just caring, compassionate people looking to help those who need help even though they don’t know them and even though they may die themselves.

They may use guns for hunting or drop lines to fish and / or their brain to communicate. But what’s equally as important is what Martin Luther King once described as the “content of their character”.