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Some of the happiest moments of spring each year are at graduation ceremonies. We really love hearing the moving speeches that come along with them.  We’ve compiled a list of the best and most inspiring graduation day speeches and commencement speaker quotes from celebrities, students and others in 2023. These are the words we’re taking to heart.

the most inspiring speeches from graduation day in 2023

We never stop needing good advice. In fact, though words of wisdom are often aimed at younger generations, we find ourselves more in need of them the older we get; the more trials and tribulations we endure in life, the more desperate we are for some expert guidance. And who better to look to for this guidance than some of the human beings we admire most?

That’s why we love commencement season. Though these inspirational speeches may be intended for an audience of young adults, bravely taking their first steps after university, we all have a thing or two we can learn from them.

the best inspiring quotes and speeches from the commencement speeches of 2023

The best and most inspiring graduation day speeches and commencement speaker quotes from celebrities, students and others in 2023.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of our favorite commencement speeches from 2023. Some of these speeches focus on the personal – on how to approach life’s hardest decisions – while others zoom out to look at the bigger picture. At how we can work together to make the world a better place.

We never stop needing good advice, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you find yourself in need of guidance, here are ten 2023 commencement speeches to watch.

The Most Inspiring Graduation Day Speeches of 2023

1. Tom Hanks at Harvard University

This year, the 2023 Harvard University graduates were lucky enough to share their special day with the one and only Tom Hanks. The Oscar winner’s speech was as delightful as one might expect – the perfect mix of comedy, and a more serious call to action. Using superheroes – and our culture’s obsession with them – as a motif, Hanks encouraged these new adults to become heroes themselves.

“If you don’t,” he said, when reminding the graduates to stand up for “the promises of our promised land,” such as “the practice of decency, the protection of freedom, and the promotion of liberty for all with no exceptions” – “who will”? In other words, we should all walk through the world with the feeling that change is up to us; that a better future depends on our very own actions. This is good advice for twenty-two-year-olds, and good advice for the rest of us, too.

2. Michelle Yeoh at Harvard Law School

Though we might usually refrain from including two speeches at one university, we had to make an exception for the woman of the year, Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh. Though Yeoh herself points out that she is not a lawyer (and hasn’t even played one in a movie) her brilliant words are the perfect match for this brilliant cohort.

“Limitations set by yourself give you boundaries to respect,” Yeoh said. “But limitations set by others give you boundaries to bust through.” This seems like a wise distinction for all of us to learn, and for law school graduates in particular.

Yeoh also encouraged the audience to stay open to the ways life might surprise them, and to surround themselves always with community.

the best inspiring quotes and speeches from the commencement speeches of 2023

The best and most inspiring graduation day speeches and commencement speaker quotes from celebrities, students and others in 2023.

3. Lena Waithe at Barnard College

We’ve been longtime fans of actress and Emmy Award-winning writer Lena Waithe, and so it was a pleasure getting to hear her address the 2023 graduates of Barnard College. Waithe focused her speech around a topic that was sure to be on the minds of many graduates: success. And its often-daunting counterpart, failure.

“Some people think if you find success, you find happiness,” Waithe said. “Those two things aren’t always mutually exclusive.” It’s not that success does not beget happiness, Waithe argues – because it often does – but rather that success is not a permanent state. Any rise is usually followed by a fall.

Waithe encouraged the graduates not to let a fear of failure stop them from striving for success – and to not worry so much about what other people think.   “People aren’t meant to live on pedestals,” she said. “I’d rather you be disliked by some, for being yourself, than be liked by everybody for being a person that doesn’t even exist.” This is something we all need to remember.

4. President Biden at Howard University

Of course, we are always going to be alert to the commencement address given by the President. After all, who is in a better position to provide expert advice?

The President delivered an impassioned speech to Howard graduates, reminding the crowd that in the fight against the domestic terrorism of white supremacy, “silence is complicity.” The graduates of 2023 already know that they have their work cut out for them, but the President offered them words of encouragement.

“Class of 2023, you’re the reason I’m so optimistic about the future,” he said. “You’re part of the most gifted, tolerant, talented, best-educated generation in American history.” Later, he went on to say, “You represent the best of us.”

And though these words may sound more like an affirmation than anything else, there is a call to action imbedded in the message. While they begin their journeys through adulthood, 2023 graduates cannot forget the bigger picture – cannot forget their duty to change the world. As the President said at the very end of his speech, “We need you.”

5. President Volodymyr Zelensky at Johns Hopkins University

The grads of Johns Hopkins University also got to spend their commencement ceremony with a President – the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. According to NPR, Zelensky’s livestreamed speech came as a surprise, and received a standing ovation.

The focus of his speech? Time. “Time is the most valuable resource on the planet,” Zelensky said. “Some people realize this sooner. Others realize it too late, when they lose someone or something. People cannot avoid it.”

It will not come as a surprise that the President of Ukraine had such sober words to share, but they are also valuable words for any person in their early twenties. At the moment of graduation, time may feel unlimited – even too much so – but it should never be taken for granted.

The best and most inspiring graduation day speeches and commencement speaker quotes from celebrities, students and others in 2023.

6. Oprah Winfrey at Tennessee State University

There are no public figures as iconic as Oprah, and therefore no one whose advice we’d rather hear. This year, Winfrey shared her some of her wisdom with her alma mater, Tennessee State University.

Like others, she acknowledged the difficulties that the class of 2023 will face – or is already facing.

“You are a generation that is forced to depend on body cams to obtain justice. You’ve witnessed the storming of the capitol and the death of civility,” she said. She listed other ways this generation has witnessing systemic oppression and violence, including the obliteration of reproductive rights and legislative attacks against the LGBTQ community.

But she also reminded the graduates that they can make a difference, and urged them to do so. “You start by being good to at least one other person every single day,” she said. “Just start there. That’s how you begin to change the world.” It may sound easy, but if we all can do it – maybe the world really will start to change.

7. Elizabeth Alexander at Yale University

Poet, professor, and playwright extraordinaire Elizabeth Alexander delivered a remarkable commencement speech at her alma mater, Yale University. Though we suggest watching the speech in its entirety, these are a few gems Alexander shared towards the end of her speech:

“Be an autodidact. Push past where your knowledge stops. Keep reading, keep asking questions, keep seeking out new ideas, new experiences, new perspectives – forever.”

Words that every person should hold close.

8. Ken Jeong at Cornell University

At Cornell University’s commencement, Ken Jeong dispensed some expert wisdom. “There are two types of decision making in life,” he said. “Fear-based decision making, and decisions made out of love.”

He told a story about his own journey, where fear-based decision-making led him to medical school, rather than his current career in the arts. Though everything obviously worked out okay in the end, this anecdote provides graduates with an important cautionary tale – whenever possible, don’t let fear lead you in the wrong direction.

The best and most inspiring graduation day speeches and commencement speaker quotes from celebrities, students and others in 2023.

9. Kevin Feige at University of Southern California

It’s hard to deny the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominates our zeitgeist for better or perhaps, at times, for worse. Nonetheless, we were interested to hear the commencement address from Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios.

“Remember what Tony Stark was able to do in a cave with a box of scraps,” he said. “Remember, a good story always moves forward, and that requires action. Success comes from doing. It comes from trying new things, by taking risks, by leading with yes instead of no. That’s one of the defining traits of the superheroes in our movies.”

However you may feel about Marvel and its heroes, this is solid advice. If you’re ever unsure of what to do next, saying yes is usually a good place start.

10. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson at American University and Boston University

Though it’s not a competition, if we had to pick our favorite commencement speeches of the year, we might very well choose the ones given by Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jackson addressed the law schools of both American University and Boston University and gave not one, but two epic and epically memorable speeches.

As well as offering some sparkling pearls of wisdom – such as “make the most of the resources you have” and learn to exist “both in community and in conflict” – Jackson shared two of the most enjoyable speeches of the month: one centered around the reality show Survivor, and the other centered around musical theater. Jackson explains she is a big fan of both. Both speeches are a joy, and their pop culture themes make it easy to absorb Jackson’s shrewd suggestions.

best graduation speeches of 2023

The best and most inspiring graduation day speeches and commencement speaker quotes from celebrities, students and others in 2023. Congratulations to all the high school and college graduates this year!

Abbie Martin Greenbaum

Abbie Martin Greenbaum is a writer, reader, and pop culture connoisseur, who loves storytelling, coffee, and dessert. Her work has also appeared in Playbill.