These commencement speakers have wise words for these times

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Oprah Winfrey speaks on stage during Oprah's 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour presented by WW (Weight Watchers Reimagined) at American Airlines Center on February 15, 2020 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP) (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
Credit: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

(CNN) — Life’s been tough lately. A lot of us are stuck at home, watching our hair get long and missing our friends, and even our families. Sure, our neighbors are cool, but it’s the same faces every day.

We’ve tried the group online calls and that helps.

We never thought we’d get so excited about going to the grocery store.

Some of us need some encouraging words right now, a little more than, “We’re all in this together.”

So we thought, you know who is always good for words of hope and promise? Commencement speakers.

Hear us out, we know most speeches on graduation day follow a pattern. Famous person says, “I can’t believe they have me up here.” Famous person drops some humor about a campus icon they learned about since they flew in. Famous person talks about their life for 15 minutes.

But then there’s that nugget, those wise and learned words of how that future will unfold and how we should go after it.

Here is some good advice we found from some famous folks. It might be for 22-year-olds about to make a huge life change, but we think it’s good to think about these things as we navigate this pandemic.

Sean Combs, Howard University, 2014

“Nobody is going to take you to the front of the line unless you push your way to the front of the line. … One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned in life is that you cannot achieve success without failure.

“Either I was going to sit in that failure and give up or I was going to make a decision to step out of the darkness. You see when you in that darkness you want to sit there and wait for the light to come. When you in that darkness it feels uncomfortable, but you can’t wait and sit in that darkness. The only way out is to step forward, to face your fears, to become your own light.”

Stephen Colbert, Wake Forest University, 2015

“So I hope you find the courage to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. And then, please, expect as much of the world around you. Try to make the world good according to your standards. It won’t be easy.

“Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done — like ending racial tension, or getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions. And we should know they can’t be done. After all, we’re the ones who didn’t do them.”

Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth College, 2011

“(Philosopher Friedrich) Nietzsche famously said, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ But what he failed to stress is that IT ALMOST KILLS YOU. Disappointment stings and, for driven, successful people like yourselves it is disorienting. What Nietzsche should have said is: Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you watch a lot of Cartoon Network and drink mid-price Chardonnay at 11 in the morning. …

“In 2000, I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

Colin Powell, Northeastern University, 2012

“As each of you looks toward your future, always focus on finding that which you do well and that which you love doing. Do something that gives you satisfaction every day and makes our society a better place. Do something that helps your fellow citizens. Make sure you give a good measure of your time and your talent and your treasure in service to others. The need to serve others has never been greater in our nation. …

“Whatever you think of the world right now, good, bad, better than it used to be, worse than it used to be, whatever you think of it, it is going to be yours to shape. It’s gonna be yours to help bring the positive future, better future for all of our citizens of the world, and America has a vital role to play.”

Ray Bradbury, Caltech, 2000

“Now, why are you here? I’ll tell you why you’re here. You’ve been put here because the universe exists. There’s no use the universe existing, if there isn’t someone there to see it. Your job is to see it. Your job is to witness. To witness, to understand, to comprehend, and to celebrate! To celebrate with your lives. At the end of your life, if you don’t come to that end and look back and realize that you did not celebrate, then you wasted it.”

Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Jim Carrey, Maharishi University of Management, 2014

“Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it — please! …

“And when I say, ‘life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.’ I really don’t know if that’s true. I’m just making a conscious choice to perceive challenges as something beneficial so that I can deal with them in the most productive way. You’ll come up with your own style, that’s part of the fun.”

Oprah Winfrey, Howard University, 2007

“Abide in the space of gratitude, because this is what I know for sure, that only through being grateful for how far you’ve come in your past can you leave room for more blessings to flow. Blessings flow in the space of gratitude.

Everything in your life is happening to teach you more about yourself, so even in a crisis, be grateful. When disappointed, be grateful. When things aren’t going the way you want them to, be grateful that you have sense enough to turn it around.”

Dalai Lama, Tulane University, 2013

“America (is) the greatest democratic country so you should look (to the) whole world. …

“So you see, you think on a global level now in order to create a sense of global responsibility. … It is extremely important to develop a concept of oneness of humanity. Seven billion human beings, we are part of that. If the seven billion human beings are happy and also the nations’ involvement positive then everybody gets a benefit.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wellesley College, 2015

“We cannot always bend the world into the shapes we want but we can try, we can make a concerted and real and true effort. … Always just try. Because you never know.

“And so as you graduate, as you deal with your excitement and your doubts today, I urge you to try and create the world you want to live in.

“Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get-your-hands-dirty way.”

Bobby Knight, Trine University, 2010

“Preparation is the key to victory in any game that you play. The prepared people win a lot more than the unprepared people. You can never spend too much time on preparation. The will to prepare to win is far more important than the will to win. …

“And I think the ability to adjust, the ability to be able to see something and adjust to it, to change your approach because there’s a better approach is going to be very important to each of you.”

Lewis Black, University of California San Diego, 2013

“I want you to remember that your sense of humor is your life preserver in what could definitely be a veil of tears.

“Relish it. Cultivate it. It will keep you sane in the midst of the madness you will encounter nearly, and I promise you, nearly every day of your life. It is vital to your existence. It’s so important that people pay morons like me to make them laugh.

“I want you to remember that you are now entering a world that’s filled to the brim with idiots. … Since there are so many idiots out there you actually may start to think you’re crazy. You are not. They are idiots.”

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