Words, Wit, and Wisdom From Past Commencement Speeches

News subtitle

Remembering some of the most memorable moments from past years of commencement.

students tossing their graduation caps in the air
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00) 

Over the past decade, Dartmouth graduates have heard from a wide range of commencement speakers, including writers, policymakers, social entrepreneurs, and a comedian. Long after the tents are taken down and the chairs removed from the Green, the words of wisdom from these speakers live on. Below are some of the most memorable passages from the past 10 years of commencement speeches.

Commencement 2023

Chris Miller and Phil Lord speak at the Dartmouth Commencement

“Your imagination is the single most valuable thing you will take into this world.”

—Phil Lord ’97 and Chris Miller ’97

Commencement 2022

Russell Wilson speaking at Commencement 2022
(Photo by Herb Swanson)

“Legacy isn’t just something you leave behind. It’s something you build.”

—Russell Wilson

Commencement 2021

Annette Gordon-Reed
Photo by Eli Burakian ’00 

“Now—it is time to ‘Greet the world, from the hills, with a hail!’—a world that badly needs your spirit and enthusiasm is waiting for you.”

—Annette Gordon-Reed ’81

Commencement 2019

Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello on stage
Yo-Yo Ma concludes his commencement address with a Catalonian folk song. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00) 

“Let us remember: Every struggle for reform, innovation, or justice starts with a voice in the wilderness. A voice in the wilderness. Vox clamantis in deserto.”

—Yo-Yo Ma

Commencement 2018

Mindy Kaling speaks on stage at commencement.
Mindy Kaling ’01 (Photo by Robert Gill) 

“I’ve covered a lot of ground today, not all of it was serious, but I wanted to leave you with this: I was not someone who should have the life I have now, and yet I do. I was sitting in the chair you are literally sitting in right now and I just whispered, ‘Why not me?’ And I kept whispering it for seventeen years; and here I am, someone that this school deemed worthy enough to speak to you at your Commencement.”

—Mindy Kaling ’01

Commencement 2017

Jake Tapper speaks at the 2017 commencement ceremony
Jake Tapper ’91 (Photo by Robert Gill) 

“Do not stress if you have no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life. View these years, where your responsibilities are relatively few, as a journey, as an adventure. Adventures are not seamless trips from point A to point B; they have ups and downs and obstacles. And every crappy internship, every rude boss, every remedial chore that makes you wonder, ‘Why did I bother working so hard to get into Dartmouth and graduate from Dartmouth?’—it is all part of this voyage.”

—Jake Tapper ’91

Commencement 2016

Leymah Gbowee receiving her honorary hood.
(Photo by Robert Gill)

“Distinguished graduates, each of you has a task of bringing our world one step closer to peace. Each of you has a task of lowering the statistics of violence through the acts of peace and justice. Each of you has a task to resist—especially now, in this country—the politics of division, discrimination, and oppression.”

—Leymah Gbowee

Commencement 2015

David Brooks speaking at the podium.
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

“Your fulfillment in life will not come from how well you explore your freedom and keep your options open. That’s the path to a frazzled, scattered life in which you try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one. Your fulfillment in life will come by how well you end your freedom. By the time you hit your 30s, you will realize that your primary mission in life is to be really good at making commitments.”

—David Brooks

Commencement 2014

Shonda Rhimes speaking at the podium
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

“I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing.”

—Shonda Rhimes ’91

Commencement 2013

Geoffrey Canada receiving his honorary hood.
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

“I knew right out of college what many people still don’t understand: Countries don’t become great by themselves—it takes heroic sacrifice. Our country was created, molded, and improved by men and women whose moral compass was not moved by the influence of wealth, prestige, or notoriety.”

—Geoffrey Canada

Commencement 2012

Wendy Kopp receiving her honorary hood.
(Photo by Jeff Woodward)

“It’s easier to tear something down than to build something up. It’s easier to poke holes in an idea than it is to think of ways to fill them. And it’s easier to focus on the 100 reasons you shouldn’t do something rather than the one reason you should.”

—Wendy Kopp

Commencement 2011

Conan O'Brien speaking at the podium at Commencement.
(Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

“There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”

—Conan O’Brien

Commencement 2010

Stephen Lewis speaking at the podium.
(Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

“Whatever the discipline, whatever the profession you embrace, it’s possible, over the years, to better this often fetid world. You don’t have to devote your life to it—no one is asking for some saintly transformation—I am only asking for a sense of being a global citizen, of caring about the injustice in this world, and doing something, however modest, to bring an end to it.”

—Stephen Lewis


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