To say that the Class of 2020 is in for a unique graduation season would be a serious understatement.
As a result of coronavirus social distancing guidelines, many high schools and universities around the world have had to cancel upcoming graduation ceremonies for students. Choosing not to hold these large gatherings is definitely the smart and safe move, but missing graduation is still a huge bummer.
Many individual schools will be holding virtual, makeshift, heavily scaled-down graduation ceremonies in place of elaborate in-person celebrations. And Facebook, John Krasinski, iHeartMedia, and more are also holding their own virtual events for graduates.
The remote efforts are much appreciated, but if you want the feel of a giant crowd and stage — or simply a reminder of simpler times — we’ve rounded up some of best celebrity commencement addresses online.
From Tom Hanks to Meryl Streep, here are 15 encouraging grad speeches you can watch for some extra inspiration.
1. Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks spoke to graduates at Yale’s 2011 Class Day, and also gave the commencement address at Vassar back in 2005 if you’re looking for a real throwback. Who better to take inspiration from in these stressful times than the man who recovered from COVID-19, hosted the first episode of SNL At Home, and is donating his blood and plasma to help coronavirus research?
Oprah is an absolute pro at delivering powerful commencement addresses. She’s giving a speech at Facebook’s virtual ceremony on May 15 and will speak at Chicago’s citywide virtual graduation in June, but she’s given more than a dozen others over the course of her career. Recently, Oprah shared some serious wisdom with students at Colorado College in 2019.
3. Steve Carell
Anyone who thought Steve Carell would make one of the World’s Best Commencement Speakers was correct. In 2012, Carell spoke at Princeton’s Class Day and absolutely killed it. Naturally his speech inspired a bunch of laughs, but he also shared some genuinely good advice (or rather “helpful hints”) with graduates.
4. John Krasinski
Speaking of Office stars who have made impressive commencement speeches, John Krasinski spoke at Brown University’s graduation ceremony in 2019. Krasinski is the perfect graduation inspiration because he’s throwing his own virtual ceremony for the Class of 2020 on Sunday, May 3. You can prep for what’s sure to be another great virtual Some Good News event by watching Krasinski address graduates of his alma mater.
5. Mindy Kaling
Still speaking of Office stars who have made impressive commencement speeches, Mindy Kaling is also on the list. Kaling spoke to graduates at her alma mater, Dartmouth, in 2018, and also spoke at Harvard Law School’s Class Day in 2014. Kaling’s comedic, comforting, and motivational words are needed now more than ever.
6. Barack Obama
Former president Barack Obama has given his fair share of commencement speeches as well, but his 2016 remarks to graduates at Howard University remain some of the most memorable.
7. Michelle Obama
Former FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, is also an experienced commencement speaker. You may recall her 2016 address to graduates at City College in New York — her final commencement speech as first lady — but she’s also spoken at graduations for Oberlin College, Tuskegee University, Virginia Tech, and more.
8. Robert De Niro
For an extremely blunt, tough-love type of speech, look no further than Robert De Niro’s commencement address to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts grads in 2015. De Niro has shared words of wisdom with several graduating classes over the years, but this particular legendary speech features the incredible words, “You made it! And you’re fucked!” A truly evergreen quote to live by.
9. Laverne Cox
In 2019, Orange is the New Black actress and LGBTQ activist Laverne Cox spoke at Pitzer College’s commencement ceremony. She touched on the importance inclusivity, the many challenging situations students may find themselves in post-graduation, and shared her own life experience with the class.
10. Stephen Colbert
Colbert is no stranger to delivering commencement speeches, and he’s lifted the spirts of graduates at schools like University of Virginia and Northwestern University over the years. Below is a more recent, hilarious speech he gave at Wake Forest University’s 2015 ceremony.
11. Meryl Streep
College grads, put on your bathrobes, make a cocktail, and listen to one of quarantine queen Meryl Streep’s profound commencement address at Columbia University’s Barnard College in 2010.
12. Conan O’Brien
Like Mindy Kaling, the late night host also addressed graduates at Dartmouth. Back in 2011, O’Brien spoke such funny and meaningful words that his address was described as “brilliant” and was even debated as potentially being “the best commencement speech ever.”
13. Ken Jeong
If you’re in need of more laughs and insight, actor and comedian Ken Jeong has you covered. He spoke to graduates at the University of North Carolina in 2019, and dropped some real inspiration.
“Figure out what your act two is, and embrace the change, embrace the twists, and the unexpected turns. They’ll be good and they’ll be bad, but embrace that,” Jeong said. A perfect reminder during this absolute chaos.
14. Jennifer Garner
Jennifer Garner, actress and graduate of Denison University’s Class of 1994, delivered the Ohio college’s commencement address in 2019.
She spoke about social media consumption, she empowered women to go out and achieve their dreams, and she shared real, applicable life advice like, “When it comes to Halloween costumes, go funny over sexy.
“Why would you dress like a flirty nurse when you could be a mailbox? It’s an opportunity,” Garner said. She’s absolutely correct.
15. Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda has also delivered several memorable commencement addresses — one in 2015 at his alma mater, Wesleyan, and another in 2016 at the University of Pennsylvania. During the latter speech he reminded graduates that pain can lead to some beautiful creations, and that everyone’s stories are “essential” and need to be told.
While graduation will physically look different for students in the Class of 2020, we hope that — in addition to the many makeshift virtual ceremonies to come — these messages of hope, inspiration, and from past commencement speakers will help keep spirits up.