30 Bits of Wisdom for the Class of 2013

YouTube/Butler / YouTube/Butler

It’s graduation season, and that means platitudes are parading out the mouths of notable speakers everywhere. Every year, speakers spew the same old sayings: Never give up! Embrace failure! Be passionate! Here’s a look at speakers who said things a little differently this year.

1. John Green (Author/Host of mental_floss on YouTube): Butler University

“Try not to worry too much about what you are going to do with your life. You are already doing what you are going to do with your life, and judging by the fact that you are wearing a gown, you’re doing pretty well. That’s not a sentence you hear much in life.”

2. Eric Idle (Comedian): Whitman College

“Your life is precious. You've only got one. Don't waste it on bad relationships, on bad marriages, on bad jobs, on bad people. Waste it wisely on what you want to do. But if you're still playing beer pong five years from now, you may be on the wrong track.”

3. Sharyn Alfonsi (Journalist): University of Mississippi, Meek School of Journalism

“Your life will have chapters, complete with crazy characters, villains and a plot you can’t even imagine as you sit here today. It’s a lot like a Scooby Doo episode.”

4. James Carville (Political Commentator): Hobart and William Smith Colleges

“You’re leaving here, and I can sit here and tell you all the vapid bull that comes out of the spring air in Upstate New York about being un-tethered, and drifting out on the sea of life, and plan your work and work your plan and all of that SPAT! You’re getting ready to go get knocked down. That’s what’s going to happen. Everybody wants to be a success but no one wants to stop and understand what it takes to succeed.”

5. Dick Costolo (CEO, Twitter): University of Michigan

“When I was your age, we didn’t have the Internet in our pants. We didn’t have the Internet NOT in our pants. That’s how bad it was.”

6. Steven Colbert (Comedian): University of Virginia, Valediction Ceremonies

“Don’t worry if we don’t approve of your choices. In our benign self-absorption, I believe we have given you a gift. A particular form of independence because you do not owe the previous generation anything. Thanks to us, you owe it to the Chinese.”

7. Anne-Marie Slaughter (Policy Analyst): Lafayette College

“In the end, no matter how much you love your work, your work will not love you back.”

8. Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist): Rice University

“Your diploma is really not a ticket to show off what you know. You know what it really is? It’s permission to admit to yourself how much you still have yet to learn.”

9. Robert Kraft (Owner, New England Patriots): Suffolk University

“My advice is: Don’t follow the advice of others. I am not suggesting that you ignore advice, but just don’t let your advisers make decisions for you ... And years from now, or even later today, when someone asks you ‘What advice were you given on your commencement day?’ and you respond, ‘I don't know, I wasn’t listening,’ well then I will know you were paying attention.”

10. Arianna Huffington (President, Huffington Post): Smith College

“I beg you: don’t buy society’s definition of success. Because it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it's not working for men, it's not working for polar bears, it's not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It’s only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, sleeplessness and high blood pressure.”

11. Steven Chu (Former Secretary of Energy): University of Rochester

“Your biggest failure will happen if you go through life and never fail, because you’ll never know what you could have done.”

12. Annie Lennox (Singer-Songwriter): Berklee College of Music

“It’s important to acknowledge the value and power of unorthodoxy.”

13. Joss Whedon (Writer/Director): Wesleyan University

“If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.”

14. Steve Wozniak (Co-founder, Apple): University of California, Berkeley

“H = F3: Happiness equals food, fun, and friends ... I said this once at my high school, and the kids started laughing. I had to admit there might be a fourth 'F.’”

15. Jonathan Safran Foer (Author): Middlebury College

“Each step forward in technological communication has made things more convenient. But each step has also made it easier, just a little bit easier, to avoid the emotional work of being present. To write ‘LOL’ rather than to actually laugh out loud; to send a crying emoji rather than actually crying; to convey information rather than humanity. It’s never been easier to say nothing.”

16. Melinda Gates (Philanthropist): Duke University

“The people who say technology has disconnected you from others are wrong. So are the people who say technology automatically connects you to others. Technology is just a tool. It's a powerful tool, but it's just a tool. Deep human connection is very different. It's not a tool. It's not a means to an end. It is the end.”

17. Julie Andrews (Actress): University of Colorado, Boulder

"Use your knowledge, and your heart, to stand up for those who can't stand, speak for those who can't speak, be a beacon of light for those whose lives have become dark.”

18. Duncan Niederauer (CEO, NYSE Euronext): Colgate University

“My advice to you is be afraid of old ideas, not new ideas.”

19. David McCullough (Historian): Lesley University

“Never underestimate what other people might know. Sometimes people who seem to be the least possible source of interesting information turn out to be the greatest source imaginable.”

20. Toni Morrison (Author/Poet): Vanderbilt University, Senior Day

“Money is the not-so-secret mistress of all our lives, and like all mistresses, you certainly know whether she has or not already seduced you.”

21. Jon Lovett (Television Writer): Pitzer College

“You are smart, talented, educated, conscientious, untainted by the mistakes and conventional wisdom of the past. But you are also very annoying. Because there is a lot that you don't know that you don't know. Your parents are nodding. You've been annoying them for years. Why do you think they paid for college? So that you might finally, at long last, annoy someone else. And now your professors are nodding.”

22. Claude Steele (Social Psychologist): Tufts University

“In setting your life course, put the ‘wants’ of life ahead of the ‘shoulds’ of life.”

23. Martin Sheen (Actor): La Roche College

“We are not asked to do great things, we’re asked to do all things with greater care. Such an ideal is rare in a culture of so compromised values and so much cynicism, a culture that all too often knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

24. Rita Dove (Poet): Emory University

“Some might ask, why do we need books or art or music, and some may just as well ask, why does that bridge have to be beautiful? ... You see, we all have imagination. We use it every day. We relish it. We would languish without our aesthetic desires.”

25. Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama): Tulane University

“I’ve had no modern education, so my knowledge compared to yours amounts to zero, but I have observed that many of the problems we face today are of our own creation. Because we created them, we must also have the ability to reduce or overcome them.”

26. Deepak Chopra (Physician): Hartwick College

“Remember that love without action is meaningless and action without love is irrelevant.”

27. More Jon Lovett at Pitzer

“There are moments when you'll have a different point of view because you're a fresh set of eyes; because you don't care how it's been done before; because you're sharp and creative; because there is another way, a better way. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you're wrong, because you're 23 and you should shut up and listen to somebody who's been around the block.”

28. More John Green from Butler University

“You have probably figured out by now that education is not really about grades or getting a job; it’s primarily about becoming a more aware and engaged observer of the universe. If that ends with college, you’re rather wasting your one and only known chance at consciousness.”

29. Anne Fadiman (Author): College of the Holy Cross

“Don’t confine yourself to the fair weather races, the easy races, the races you know you can win. Get out in gale force winds. Know you will capsize, again and again and again and again.”

30. Judith Viorst (Author): Goucher College

“Becoming a grownup means understanding that when really bad things happen, that the answer to ‘why me?’ is ‘why not me?’”

See Also: 27 Bits of Wisdom from 2012 Commencement Addresses