Best Celebrity Commencement Addresses of 2023: Get Motivated for Your Future by Some of the Most Reputable Names in Entertainment!
Seeing as it is the closing of graduation season for the class of 2023, it seems only fitting to talk about some of the best speakers at this year’s top universities’ graduation ceremonies. This year, we had speakers ranging from President Biden and former First Lady Michelle Obama, great minds in science and journalism, but what is very exciting to me as a nearing graduate is that speakers in the entertainment industry were included in these ceremonies as well. It is always a fantastic opportunity to hear about someone you admire or who is in your desired field talk about not only how they got to where they are, but the lessons and skills they took away from the process of getting there. With that being said, here are some of our favorites: entertainment and media edition!
David Sedaris – Columbia University
If you aren’t already familiar with the New Yorker alumni and frequent New York Times Bestseller, you’re definitely missing out. David Sedaris is not only a prolific writer but has a unique voice as a storyteller, which coupled with his observational wit, makes an excellent person to dedicate speech time during a long day of commencements. Especially during those tired weeks preceding graduation.
“People will want to put a timer on your success but you can’t let them get to you.”
David Sedaris is a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to higher education, not having entered school until his late 20s. He attributes his success to the hard work he put in all those years, knowing that he had to work hard to support himself when no one else was willing to help him. He wrote in a diary consistently from the 1970s to the present day. Writing was something he did not just compulsively, but for survival.
“You’re 33 years old and you have to realize it’s never going to happen for you.”
A trusted friend once said this to Sedaris, who at the time was working as an Elf at Macy’s Holiday display. But Sedaris used his circumstances to his advantage when he decided to pursue writing anyway, doing so anytime he had the opportunity. Eventually, he got a call from someone wanting to publish his work. And then another…and another. Soon he rose to prominence in the publishing world. He finishes his anecdote about this piece of criticism with the following remark: “That didn’t mean I had to take her shitty advice though.” From Sedaris’ speech, it is deeply encouraged that when you are pursuing your passion, you must continue to work for it, even when others tell you it’s no use, and even when you have made it. Keep on working.
Martin Sheen – Loyola Marymount University
Renowned actor and social justice warrior Martin Sheen admit that he himself didn’t follow a traditional path toward higher education. Having flunked out of high school, he didn’t graduate until 1958. It wasn’t until 50 years later with the finale of The West Wing when giving a speech at a commencement ceremony in Ireland did he accept an opportunity to gain a higher education. Though he only completed one semester, he claims to have gained valuable life experience and appreciation for considering a higher education at all.
His speech almost reads like a sermon of sorts, but he provides a scope of human understanding through his years of social activism that sheds light on the human experience and how getting your goals in life can mean different things to different people.
Patton Oswalt – William and Mary
“Don’t think of me as your commencement speaker right now, think of me as your shift manager at the Walmart, alright?”
Patton Oswalt, a well-known and prolific actor, speaks at William and Mary about the feeling of graduation as similar to that of working a shift at Walmart when it’s a normal day and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Truly speaking to this generation’s challenges and the strengths that got them through it, he encourages a persistence of the radical empathy and mobilization that he has seen within them.
“You don’t have a choice to be anything but extraordinary.”
He gets it, times are tough. Especially when much of your college years were swallowed by the pandemic. But he knows that this class, this generation of students has so much more to look forward to than all the shitty stuff they have to look back on. Strength comes from the commitment to one’s passions and the determination to look past life’s other obstacles to get to what they really want.
Idina Menzel – University of Pennsylvania
“Since I was a small child, people have told me that my power is my voice.”
In this commencement address, the iconic singer and actress Idina Menzel encourage this year’s graduates to use their voices. This year’s graduates have been through more than just recent year’s strife: the advent of new technology, war, climate change, social tensions on the rise, and on and on. In a world where everything seems so out of control, it can be hard to use your voice or to make your voice heard in a crowd of so many shouting. She cites her own audition for the role of Elphaba in Wicked, and how upon fumbling the final note of a song, she wanted to run away–to give up. But she took a breath, and sang it again, and this time she nailed the final note, landing her seminal role as the Wicked Witch of the West.
From this, she advises that you should feel whatever it is you feel in every way that you feel it, but you must keep going. The only thing that is certain is that true humanity is imperfect. It gives us our greatest strengths even in times when we feel it only accentuates our weaknesses. There will be those who challenge or criticize you, but you are meant to take them as the lessons they are offering.
She also highlights the greatest skill of all is learning to love repetition. In my industry, they say “Writing is rewriting” and that couldn’t be more true. The act of viewing your work, whatever it is, and being able to take a step back and look at it from a new vantage point is something that is incredibly valuable.
Menzel concludes with an analogy to being a performer in a play. She knows you know your lines, you’ve rehearsed this, and you’re ready to take the stage.
Congratulations to the class of 2023!