In pictures: Celeb commencement speakers share words of wisdom

James Ohara

Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, hit the headlines this week by delivering the commencement speech at New York University Abu Dhabi. Big names from politics and entertainment have been speaking to graduating students around the world. Check out who spoke where and what advice they dispersed.

Bill Clinton

Commencement: May 25, New York University Abu Dhabi

Claim to fame: 42nd president of the United States

Alma mater: Oxford and Yale

Inspiration: Clinton reportedly quoted Benjamin Franklin — “our critics are our friends, for they show us our faults” — in reference to recent stories about the welfare of labourers who built the university’s new Saadiyat Island campus.

Words of wisdom: “I urge you to say, this is my alma mater.”

Michelle Obama

Commencement: May 10, Dillard University, New Orleans

Claim to fame: First lady of the United States, aka Flotus

Alma mater: Princeton and Harvard

Inspiration: Obama spoke about her mother, who volunteered at her school, and the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai as one of the girls who risk their lives to go to school.

Words of wisdom: “Imagine how you can inspire those around you to reach higher and complete their own education. And you can start small. Start by volunteering at an after-school programme, or helping some high-school kids fill out their college applications. Show them the path that you took. Or you can think a little bigger — you can get your entire congregation or your community to start a mentoring programme; maybe convince your new employer to sponsor scholarships for underprivileged kids. Or maybe you could think a little higher — maybe you could run for school board or Congress, or, yes, even president of the United States.”

Jehane Noujaim

Commencement: May 4, Northwestern University in Qatar, Doha

Claim to fame: The Egyptian-American filmmaker directed the documentaries Control Room and the Oscar-nominated The Square.

Alma mater: Harvard

Inspiration: Noujaim spoke about her mentor, D A Pennebaker, the “grandfather of cinéma vérité”, and quoted the Prophet Mohammed: “God is kind and likes kindness in all things.”

Words of wisdom: “Don’t waste your time trying to succeed at other people’s dreams, or dreams you don’t really believe in. Only your real dreams will satisfy you. Those are the ones worth failing for, leaving your mark on the world.”

Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs

Commencement: May 10, Howard University, Washington

Claim to fame: Hip-hop mogul

Alma mater: Dropped out of Howard University, but received an honorary degree this year

Inspiration: Combs thanked his hard-working mother, who raised him after his father was murdered when he was 3, quoted the Notorious BIG — “It was all a dream. I used to read Word Up! magazine” — and his Uncle Shrimp, who told him: “Don’t be afraid to close your eyes and dream, but then open your eyes and see.”

Words of wisdom: “Nobody is going to take you to the front of the line unless you push your way to the front of the line ... I don’t want you to dream — I want you to do ... I want you to remember the power of you ... I don’t want you to be the next Oprah. I don’t want you to be the next Obama. I don’t even want you to be the next me. I want you to be you.”

Joe Biden

Commencement: May 9, University of Southern Carolina

Claim to fame: Vice president of the United States

Alma mater: University of Delaware, Syracuse University

Inspiration: Biden quoted a line from W B Yeats’s poem Easter, 1916, relating it to the challenged modern times: “All changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born”.

Words of wisdom: “But I know the history of the journey of this country and it is always, always, always forward. When given a chance, the American people have never, ever, ever, ever let their country down ... So today, for all the uncertainty you may feel, never forget, this future is within your control. Do not listen to the cynics ... It has never, never, never been a good bet to bet against America, never, and it’s a bad bet to bet against your generation.”

Ed Helms

Commencement: May 24, Cornell University, New York

Claim to fame: Andy Bernard in The Office; the dentist Stu Price in The Hangover trilogy

Alma mater: Oberlin College

Inspiration: Andy Bernard, for being a “glorious, vulnerable fool” who “really wore his heart on his sleeve”.

Words of wisdom: “Only a fool would risk failure. Be that fool ... Only a fool would work hard when there’s no clear objective. Be that fool.”

Forest Whitaker

Commencement: May 17, Miami University

Claim to fame: Oscar-winning actor and a film director

Alma mater: University of Southern California and New York University

Inspiration: Whitaker’s speech touched on the achievements of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and the civil-rights movement.

Words of wisdom: “There’s nothing wrong with letting our work play a central role in our lives ... but we can never let our job descriptions define the manner in which we live our lives. When you succeed, or more important, when you fail, you have to allow your moral strength, your understanding of what is right and good, to be what defines and guides you.”

Wynton Marsalis

Commencement: May 17, Tulane University, New Orleans

Claim to fame: Jazz trumpeter and the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center

Inspiration: Marsalis’s speech quoted fellow musicians. “Here in New Orleans we have a tradition of starting an important gig by calling out the names of legendary musicians from the past ... this roll call inspires a much higher level of performance ... Let us acknowledge all the members of our collective roll call,” Marsalis said, before breaking into a short rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In.

Alma mater: Marsalis has an honorary degree from Juilliard, where he attended in the 1970s and returned to recently as the director of Juilliard Jazz.

Words of wisdom: “To be realised, a dream must, at some point, become a plan. The plan is a directive, a resolution that will require resolve to execute. The dream is free but the plan costs time, dedication, imagination and almost always involves funding in some way ... New Orleans native and genius of gospel music, Mahalia Jackson, sang I’m Gonna Live the Life I Sing About in My Song. Well, your life is your song, and though you have successfully lived the life of a student who is now a graduate, you deserve to celebrate, but don’t rest. This world is a cauldron of action.”

John Legend

Commencement: May 19, University of Pennsylvania

Claim to fame: R& B musician

Alma mater: University of Pennsylvania

Inspiration: Legend paid tribute to his parents, who “walked the walk”, and his friend/producer Kanye West. He also quoted Alice Walker: “The more I wonder, the more I love.”

Words of wisdom: “The key to success, the key to happiness, is opening your mind and heart to love ... If you’re committed to loving in public, it requires opening your eyes to injustice, to see the world through the eyes of another. This is not a passive activity. You have to read. You have to travel to other neighbourhoods, other parts of the world. You may have to get your hands dirty. You have to allow other people to love you, and you have to love them back.”

Madeleine Albright

Commencement: May 18, Dickinson College, Pennsylvania

Claim to fame: First female US secretary of state

Alma mater: Wellesley College, Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University

Inspiration: Albright quoted Sir Isaac Newton — “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” — in relation to global “mega-trends” reshaping the world.

Words of wisdom: “Siri cannot tell you how to build a democracy. You cannot tweet your way to good governance. There is no app for inclusive economic growth. Humanity’s progress depends on human leadership, and our leaders’ job is harder than ever. What I’m saying, dear graduates, is that the world’s a mess, I’m sorry, but it’s true. We left it for you that way. But now it falls to your generation to solve the problems that my generation is leaving behind ... and I believe that you are not only capable of doing so, but also that no prior generation has been as well-equipped to deal with those problems as your own.”

Published: May 29, 2014 04:00 AM


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