While young adults are likely to have many graduation ceremonies throughout their lifetime—with many now starting as early as preschool—perhaps none is more pivotal than their college graduation. It marks the moment when they enter the real world. For real. Everything learned through life up to that point is suddenly activated.
As “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda told 2016 University of Pennsylvania graduates, “You’re about the enter the most uncertain and thrilling period of your lives.”
The ceremony itself is specially designed to mark this important milestone. If you ask your friends and family members if they remember the commencement address—or at least parts of it—from their college graduation ceremony, odds are that they will. And the main reason for that is the powerful, motivational force of YES that is woven into its fabric.
NPR went through hundreds of commencement speeches, some dating as far back as 1774—yes, seriously—and found that most of them fall into about 15 categories. The idea of YES shows up in several of them, either inspiring us to say yes to things or embodying things we say yes to in our personal and professional lives.
“Remember history,” for example, inspires through yeses of the past and sets the stage for saying yes to future opportunities. “Don’t give up” sets the stage for saying yes to things, even when they’re not easy. “You only live once” encourages saying yes to things we’re afraid of. Because when we say yes, extraordinary things happen.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told 2012 UC Berkeley grads that “the future doesn’t just happen”—that yes is a good place to start carving out a path.
“I ask each of you: find a way to say yes to things…” he said. “Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job. … Even if is a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference in your life, and likely in others’ lives as well. … Yes is a tiny word that can do big things. Say it often.”
Miranda told Penn grads that we define our lives by the stories we choose to tell—the ones we say yes to.
The stories you’re about to live are … the times you say no to the good opportunities so you can say yes to the best opportunities.
These and many other commencement speeches aim to inspire, to motivate, to encourage action—to say YES. Yes opens doors. Yes finds a new path. Yes marks the beginning of something.
For more inspiration
- You can read NPR’s top speeches here.
- GraduationWisdom.com is another good resource for inspriational quotes, upcoming speeches, and the best speeches of the past few years.
- Go here for FastCompany’s picks for the best advice from this year’s speeches.
- Check out the Washington Post’s collection of the best commencement speeches you may have missed.