15 Inspirational Words from Commencement Speeches

It's the time of year when graduation caps and words of wisdom get tossed around. In this list from Vocabulary.com, see how notable speakers from various fields (including a cartoonist, scientist, and president) have inspired the rising of new generations.

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1. indispensable
absolutely necessary; vitally necessary

"You need to arrive early, stay late, you need to make yourself indispensable — you should also probably get rid of those Facebook photos of you passed out on Bourbon Street."Anderson Cooper, Tulane University

2. untouchable
beyond the reach of criticism or attack or impeachment

"Do what you really love to do and if you don't know quite what that is yet, well, keep searching, because if you find it, you'll bring that something extra to your work that will help ensure you will not be automated or outsourced. It will help make you an untouchable radiologist, an untouchable engineer, or an untouchable teacher."Thomas L. Friedman, Williams College

3.  audacity
fearless daring

"Go make your big beautiful dent, and as you do so come down on the side of boldness. If you err, may it be for too much audacity, and not too little."Sue Monk Kidd, Scripps College

4.  improvisation
a performance given extempore without planning or preparation

"Life is just a big extended improvisation. Embrace the ever changing, ever evolving world with the best rule I've ever found. Say 'YES AND.'"Jane Lynch, Smith College

5.  inevitable
incapable of being avoided or prevented

"You will lose. You will embarrass yourself. You will suck at something. There is no doubt about it. That's probably not a traditional message for a graduation ceremony but hey, I'm telling you, embrace it because it's inevitable."Denzel Washington, University of Pennsylvania

6.  determine
shape or influence; give direction to

"You will have failures in your life, but it is what you do during those valleys that will determine the heights of your peaks."Rahm Emanuel, George Washington University

7.  indulge
give free rein to

"If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you'll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead."Bill Watterson, Kenyon College

8.  clarity

free from obscurity and easy to understand; the comprehensibility of clear expression

"The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality."Conan O'Brien, Dartmouth University

8.  sow
place (seeds) in or on the ground for future growth

"Success is not like rain that falls from the sky equally upon everyone. Success is what you reap when you sow with passion and optimism."Ahmed H. Zewail, Caltech

10.  ultimate
furthest or highest in degree or order; utmost or extreme

"It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It's also a very clear path to happiness."Sheryl Sandberg, Barnard College

11.  transform
change or alter in form, appearance, or nature

"It takes only one strike to transform a prospector into a gold miner, only one 'Yes' to turn a proposal into a marriage."Chris Matthews, Fordham University

12.  earnest
not distracted by anything unrelated to the goal

"You can be as earnest and ridiculous as you need to be, if you don't attempt it in isolation. The ridiculously earnest are known to travel in groups. And they are known to change the world."Barbara Kingsolver, Duke University

13.  aspire
have an ambitious plan or a lofty goal

"Every man and every woman on this earth is born to lead. A leader's greatest obligation is to make possible an environment where people's minds and hearts can be inventive, brave, human and strong, where people can aspire to do useful and significant things, where people can aspire to change the world."Carly Fiorina, MIT

14.   legacy
a gift of personal property by will; something handed down by an ancestor or predecessor

"That's what building a body of work is all about—it's about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up over time, over a lifetime, to a lasting legacy."Barack Obama, Arizona State University

15.   commence
take the first step or steps in carrying out an action

"We are a nation of accomplishment, and this ceremony is a great testament to that. But the unspoken requirement of a commencement is that you now must commence."Michael Dell, University of Texas


To see more inspiring words from commencement speeches, and to add them to your vocabulary-learning program, see the full list at Vocabulary.com.

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