Barbara Kingsolver, Duke University, 2008

Barbara Kingsolver – author of contemporary fiction, poet, and activist – writes about human resilience with immense originality and power. In this poetic and ardent speech, she delivers a message of retaining hope in the face of massive environmental issues.

Meryl Streep, Barnard College, 2010

Meryl Streep is a highly-regarded American actress who has worked in theatre, television, and film. She also is spokesperson for the National Women’s History Museum. Here she addresses the all-women graduates of Barnard with a personal story of seeking male validation until she realized she needed simply to be herself, to pretend no longer.

Dr. E. O. Wilson, University of North Carolina, 2011

Dr. Wilson was a research professor and museum curator at Harvard University who changed the way humans think about nature. He worked in the fields of entomology, animal behavior, evolutionary psychology, island biogeography, biodiversity, environmental ethics, and the philosophy of knowledge. Dr. Wilson speaks here to the future scientists, medical professionals, and lawyers in the crowd, honing in on the need for protection against the loss of biodiversity.

Stephen Colbert, Northwestern University, 2011

Since 2015, Colbert has hosted The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Northwestern asked him to speak at the 25th anniversary of his non-graduation. He contrasts the culture of the 80’s with the early 2010’s. Using himself as an example, he tells the graduates that it is okay to change one’s dream and improvise.

Barack Obama, Barnard College, 2012

Former President Obama is a 1983 graduate of Columbia College, Barnard’s brother institution. He later graduated from Harvard Law School and found a career in public service. In this speech, Obama addresses the all-female graduates as a father to two girls who is invested in a future of more women in positions of leadership.

Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts, 2012

Neil Gaiman is an English award-winning author and graphic novelist who writes for all ages and without genre constraints – though many of his fans are fantasy and science fiction lovers. This speech, urging these artists to boldly practice their craft and take the time to fully enjoy their creative processes, received international acclaim.

George Saunders, Syracuse University, 2013

George Saunders is an American writer of short stories, essays, novellas, and children’s books. A professor at Syracuse, Saunders has received both a MacArthur Fellowship and the PEN/Malamud Award, lauded for his compassionate and humorous stories of moral dilemmas and humanity. These values shine in his speech centered on striving for kindness and embracing the challenges of that ambition.

Tim Minchin, University of Western Australia, 2013

Tim Minchin, an Australian alum of UWA, has won worldwide acclaim as a composer, lyricist, comedian, actor, and writer. Drawing on his comedic chops, Minchin opens his speech with a declaration of the meaninglessness of life. He then delivers nine tidbits of advice.

Billy Kenoi, Hawai’i Pacific University, 2014

Billy Kenoi (1968-2021) was the beloved mayor of Hawai’i County from 2008-2016. He speaks about the drive and hard work it takes to graduate from university. He tells graduates how it was not innate talent that led to his success but relentless dedication to his goals. Kenoi preaches the value of giving back and carrying aloha with them as they go out into the world.

Jim Carrey, Maharishi University, 2014

Jim Carrey is an actor and comedian of tremendous range and intellect, a man who turns himself inside out for his audiences, who embraces the opportunity of being entirely yourself while profoundly honoring the needs of others. True to his reputation as a comedian, Carrey keeps the audience laughing while simultaneously delivering a story of seeing his father fail through fear, a reflection on his uncertainty of identity, and a spiritual message of faith.