By Ashley Stahl, Originally Published in Forbes

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Graduation season is in full swing, and with it comes commencement speeches that are not to be missed. Some of today’s biggest leaders, entrepreneurs and artists have taken the stage to deliver words of creativity, motivation and inspiration.

If you think the lessoned and advice delivered during college graduation are limited to the students turning their caps tassel, think again. This year’s speeches contained some genuine wisdom and advice that spanned far beyond school and business.

Here are some inspiring highlights from the 2019 commencement speeches:

1. Oprah Winfrey @ Colorado College

Watch this speech if: You need to reframe your thought patterns around your life’s potential.

A classic speech by Oprah reminds everyone that it is the small steps you take each and every day that lead to big accomplishments. Instead of spending your days scrolling through social media wishing to become an overnight success, find value in the process it takes, and pay attention to your life, because it is speaking to you all the time.

Oprah threads her life of service and authentic living into an outline for the path to create a fulfilling life. If you need to overcome graduation anxiety, hear her perspective and tips to shift your energy into a more positive light.  

“Everything is always working out for me.” – Oprah Winfrey

2. Justin Timberlake @ Berklee

What this speech if: You hide what makes you unique, but secretly want to embrace it.

Justin spoke on the time it took to learn that his differences were what made him different and that it was through his differences, not despite them, he realized his greatness. Within music, he was able to lose himself in order to find who he was. His speech wove in and out on the value of love, marriage, and the support that people provide in order to make life worth living.  

If you are graduating or taking a different leap of faith, Justin shares his perspective on failure and ideals of ups and downs. He illustrates the beauty that lies within failure and how through failure you will see who you truly are.

“There is no dream that is too big.”- Justin Timberlake

3. James Patterson: University of Florida

Watch this speech if: You are recovering from rejection.

We have all experienced it, the dread of being rejected from a job, relationship or opportunity. James shared his experience with the massive rejection he experienced originally with writing and how to persevere through it. 

He goes on to speak of the value behind doing the right thing and creating balance in your life while pursuing a passion. He describes work as a rubber ball, if it falls it will bounce back. But family, health, friends, and spirit, they are glass balls that if dropped, crack, scuff and can shatter. He lives by this vision always keeping his life in balance.

“Sooner or later we all have to deal with rejection … just keep moving forward.” – James Patterson

4. Glenn Close @ William & Mary

What this speech if: You feel limited in what you can do with your life.

If you think it’s too late to go to school, or change your life path, think again. Age is just a number and there is not one life path required to follow. At the age of 22, Glenn began the path to become the first woman to earn a college degree from her family and did so by breaking away from normalcy to find people she connected with.

As an acclaimed actress, she stresses the power of empathy and the worldly need to see the perspective of others to find humanity and connection. This is especially evident through her words on mental illness and the stigmas associated with it.

“Spend less time looking into screens and more time looking into each other’s eyes.”- Glenn Close

5. Kristen Bell @ USC

Watch this speech if: You need a reminder of the power kindness holds.

The road to success looks different for everyone, and Kristen shares how her journey wasn’t based in a college degree, or fancy resume. Instead, it was born through her genuine kindness towards those around her. When you are kind to others, and seek out the good in people, it will lead you to a fulfilling path and life.  

She invites you to consider that the values of emotional intelligence are not something to take for granted, and although at times, may feel like a compromise to logical ideals, they will pay off.

“We think we know what we want, but we often have no idea what we need.” – Kristen Bell

6. Robert F Smith @ Morehouse College

What this speech if: You are searching for inspiration to help others.

His name may be less mainstream, but Robert Smith, billionaire investor, and entrepreneur, made a huge splash in what was revealed during his speech at an all men’s college.

In efforts to support his community and set precedence to help others, Robert announced he would be paying off the entire classes student loans -estimated to be $40 million. If you are feeling down about people giving back, listen to his words and feel the classes joy and shock from receiving such a beautiful gift.

“Pay it forward.” – Robert F. Smith

7. Jennifer Garner @ Denison

Watch this Speech if: You are looking for a fun way to find motivation.

Jennifer gives an unusual and goofy speech packed with powerful advice and motivation to say goodbye to laziness and embrace love. Her advice ranges from the value of sunscreen and the damage of vaping, to realize that happiness is your responsibility and each moment in life is an opportunity to create happiness-for yourself, and all those around you.

Being deeply involved with Save the Children, Jennifer raises awareness of the detriment poverty has within our nation and how regardless of what shoes we walk in, every person ultimately has the same underlying desires in life…to give and receive love.

“Insist on optimism, dig in and fight for what makes you optimistic about the world.”- Jennifer Garner

If you are part of the 2019 graduation class or if you graduated 10, 20, 40 or 0 years ago…throw your caps in the air, and take these words of advice with you into your next phase of life!

For a FREE course to land a new job you love, launch your dream business, or find your purpose, visit  


  • I'm a career coach, keynote speaker, podcast host (You Turn Podcast) and author, here to help you step into a career you're excited about and aligned with. This may look like coaching you 1:1, hosting you in one of my courses, or meeting you at one of workshops or keynote speaking engagements! I also own CAKE Media, a house of ghostwriters, copywriters, publicists and SEO whizzes that help companies and influencers expand their voice online. Before being an entrepreneur, I was an award-winning counterterrorism professional who helped the Pentagon in Washington, DC with preparing civilians to prepare for the frontlines of the war on terror.