The 10 Smartest Lessons about life, money and career we heard in graduation speeches this year

The 10 Smartest Lessons About Life, Money and Career We Heard in Graduation Speeches This Year

Julia Glum

The 2018 graduation season is finally wrapping up for colleges and high schools across the country, and even if you didn’t get a diploma, hopefully you’re walking away with some solid life lessons.

Over the past month, a slew of high-profile commencement speakers have dispensed valuable pieces of advice they gleaned from their own careers. Chance the Rapper, President Donald Trump, and Apple CEO Tim Cook were among the leaders who took the stage to talk to new graduates about money, jobs and the meaning of success.

Weren’t paying attention in class? We’ve got you covered. Here’s a round-up of the 10 smartest tips we heard this year:

Oprah Winfrey: Aim High
While speaking at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism last month, the so-called “Queen of All Media” told students they should always be looking for lessons in the workplace. Winfrey added that graduates should strive to become so skilled in their fields that their “talent cannot be dismissed.”

Then, for good measure, she gave some specific life guidance:

Eat a good breakfast. It really pays off. Pay your bills on time. Recycle. Make your bed. Aim high. Say thank you to people and actually really mean it. Ask for help when you need it, and put your phone away at the dinner table. Just sit on it, really. And know that what you tweet and post and Instagram today might be asked about in a job interview tomorrow or 20 years from tomorrow.

Be nice to little kids. Be nice to your elders. Be nice to animals. And know that it’s better to be interested than interesting. Invest in a quality mattress. I’m telling you, your back will thank you later. And don’t cheap out on your shoes.

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Make an Impact
Slaughter, the president and CEO of a think tank called New America, acknowledged that Washington University graduates were entering the world during a turbulent time. But she said that amid, the uncertainty, it’s time to “renew our economy and the social infrastructure that supports it” so all Americans can thrive.

Slaughter then outlined the next steps for graduates hoping to do just that — and make money:

If you’re an aspiring business person or entrepreneur, go to where the real estate is cheap and the community is strong, where new tech sectors are springing up by reinventing traditional businesses from manufacturing to media.

If you’re an aspiring architect, go renovate your hometown’s downtown, putting beautiful old buildings to new uses.

If you’re an aspiring journalist, go reweave the fabric of local civic life by creating or joining new models of producing local news.

And even if you’re interested in foreign policy, as I am, know that Los Angeles has just appointed a deputy mayor for international affairs. Cities in every state have extensive sister city networks and work actively to attract foreign trade and investment.

Chadwick Boseman: Find Your Purpose
The Black Panther star made headlines last month for doing the “Wakanda Forever” salute at Howard University, but his speech was profound, too. Boseman, a Howard alumnus himself, told graduates that they won’t regret taking a harder, longer path to success.

He also gave them a pep talk for their job hunt:

When you are deciding on next steps, next jobs, next careers, further education, you should rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill.

Jim Cramer: Value Your Network
The host of MSNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer took the audience at Bucknell University’s ceremony through his own post-grad experiences, telling the crowd about his homelessness, a false arrest and struggle to find a job. He urged graduates to be better than he was at navigating challenges, telling them that “it’s OK to fail, but it is not OK to quit.”

He also mentioned the importance of relying on the friendships forged in college:

Now, though, I need you to learn about the other important takeaway from the arc of my distinctly suboptimal 18 months after school, one that I should have known the day I was robbed of my diploma, but I was too prideful. I want you, right now, to look at the student to the left, and the student to the right. Look at the young adult soon to graduate who [is] in front of you and the one behind you.

Take it from a down-but-not-out, once-22-year-old: Your classmates are your safety net, these warm souls of the Class of 2018 surrounding you, those who shared classes, or dorms, or sororities or fraternities, or service work, or clubs and teams with you. Remember [that] your stumble is just a pothole in the road for your seated neighbors to help you fill.

Jesmyn Ward: Persist
Ward, an author who has won two National Book Awards, centered her Tulane University address around the definition of success. She explained that she thought going to college would help her break a family tradition of working unglamorous jobs, but she eventually had to learn a hard lesson: that “real success requires step after step after step after step.”

As such, Ward told the crowd to persist:

If you are one of those lucky people who are exceptionally good at an endeavor you’re passionate about, if you possess tireless ambition and keen direction, congratulations! You will go far and do well. Your successes will come early and rapidly.

If you are not one of those lucky people — if you are bewildered and confused and clinging tenaciously to some course you love — be patient. Work hard. Hold your dream tightly to you and do everything you can to realize it, within reason. Take a step that will lead you toward the realization of your dream, and then take another, and another, and another.

Donald Trump: Full Speed Ahead
The president’s speech at the U.S. Naval Academy was, of course, political, but it also included a callback to his days as a real estate mogul. After repeatedly thanking the graduates for their service, Trump told them to strive for excellence using a naval phrase businessmen have adopted.

He explained:

We have talent and a lot of other people don’t, and a lot of other countries don’t. We have great talent and I have seen it. In other words, we are showing what is possible when America starts acting like its sailors and Marines. Our nation cannot be strong without the heroes whose hearts stir the words: Don’t give up the ship. Famous phrase. We even use it in business. Things are going bad, you say, “Don’t give up the ship.” Keep fighting. Don’t give up the ship. But it’s really — you guys started it.

Our country cannot prevail without those who rally to the famous cry, to Admiral Farragut’s cry, you know it well, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.”

Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead.

Chance the Rapper: Outperform Your Idols
The hiphop star spent much of his May address at Dillard University talking about fellow musicians Michael Jackson and Beyoncé Knowles, explaining that Beyoncé is such an impressive performer because Jackson set the stage for her to be great. Chance told graduates that they have a responsibility to surpass their role models because “greatness can never be stagnant.”

He acknowledged that prospect may seem scary, but he said it’s necessary:

Living up to your heroes is amazing, but it’s not good enough. The difference between goodness and greatness is going beyond. You have to push forward and surpass their greatness in order to pay homage to their struggle.

Ronan Farrow: Trust Your Principles
At Loyola Marymount University, Farrow detailed all the career obstacles he had to overcome while helping uncover the widespread sex abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein last year. Farrow told graduates that, at some point, they’ll probably end up doubting themselves.

But there’s a way to work through it, he says:

No matter what you choose to do, no matter what direction you go, whether you are a doctor treating refugees or a financier making money off foreclosures — and I genuinely hope you don’t do that — you will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do. Where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community.

And I hope in that moment that you’ll be generous with yourself, but trust that inner voice. Because more than ever, we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle, and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win.

Because if enough of you listen to that voice — if enough of you prove that this generation isn’t going to make the same old mistakes as the one before — then doing the right thing won’t seem as rare, or as hard, or as special.

Tim Cook: Take the First Steps
The Apple CEO was reassuring in his commencement speech at Duke University, telling graduates that their lives will fall into place if they just listen to each other and stand out of the crowd. Cook, who graduated from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business in 1988, also said they should “act with decency and kindness, even when no one is looking.”

He added:

Now, if you’re anything like I was on graduation day, maybe you’re not feeling so fearless.

Maybe you’re thinking about the job you hope to get, or wondering where you’re going to live, or how to repay that student loan. These, I know, are real concerns. I had them, too. But don’t let those worries stop you from making a difference.

Fearlessness means taking the first step, even if you don’t know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause.

Jimmy Fallon: Stick With Family (Plans)
The comedian surprised attendees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s commencement ceremony by turning up to deliver an address to graduates. He praised the student activists for starting a gun control movement after 17 people were killed there in February. Fallon told the graduates to persevere, make good choices and take care of themselves.

And then, at the end of his speech, Fallon shared a clutch money-saving tip:

If I could give you one last piece of advice, it would be this: Don’t ever get off your parents’ wireless plan. Ride that train as long as possible, because you don’t know how expensive data is.

This article was written by Julia Glum from MONEY and was legally licensed by AdvisorStream through the NewsCred publisher network.