As summer is in full swing, it’s easy to put graduation season behind us. But as students across the nation now prepare for the next step in their life journeys—many of them with a passion to turn their idealism into action to create a better world—they have a timeless treasure trove of advice heard across campuses and across the country from esteemed leaders whose wisdom could be summed up in two worlds: Be Fearless. Indeed, the messages in the commencement addresses in 2018 can be a clarion call to ANYONE who wants to make a difference in this world, no matter age or stage. Here are some highlights:
Tim Cook at Duke University
Apple CEO Tim Cook challenged Duke University graduates to Be Fearless saying:
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. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart, more than when you stand with the crowd. If you step up, without fear of failure… if you talk and listen to each other, without fear of rejection… if you act with decency and kindness, even when no one is looking, even if it seems small or inconsequential, trust me, the rest will fall into place. More importantly, you’ll be able to tackle the big things when they come your way. It’s in those truly trying moments that the fearless inspire us. Fearless like the students of Parkland, Florida—who refuse to be silent about the epidemic of gun violence, and have rallied millions to their cause. Fearless like the women who say “me, too” and “time’s up”… women who cast light into dark places, and move us toward a more just and equal future. Fearless like those who fight for the rights of immigrants… who understand that our only hopeful future is one that embraces all who want to contribute. Duke graduates, be fearless.
Cook inspired the graduates to stand strong against challenges and stay fearless in their fight for justice, equality and a better world. He ended his speech with fearless words of wisdom from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “The time is always right to do right.”
Abby Wambach at Barnard College
Soccer star and activist Amy Wambach gave a widely heralded speech to Barnard College graduates calling on them to make “make failure [their] fuel,” highlighting her own struggles and the struggles of many women coming up against the wage gap—and her vision of overcoming it.
It is well worth watching as Wambach used the Little Red Riding Hood story to weave in a metaphor for fearlessness, urging the women at Barnard to challenge expectations, to fight the “archaic ways of thinking about women, about people of color,” and to seek leadership positions so they could make a greater impact.
Chadwick Boseman at Howard University
When actor Chadwick Boseman spoke at his alma mater, Howard University this year, he spoke candidly about being typecast and asked to play into a racist stereotype for a TV role early in his career. He shared how he stood up to those who were trying to pigeonhole him—a decision that had an immediate impact on his career, yet paved the way for the iconic roles he’s known for today, like Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa. And this journey has given him some great insight about overcoming failure:
Sometimes you need to get knocked down to realize what your purpose is.
Boseman punctuated his speech with an important lesson of perseverance, saying:
Sometimes you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined inside of you.
Jacqueline Novogratz at New York University
Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, spoke at the New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service 2018 Commencement. She highlighted how in her quest to better the world and philanthropy in her own way, she faced many obstacles where she had to overcome her own fears to persevere.
Novogratz encouraged the graduates to have courage in their own lives. She said,
Remember that each time you practice courage, you gain courage. Think of it is as a muscle you build for when you most need it.
In addition, Novogratz pushed the graduates to become not just professional leaders, but moral leaders, “because we need leaders who care about the world, not just themselves.” In her closing words, she acknowledges the struggle she went through in her endeavors, and invited the graduates to follow. She said,
The work of change is not easy. But you know that already. If you are here, you didn’t sign up for easy.
Oprah took the stage before the students of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Oprah focused on the importance of speaking out against hatred and deceit—a truly fearless task facing today’s journalists. She inspired the graduates to be fearless in their endeavors to spread truth, wisdom and justice through journalism, declaring
You will become the new editorial gatekeepers, an ambitious army of truth seekers, who will arm yourselves with the intelligence, the insight, and the facts necessary to strike down deceit.
Speaking to the soon-to-be-journalists, Oprah reminded the graduates of the power they had to give voice to those who otherwise would be without it, encouraging them to use the platforms they have been given to “give voice to people who desperately now need to tell their stories.”
The actress and comedian spoke at Dartmouth’s 2018 Commencement, integrating her funny, lighthearted style with poignant lessons for the recent graduates and calls to be fearless.
She encouraged graduates to go out into the world with fearless confidence.
“You are entering a world which we have toppled like a Jenga tower, and we’re relying on you to rebuild it (…) I’m giving you permission to root for yourself. And while you’re at it, root for those around you too.”
And Kaling called on the graduates to see themselves as change agents:
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something, but especially not yourself. Go and conquer the world. Just remember this: Why not you? You made it this far.
In short, she reminded them to Be Fearless.
These leaders told different stories and brought different perspectives, yet they all spoke to the 2018 graduates about being fearless, standing up for what’s right and speaking out about what’s wrong—even when a lot is on the line. As students begin to prepare for the start of another school year and we all look to make a difference, I hope their stories inspire you as much as they inspired me to Be Fearless in pursuit of your audacious goals and ideas.