3 Graduation Speeches Every Student Should Watch – 50 Lessons from Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, and Tyler Perry

I honestly can not remember who the guest speaker was for my high school graduation. All I remember is eagerly waiting for my name to be called and wondering if the loud applause for the person before me would continue long enough for me to also walk across the stage…just in case my squad was not loud enough!


#Classof2020 may not experience the energy of 1,000 people cheering in their school auditorium as they cross the stage for the last time. They do, however, have an opportunity to create and curate their own personalized graduation celebration.


For those graduates hosting their own virtual graduation ceremonies, here are 3 graduation speeches I recommended watching with lessons I took away from each.


Oprah Winfrey, 2013 Harvard University Commencement Address

    1. Everyone’s college experience is different. You do not have to go to Harvard to have a personality or characteristics that will help you be successful in life.Also, just because you did not go to Harvard, does not mean Harvard won’t ever invite you to speak at a future graduation.

    2. No matter how elite you think someone is because of who they are, or the school they went to, you have something to offer.

    3. If you are not sure about what career you want to pursue, think back to your younger self. When people asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” How did you answer that question? Chances are, that innocent answer is close to what your calling may be.


  1. Become your own competition. Raise the bar for yourself – over and over.

  2. When you feel comfortable or that you have reached your highest point, find new territory and break new ground.

  3. Even Oprah Winfrey felt like she had stop succeeding.

  4. Discover ways to bring yourself comfort…ways that will support your goals.

  5. Spirituality, “When the morning comes… this too shall pass” – helped Oprah Winfrey get out of the rut mentally.

  6. No matter how far you rise, you will fall at some point.

  7. Failure is life trying to move you in another direction. It is ok to feel bad for a little while but learn from every mistake. Give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost, and then get back to work.

  8. Every experience is happening to teach you and force you into being more of who you are.

  9. When you must decide, ask yourself, “What is the next right move?” Develop an internal, moral GPS that will tell you which way to go.

  10. The challenge of life: Build a resume that does not just tell a story of what you want to be, but who you want to be… Not just what you want to accomplish, but why… Not just a collection of titles and positions, but a story about your purpose. Because that is the story that will get you out of a hole. Your purpose.

  11. Clarity, to know your purpose will not come all at once, and right away.

  12. You can better your life, the life of your neighbors, and our country… When you do, that’s when your story gets really good.

  13. When you learn – teach, when you get – give. That is what gives your life story purpose and meaning.

  14. You have your own platform. You have the power in your own way to develop your own Angel Network… And in doing so, you will be armed with more tools of influence and empowerment than any other generation in history. Oprah Winfrey did it in an analog world. She did it with a platform that at its height reached 20 Million viewers a day. Now, Generation Z (Gen Z) can reach billions in just seconds with platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

  15. Everyone wants to be validated. We want to be understood. We want to know, “Was that OK? Did what I say mean anything to you.”

  16. Being yourself is easier than pretending to be someone else.

  17. You will have some anxiety and hesitation about leaving the comfort of school and putting the things you learned to the test. But, no matter what disappointments or setbacks you may encounter along the way, you will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal: to fulfill the highest, most truthful, expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity by using your energy to lift yourself, your family, and the people around you up.

  18. Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. What the world needs is people who have come alive.

  19. You will have doubts, and questions about your path. Listen to your internal GPS to help you figure out what makes you come alive. You will be happy, successful, and you will make a difference in the world.



Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford University Commencement Address


  1. Everyone’s college experience is different.

  2. Even Steve Jobs experienced some family drama.

  3. Although Steve Jobs “dropped out” of the his regularly scheduled courses, he followed his curiosity and intuition to “drop in” on other classes.

  4. You cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect the dots looking backwards. You must trust in something, and believe the dots will connect down the road.

  5. If you find what you want to do early in life, you are lucky.

  6. It is O.K. to get fired, even if it is from a business you started.

  7. Sometimes life will hit you in the head with a brick. Do not lose faith.

  8. You must find what you love. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.

  9. Ask yourself, “If today were my last day on earth, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” If the answer is “No” too many days in a row, it may be time to make a change. Remembering you are going to die is the best tool to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

  10. Your time is limited so do not waste it living someone else’s life.

  11. Do not be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of the thinking of others.

  12. Do not let the noise of the opinion of others drown out your own inner voice.

  13. Have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

  14. Stay Hungry, Stay foolish.


Tyler Perry, 2016 Tuskegee University Commencement Address

  1. Everyone’s college experience is different…

  2. Self-awareness, learning, and knowing how to apply what you are learning to your life is important.

  3. You do not know what you do not know. Prepare to spend a lot of time and money figuring things out. Higher education, training, and mentoring can keep you from wasting more time and money than you have to.

  4. Learning the basics of business will help you run your business, especially in the beginning.

  5. No one will see all the hard work that goes into your foundation – but when it’s done right it will carry the weight of anything it was designed to hold.

  6. You are being designed to handle different levels of success.

  7. It takes a while to build a dream.

  8. What’s in the well will come up in the bucket.

  9. Tyler Perry’s plays failed repeatedly, and he was going to give up on himself. It took 7 years of trying until things started to take off.

  10. The dream your family has for you may not be the dream you have for yourself.

  11. Tyler Perry started to find success when his purpose and intention changed to serving and lifting other people up.

  12. Ask yourself what is your intention in your career? Why did you choose it? What is your purpose?

  13. As you become successful, at first you are going to be celebrated…and then you will become a target.

  14. Sometimes your enemy is in your own backyard.

    O.K., so the list is more than 50…

  15. If you are not being seen, you are not doing anything.

  16. Do not let anyone tell you your story should not be told.

  17. Never change one brush stroke on your canvas because someone does not like what you paint.

  18. No matter what comes your way, stay on course and keep your intention.

  19. Stop looking to others for validation. Your gift is enough.

  20. Live in your truth. Share your gifts. Don’t worry about who gets it. If your intention is right, you will make it.



About Brandon L. Griffin
Brandon L. Griffin is a digital native, Millennial, and success coach for Gen Z students. In Growing Up Boss – Lessons Learned as a Young Entrepreneur, Brandon recounts lessons from his 20 year entrepreneurial career path and offers steps young adults can take to get a head start on their career. To learn more visit: http://www.GenZLifeCoach.com


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