Tag Archives: best commencement speeches

Best Commencement Speeches: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

alex atkins bookshelf educationChimamanda Negozi Adichie (born 1977) is a novelist and short story writer, born in Enugu, Nigeria. She is a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant (2008). She is best known for her first novel, Puple Hibiscus, published in 2006. Her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” (October 2009), about the underrepresentation of cultural differences, is one of the top ten most viewed TED Talks of all time.

Below is an excerpt from her commencement speech to Kalamazoo College (Kalamazoo, Michigan) in 2009:

I’ve noticed that people who give commencement addresses are usually people who are supposed to have it all figured out. I’m afraid I haven’t. And so instead of giving you the secret formula to a perfect life – which I really wish I had because I certainly need it myself – I’d like to end with some random suggestions I have accumulated at the grand age of almost 32.

Suggestion 1: Please think about what you want to value.
Now, money is of course very important and can change the world for the better, but now that you have that diploma, think about creating a society, an organization, a company that values the things that you want to value rather than the things that you are supposed to value.

Suggestion 2: Read books.
Books are still the best ways to truly come close to understanding complexity in our very complex world. When we read… we become alive in bodies not our own. It seems to me that we live in a world where is has become increasingly important to try and live in bodies not our own, to embrace empathy, to constantly be reminded that we share, with everybody in every part of the world, a common and equal humanity.

Suggestion 3: Please remember that there is never a single story about anything.
Please try as much as you can to have as many stories about the world as you can.

Suggestion 4: Please think about how little you know.
Leave room in your mind to revise opinions, to avoid smugness… I hope that your diploma will remind you of what you still don’t know.

Suggestion 5: Please leave room for hope and for fear.
I’ve often imagined that fiction and faith are very alike – faith in God, faith in humanism, faith in the power of goodness. To write fiction is to jump into this journey not knowing where it will end but wanting to go on the journey anyway. To write fiction is to start a long walk knowing you will trip and fall down but still keen to take the walk… It seems to me that this is not a bad way to look at the rest of your life. You will trip many times. Don’t be surprised when you fall. Maybe even lounge in the dirt for a little while. And then, get up!

Congratulations again. I wish you a life filled with meaning and with laughter. Thank you.

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For further reading: The World Is Waiting For You by Tara Grove and Isable Ostrer


Best Books for Graduates

atkins-bookshelf-booksIn late Spring, millions of graduates, cloaked in black gowns, sit patiently in neat rows of folding metal chairs, like penguins basking in the hot sun. It is commencement in America — an important milestone in the life of young people who, having earned a degree in the hallowed halls of the academe, are now yearning to embark on life’s journey to destinations known and unknown. They sit eagerly awaiting some notable guest speaker (although not always the university’s first choice for commencement speaker) to walk up to the podium and cast pearls of wisdom onto this massive patchquilt of mortarboards. 

Unfortunately, there is no direct correlation between fame and wisdom. Nor is a speaker’s celebrity status any guarantee that the talk will be compelling or interesting. As Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, once quipped, “[Commencment speeches] were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.” Indeed, some guest speakers rise to the occasion and bare their souls, sharing thoughtful words of wisdom, while others do not appreciate the solemness of this rite of passage and use this precious opportunity to toss out tired platitudes or glib observations.

To illuminate the horizon for these aspiring young men and women, “the leaders of tomorrow” to use a hackneyed phrase, Bookshelf presents some of the best books for graduates that actually have something meaningful to say. These books, like a great teacher or mentor, can provide valuable insight, inspiration, encouragement, and guidance for many years after graduation.  

Onward! edited by Peter Smith, Scribner (2000)
Here We Stand edited by Randy How, Lyons Press (2009)
The Quotable Graduate edited by Heidi Reinholdt and John Ross, Lyons Press (2003)
The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons from Extraordinary Lives by Katie Couric, Random House (2011)
Everyday Greatness: Inspiration for a Meaningful Life edited by David Hatch, commentary by Stephen Covey, Reader’s Digest (2006)
The Gigantic Book of Teachers’ Wisdom edited by Erin Gruwell, Skyhorse Publishing (2007)
Words that Matter: Everyday Truths to Guide and Inspire edited by Michelle Burford, HarperStudio (2010)
The Best Advice Ever Given: Life Lessons for Success in the Real World edited by Steven Price, Lyons Press (2006)
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks: Timeless Advice on the Senses, Society, and the Soul edited by Steven Stavropoulos, Barnes and Noble (2003)

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