Get Inspired By These Powerful Commencement Quotes From Female Leaders

Get Inspired By These Powerful Commencement Quotes

From Female Leaders

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With many fabulous leaders of tomorrow graduating in these coming weeks, the words they hear at their commencements will guide them into their future. We collected some amazing addresses by women we all look up to. They may inspire you in all areas of your life, even if your own graduation is many years behind you.

Michelle Obama at Eastern Kentucky University, 2013  

“If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do — we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose.”

Michelle Obama Courtesy of Kentucky
Maya Angelou at Wellesley College, 1982

What you have first is your courage,” she said. “You may lean against it, it will hold you up, you have that. And the joy of achievement, the ecstasy of achievement. It enlightens and lightens at the same time. It is a marvelous thing. Today, your joy begins, today your work begins. You are phenomenal. I believe that women are phenomenal. I know us to be.”

Amy Poehler Courtesy of The Lala

“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Trinity College, 2004

“If there is one lesson you should learn today, it’s not to waste one precious second of your life. You should never say ‘I’m bored’ or ‘I’m tired’ or ‘there’s nothing to do.’ There’s so much to do that you can’t possibly let one second slip by that’s not filled to the brim. For example, there are something like 130,000 books published in this country every single year…Or if you look at the newspaper there’s always a concert or a play or a movie to go to. And there are museums filled with exhibits. And a whole world of wonders to visit. And there are friends and family to see. Sporting events to take part in. Fabulous foods to taste. Delicious wines to sip. And, in my special arena, great moments to share with a partner.”

Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University 2009

“Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.”

“Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak. Be a beacon of light, for those whose lives have become dark. Fight the good fight against global warming. Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world you want to live in.”

Shonda RhimesDartmouth, 2014

“Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real.”

J.K. Rowling at Harvard, 2008
J.K. Rowling Courtesy of Hips

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Nora Ephron, Wellesley, 1996

“You are graduating from Wellesley in the Year of the Wonderbra. The Wonderbra is not a step forward for women. Nothing that hurts that much is a step forward for women. What I’m saying is, don’t delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth. Don’t let The New York Times article about the brilliant success of Wellesley graduates in the business world fool you — there’s still a glass ceiling. Don’t let the number of women in the work force trick you — there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents. Don’t underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don’t take it personally, but listen hard to what’s going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: Every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you.”

Oprah Winfrey at Spelman University, 2012
Oprah Winfrey Courtesy of Oprah

“You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go.” 

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Wellesley, 1992

“As women today, you face tough choices. You know the rules are basically as follows:  If you don’t get married, you’re abnormal. If you get married but don’t have children, you’re a selfish yuppie. If you get married and have children, but work outside the home, you’re a bad mother. If you get married and have children, but stay home, you’ve wasted your education. And if you don’t get married, but have children and work outside the home as a fictional newscaster, then you’re in trouble with Dan Quayle. So you see, if you listen to all the people who make these rules, you might just conclude that the safest course of action is just to take your diploma and crawl under your bed. 

But let me propose an alternative. Hold on to your dreams. Take up the challenge of forging an identity that transcends yourself.

Transcend yourself and you will find yourself… There is no dress rehearsal for life, and you will have to ad lib your way through each scene. The only way to prepare is to do what you have done: Get the best possible education; continue to learn from literature, scripture, and history, to understand the human experience as best you can so that you have guideposts charting the terrain toward whatever decisions are right for you.”

Gloria Steinem, Smith, 2007

“Your generation has made giant strides into public life, but often still says: How can I combine career and family? I say to you from the bottom of my heart that when you ask that question you are setting your sights way too low. First of all, there can be no answer until men are asking the same question. Second, every other modern democracy in the world is way, way ahead of this country in providing a national system of child care, and job patterns adapted to the needs of parents, both men and women. So don’t get guilty. Get mad. Get active. If this is a problem that affects millions of unique women, then the only answer is to organize.”

Michelle ObamaUniversity of California, Merced, 2009

“When times get tough and fear sets in, think of those people who paved the way for you and those who are counting on you to pave the way for them. Never let setbacks or fear dictate the course of your life. Hold on to the possibility and push beyond the fear.”

Meryl StreepVassar, 1983
Meryl Streep Courtesy of Zimbio

“That choice, between the devil and the dream, comes up every day in different little disguises. I’m sure it comes up in every field of endeavor and every life. My advice is to look the dilemma in the face and decide what you can live with. If you can live with the devil, Vassar hasn’t sunk her teeth into your leg the way she did mine. But that conscience, that consciousness of quality, and the need to demand it can galvanize your energies, not just in your work, but in a rigorous exercise of mind and heart in every aspect of your life. I firmly believe that this engagement in the attempt for excellence is what sustains the most well-lived and satisfying, successful lives.”

Michelle Obama, Dillard University, 2011

“This is your obligation,” Obama said. “I want you to keep reaching higher. I want you all to keep raising your bars, let the next generation know that there is no greater investment than a good education.”

Kerry Washington, George Washington University, 2013

“When I arrived at GW, I didn’t think I would be an actor. I dreamt of being a psychologist or an educator like my mother. From an early age, I was fascinated with people and how we become who we are, but acting? That was a hobby… I designed an interdisciplinary major in various social sciences: psychology, sociology, history, and anthropology, and one of the things that fascinated me most was the importance of storytelling. In every culture and at every moment of human existence, the ritual of storytelling has been a central tenet of our experience because it is through stories that we understand ourselves and each other. When we engage in a great story, whether it’s a novel or a film or a documentary, we learn something more about who we are… As we journey along with the hero of any story, we realized that we, too, are the lead characters of our own lives.”

Aly Walansky

Aly Walansky is a freelance lifestyles writer based in New York City, who contributes regularly to iVillage, SheKnows.com, xoJane, Huffington Post, and The Fashion Spot as well as many other print and web outlets.

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