9 Best Commencement Speeches Of 2012

The season is just coming to a close when the famous stand before seas of new graduates, and offer up the wisdom they've gleaned in their sparkling careers. So AOL Jobs thought it was only right that we watch the best round of commencement speeches of 2012; shed a couple tears; quickly wipe away those tears because we're sitting at our desks in the middle of a workday; and pass along the most notable advice.

Many of the speakers revealed that they didn't actually remember what their own commencement speakers had said, or even whom the speaker was, so they didn't really expect these graduates to either. But regardless, they doled out the advice they wish they'd had, the advice they wished they'd always kept close.

Some of it is good advice for graduates on the cusp of their careers, but also for those of us already in the midst of a career, or hoping to start a second or third. Some is good advice for anybody anytime.

There were recurring themes in the speeches: find your passion and stick to it; be fearless and principled; and serve your community, your country, and your friends. Of course, they said all of that far more eloquently. So to hear the career advice of nine of this year's celebrity commencement speakers in their own words, check out our slide show below.

9 Best Commencement Speeches of 2012
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9 Best Commencement Speeches Of 2012

Four-star general and 65th Secretary of State Colin Powell comforted the Northeastern University class of 2012 by saying that he never imagined that he would be where he is today. He said he's sometimes asked, "When you were a kid growing up in the South Bronx, did you dream that you would be a four-star general and Secretary of State?" 

"And I smile and I answer them. 'Yeah, there I was, I believe I was about 12-years-old. I was standing on the corner of Kelley Street and 123rd and I said to myself, 'You're going to grow up to be a four-star general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.' 

"It doesn't happen that way," he continued. "It never will for anybody."

Best Takeaway: "I didn't have to become a general to find satisfaction in my career, nor was that ever promised to me. I found satisfaction every day knowing that I was trying to do my best and that I was serving my country. I went into the Army to be a soldier, and not a general."

The talk show host, actress and media magnate told the graduating class of the historically black women's college, Spelman,  about the moment that she transformed her career. It was the early '80s, and Winfrey was hosting a half-hour local morning talk show in Chicago. Then a switch flipped. "I made a decision that I was no longer going to just be on TV," she said, "but I was going to use TV as a platform as a force for good, and not be used by TV."

The most generous black philanthropist in history emphasized the fleetingness of fame, and the importance of service. "We think being known brings us value," she said. "The truth is all of that will fade in time. In three years you won't be able to name the 'Real Housewives of Atlanta.' " The crowd chuckled. (Topical pop culture references are easy wins with commencement crowds).

Best Takeaway: "When you shift the paradigm of whatever it is you choose to do to service, and you bring significance to that, success will, I promise you, follow you. Service and significance equals success."

The special effects designer, actor, and the co-host of Discovery Channel's "MythBusters," confessed to Sarah Lawrence students that he never actually figured out what he wanted to do when he grew up. He never became an expert in any one thing, and instead hopped around from project to project. But that's OK, he told them, it gave him a much bigger grasp of the world.

"When you genuinely understand how the big picture works, you start being able to anticipate changes," Savage said. "Adapt your behavior, adapt your output. You do this and you will simply do your job better, and you will make the job of everyone around you easier."

Best Takeaway: "Don't work for fools. It's not worth it. Getting paid less to work for people you like and love and believe in is so much better for you and your career in the long run."

The former secretary of state told rows of Southern Methodist University graduates about how she stumbled on her passion. She'd been a music major, she explained, until she realized that she was never going to be good enough. She dabbled in English Lit, but it didn't stick. And it wasn't until the spring semester of her junior year that she stopped by an international relations class. She was hooked.

Find your passion, Rice exhorted the crowd. "Something that you really believe is a unique calling to you. Something that you can't live without. As an educated person, you have an obligation to spend your life doing what you love."

Best Takeaway: The girl who grew up in the most segregated city in the nation, and became the first black female secretary of state, beseeched the graduates not to be deterred by the inconceivable. "Always remember in those times of trial," she said, "that what seems impossible seems inevitable in retrospect."

The radio personality told the Goucher College class of 2012 about the many years he spent in borderline poverty before becoming an award-winning host and producer of "This American Life." "My personal financial goal was your age times 1,000," he said," which I did not achieve until well into my 30s."

He also urged the crowd of newly ex-students to not be swayed by the expectations and pressures of those around them, particularly that giant bursting bundle of expectations and pressures -- their parents. Glass' own  "completely opposed everything I was doing in public broadcasting," he explained. They wanted him to be a doctor.

"I had my own national radio show. I'd been on "David Letterman." There'd be a New York Times Magazine article about me, before they stopped suggesting medical school was still an option."

Best Takeaway: He advised the parents in the crowd to be patient. And to the kids: "As your parents catch up to you, don't be a..." (let's just say "jerk").

The "Glee" star explained to the Smith College class of 2012 one of the most fundamental rules of improvisational comedy: "Yes, and..."

When your scene partner comes up with an idea onstage, don't shut it down. Play along, and add to it. That makes for good comedy, Lynch said. That also makes for a good life. "Plough through fear," she said, and grab at every opportunity. Except porno, maybe. And robbing a bank. And spending a few hours with the Kardashians. "Hours you will never get back."

Best Takeaway: Lynch figured that a lot of the students in the audience were of the Type A variety. Get over it, she chided them. "Let life surprise you. Don't have a plan. Plans are for wusses.... If life gives you lemons, grab it by the horns and drive -- and yes, I just mixed three metaphors. Remember, I was a C-student."

The playwright, producer and Oscar- and Emmy-winning screenwriter stood on the stage of his alma mater, Syracuse, and shared with the new graduates the pot-holed road that got him there. After graduation, he had a series of "survival jobs" as he tried to make it in the theater: bartending, ticket-taking, telemarketing, limo-driving, "dressing up as a moose to pass out leaflets in a mall."

He also lost a decade of his life to cocaine addiction, he confessed. "You know how I got addicted to cocaine? I tried it," he said. "The problem with drugs is that they work, right up until the moment that they decimate your life."

Best Takeaway: Through his trials, he's collected a few simple scraps of wisdom. "To get where you're going you have to be good. And to be good where you're going you have to be damn good. Develop your own compass and trust it. Take risks. Dare to fail. Remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt." And "decisions are made by those who show up."

He ended with: "Don't ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. It's the only thing that ever has."

Celebrated journalist and best-selling author Maria Shriver commiserated with the graduating class at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication (which included her own eldest daughter). All those questions they were getting deluged with right now: Do you have a job? How much does it pay? What are you going to do with your life? They dog you, she said, "all your life."

Because she was addressing a class of communications majors, she had some specific advice. "Pause before you report something that you don't know is absolutely true," she said. "Pause before you put a rumor out there as fact."

Best Takeaway: "Pause and reflect before you sign on with someone or some organization whose work you do not admire and you don't respect, and whose work you cannot stand up for. Who you work for is as important as what you do."

The actor, writer, former "Saturday Night Live" comedian and gawky Jewish heartthrob admitted he didn't have much wisdom to share with the Harvard class of 2012, given that he was only 33 years old. In fact, he was only qualified to give them three simple tips:

"One, cut a hole in a box," he said. "Two, put your junk in said box. Three, make her or him open the box. And that's the way you do it."


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