TIME Education

10 Timeless Pieces of Advice from Commencement Addresses

Words of wisdom throughout the decades

Every year about this time, celebrities, politicians, prominent academics and other notables flock to college campuses to impart advice to graduates.

Some of those words of wisdom seem, in retrospect, not so wise. (Case in point: Clare Booth Luce advocating for the nuclear option against China in 1964.) Others endure because they aren’t words at all, as was the case when the speaker at Fairleigh Dickinson’s commencement in 1981 was Dizzy Gillespie—and, rather than saying much, he played his trumpet.

Some bits of advice, however, have stood the test of time. Here are 10 of the best that have appeared in the pages of TIME over the years:


  • Calvin Coolidge at Georgetown University

    In 1924: “The market for trained intelligence will never be overstocked.”

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Oglethorpe University

    In 1932: “The country demands bold persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach.”

  • Ralph McGill, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, at the University of Miami

    In 1949: “It has sometimes been my idea that instead of a speaker offering sage advice, it would be a far better idea to place before a graduating audience a fine symphony … or a magnificent ballet, and when this had been completed, to say; ‘Ladies and gentlemen, life can be very lovely or very sad. It probably will be a mixture of both . . . Goodbye, and God go with you . . .”

  • Kirsten Mishkin, the first Radcliffe woman to deliver the traditional Latin commencement address at Harvard

    In 1970 (and this one’s in Latin, so it needs more room):

    Gaudete, vos feminae antiquae! O vos fortissimae invictaeque—Susania Antony, Elizabetha Cady Stanton, Elizabetha Blackwell, nostra Elizabetha Agassiz—quae pro suffragio, pro dignitate muliebri, pro educatione puellarum et doctrina quae pueris foret aequa fortissime contendistis. In universitate Harvardiana, in patria, in orbeterrarum, status feminarum plerumque inferior dudum habetur. Mulieres se contemnere didicerunt. Copiae et honores et titulihominibus dati tamen feminis sunt negati . . . Arma nondum licet deponere, meae sorores, nee proeliurn tarn Ion-gum tamque difficile nobis est relin- quendum. Ubique flagrat iniqua virorum dominatio.

    Rejoice, O women of old! O brave and unconquered—Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Elizabeth Blackwell, our Elizabeth Agassiz—who struggled courageously for suffrage, for womanly dignity, for an education and training for girls which would be equal to that of boys. At Harvard University, in America, in the world, woman’s position is widely recognized to be inferior. Women have learned to despise themselves. Resources, opportunities and honors available to men are denied to women . . . Not yet can we lay down our weapons, my sisters, nor must we abandon so long and difficult a battle. Everywhere an iniquitous male supremacy is rampant.

    “Together, let us establish a new society, the foundations of which will be … not fear, but good will; not war between the sexes, but loyal brotherhood and sisterly love,” she concluded, also in Latin.

  • Beverly Sills at Barnard College in 1981

    In 1981: “If you wonder when you’ll get time to rest, well, you can sleep in your old age if you live that long. You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”

  • Coretta Scott King at Pomona College

    In 1984: “When we make politics a crusade, politicians will begin to understand that they must serve all of the people and not just a select few.”

  • Ann H. Zwinger at Carleton College

    In 1984: “I highly recommend the pursuit of happiness from east to west, bending and stooping, pausing, enjoying, not going anywhere in particular except down a beach or around a pond, always knowing that there is something wonderful just ahead.”

  • Barbara Walters at Hofstra University

    In 1986: “The hardest thing you will ever have to do is to trust your own gut and find what seems to work for you.”

  • Tracy Kidder at Sarah Lawrence College

    In 1986: “If you do feel a little worried, don’t worry about being worried. You’re heading out on an adventure, and you can always change your mind along the way and try something else.”

  • Jodie Foster at the University of Pennsylvania

    In 2006: “Your Penn education has given you a two-by-four. You may build a building or hit someone over the head.”

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com


Dear TIME Reader,

As a regular visitor to TIME.com, we are sure you enjoy all the great journalism created by our editors and reporters. Great journalism has great value, and it costs money to make it. One of the main ways we cover our costs is through advertising.

The use of software that blocks ads limits our ability to provide you with the journalism you enjoy. Consider turning your Ad Blocker off so that we can continue to provide the world class journalism you have become accustomed to.

The TIME Team