MONEY Workplace

Great Career Advice from 2015 College Commencement Speeches

A host of incredibly wealthy and successful commencement speakers told the class of 2015 to follow their passion and not worry about getting rich.

Graduation season is in full swing, and with it come the parades of 20-somethings in flowing gowns, doting families snapping photos, and, of course, star-studded commencement speeches.

Some of the past weeks’ remarks were emotional, others were comical, and a few were just plain terrible (sorry, Duke grads). But many were filled with inspiring life and career lessons from leaders across industries. Here’s a look at a few of the most insightful.


  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc.

    Apple CEO Tim Cook
    Alex Brandon—AP

    George Washington University

    “You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well … Work takes on new meaning when you feel you are pointed in the right direction. Otherwise it’s just a job, and life is too short for that.”

    Cook also offered some wisdom from his former boss, the late Steve Jobs: “I always figured that work was work. Steve didn’t see it that way … He was an idealist … He convinced me that if we worked hard and made great products, we, too, could help change the world.”

    “Your challenge is to find work that pays the rent, puts food on the table, and lets you do what is right and good and just,” Cook advised.

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist

    Don Treeger—The Republican via AP

    University of Massachusetts Amherst

    “Your grades, whatever is your GPA, rapidly becomes irrelevant in your life… I cannot begin to impress upon you how irrelevant it becomes. Because in life, they aren’t going to ask you your GPA.”

    “I think on some level, role models are overrated … Growing up in the Bronx, had I required, as a prerequisite, that another black man from the Bronx had become an astrophysicist for me to become one, I’d still be in the Bronx.”

  • Former President George W. Bush

    Clayton T. Smith—Southern Methodist University

    Southern Methodist University

    “Those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done … And, as I like to tell the C-students, you too can be president.”

  • Mary Karr, Poet

    Stephen Sartori—Syracuse University

    Syracuse University

    “If you can get curious about what scares or infuriates you, especially if it’s part of yourself, you can get way less scared.”

  • Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State


    Rice University

    “Leadership is all about followership. Leaders put followers in the best possible environment to accomplish a unit mission or an organizational mission. It works in the Army; it works in the university; it works in any endeavor in the world where humans come together to achieve a purpose.”

  • First Lady Michelle Obama

    Michelle Obama150521_EM_CommencementAdvice_Obama
    Brynn Anderson—AP

    Tuskegee University

    “Throughout this journey I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth. I had to answer some basic questions for myself: Who am I? No, really, who am I? What do I care about?”

  • Tom Brokaw, Journalist

    Laura Greene—AP

    High Point University

    “Don’t be afraid to be disruptive; find new ways to do the conventional and the useful; and don’t run from big and bold challenges.”

  • Mellody Hobson, Chair, DreamWorks Animation

    Gus Ruelas—Unversity of Southern California

    University of Southern California

    “A lot of graduation speeches will encourage you to be passionate about something. I’m here to encourage you to be passionate about someone … For me, it was career. Business. Those were my priorities. It took me a long time to be as brave in my personal life as I was in my professional life.”

  • Condoleezza Rice, Former Secretary of State

    Stephen Salpukas—College of William & Mary

    College of William and Mary

    “You’re headed into a world where optimists are too often told to keep their ideals to themselves. Don’t do it. Believe in the possibility of human progress and act to advance it.”

    “Your passion may be hard to spot, so keep an open mind and keep searching,” Rice said. “And when you find your passion, it is yours, not what someone else thinks it should be. Don’t let anyone else define your passion for you because of your gender or the color of your skin.”

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