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Here Are the Best Commencement Speeches of 2019

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Graduates at universities and colleges around the United States are wrapping up the academic year, preparing to face a new era of life. As part of that tradition, celebrities, politicians, athletes, CEOs and artists are offering a range of life advice in commencement addresses.

Here are some of the best moments and words of wisdom from commencement speeches in 2019.

Robert F. Smith: ‘We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus’

Among the most notable commencement speeches of the graduation season so far was one by Robert F. Smith at Morehouse College. The billionaire investor promised the graduates that he’d pay off the entire class of 2019’s student loans — a pledge that drew looks of shock and several cheers from the crowd.

On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus … This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.

Smith’s announcement was met with surprised glee as students, faculty and other spectators cheered.

Oprah Winfrey: ‘Life is about decisions’

Oprah Winfrey at Colorado College on May 19

The most important thing is how you’re touching other people’s lives … The truth is, you cannot fix everything. But what you can do, here and now, is make a decision, because life is about decisions. And the decision is that you will use your life in service; you will be in service to life. You will speak up. You will show up. You will stand up. You will sit in. You will volunteer. You will vote. You will shout out. You will help. You will lend a hand.

Kristen Bell: ‘Listen as fiercely as you want to be heard’

Kristen Bell at the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts on May 3

When you respect the idea that you are sharing the earth with other humans, and when you lead with your nice foot forward, you’ll win, every time. It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but it comes back to you when you need it,” she said. “We live in an age of instant gratification, of immediate likes. and it is uncomfortable to have to wait to see the dividends of your kindness. But I promise you, it will appear exactly when you need it.

Ken Jeong: ‘Figure out what your act II is’

Ken Jeong at the University of North Carolina Greensboro on May 10

What is your act II? Everyone here has a different timeline. Everyone here has a unique story. Figure out what your act II is, and embrace the change, embrace the twists and the unexpected turns. They’ll be good and they’ll be bad, but embrace that. There’s always downsides to every journey, but because of my education, I have this core stability that makes me unshakeable no matter what happens. I’m also able to take the good with the bad … They say everything happens for a reason. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know everything happens, and it’s up to you to maximize the reality of your situation.

Stacey Abrams: ‘You need to know what you believe’

Stacey Abrams at American University School of Public Affairs on May 11

Our ambitions, our decisions, our responses, are shaped by what we hold to be true. Beyond the easy labels of party and ideology are the deeply held convictions that shape those labels. But too often, adherence to conservative or progressive, to liberal or moderate, to Democrat or Republican or Independent, to being pro-this or anti-that becomes an excuse for lazy thinking. It becomes an excuse for hostile action. And for today, at least, I urge you to set aside your labels and explore what your principles say about the world you wish to serve. Because beliefs are our anchors. If they aren’t, we run the risk of opportunism, making choices because others do so, not because we should. But those anchors should never weigh us down. They should weigh down our capacity for thoughtful engagement and reasonable compromise.

Glenn Close: ‘No one looks out onto the world through your eyes’

Glenn Close at The College of William & Mary on May 11

Your perspective is unique. It’s important and it counts. Try not to compare it to anyone else. Accept it. Believe in it. Nurture it. Stay fiercely, joyously connected to the friends you have made here, to those you love and trust. You will have each other’s backs for the rest of your lives.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Education ‘is deeply important to our growth as people and as a community’

Sonia Sotomayor at Manhattan College on May 17

Education has a more important value than money. It is deeply important to our growth as people and as a community. I am often asked if I ever imagined as a child being on the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States. ‘No,’ I say, ‘When I was a child, my family was poor. No lawyer or judges lived in my neighborhood. I knew nothing about the Supreme Court … You cannot dream of becoming something you do not know about. You have to learn to dream big. Education exposes you to what the world has to offer, to the possibilities open to you.

Tim Cook: ‘Don’t waste time on problems that have been solved’

Tim Cook at Tulane University on May 18

There’s a saying that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. At Apple, I learned that’s a total crock. You’ll work harder than you ever thought possible, but the tools will feel light in your hands. As you go out into the world, don’t waste time on problems that have been solved. Don’t get hung up on what other people say is practical. Instead, steer your ship into the choppy seas. Look for the rough spots, the problems that seem too big, the complexities that other people are content to work around. It’s in those places that you will find your purpose. It’s there that you can make your greatest contribution. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of being too cautious. Don’t assume that by staying put, the ground won’t move beneath your feet. The status quo simply won’t last. So get to work on building something better.

Bill Nye: ‘Turn your fear into excitement’

Bill Nye at Goucher College on May 24

Nowadays, you are going to have to steer our spaceship. Take charge of Earth. It’s no longer a matter of just being good stewards. From now on, we humans will have to deliberately control what we do to our atmosphere, the land and sea to ensure that we maintain as much biodiversity as possible while taking care of all of us. Now, when it comes to changing the world, don’t be scared. Don’t freak out. When you have to perform doing anything … you might be nervous. You might be scared and that fear can stop you cold. But don’t let it. As we say in the theater and on television, take that fear and turn it into excitement … Take a chance. Make a difference … Turn your fear into excitement and change the world.

John Krasinski: ‘Lean all the way in’

John Krasinski at Brown University on May 25

One of the best decisions I made in my life was just to lean all the way in … People ask me how I got into acting, and the truth is, I didn’t get into acting. I got into everything … For the next four years I wanted to be part of it all, I formed a new way of thinking. A new way of executing those thoughts. I left my comfort zone and then stayed there, and left again. I experienced firsthand the powerful shift in doing something out of love, rather than necessity.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘Letting go of the old is part of a new beginning’

Angela Merkel at Harvard University on May 30

The moment when you step out into the open is also a moment of risk taking. Letting go of the old is part of a new beginning. There is no beginning without an end, no day without night, no life without death. Our whole life consists of the difference, the space between beginning and ending. It is what lies in between that we call life and experience. I believe that time and time again we need to be prepared to keep bringing things to an end in order to feel the magic of new beginnings and to make the most of opportunities. That is what I learned as a student, as a scientist and it is what I experience now in politics.

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Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com