All the life lessons Oprah Winfrey, Will Ferrell and more have shared

By Grace Gavilanes
May 26, 2017 01:42 PM
Credit: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

While high school and college seniors gear up to begin their post-grad lives, select stars are preparing to deliver inspiring, hilarious and life-altering speeches on graduation day.

Here, a few nuggets of advice the following celebs have doled out while taking the graduation stage this year:

Oprah Winfrey: Live a Life of Substance

“You’re nothing if you’re not the truth,” Winfrey told the crowd at Agnes Scott College. “I’ve made a living, I’ve made a life – I’ve made a fortune, really – all good! – from being true to myself. If I can leave you with any message today: The biggest reward is not financial benefits, though it’s really good, you can get a lot of great shoes!”

“Those of you who have a lot of shoes know having a closet full of shoes doesn’t fill up your life. Living a life of substance can. Substance through your service.”

Janelle Monáe: ‘Choose Freedom Over Fear’

“And so on this day graduates of 2017, I celebrate you as you remember the power of grace and pride,” the singer-actress told Dillard University graduates. “And I challenge you to choose freedom over fear.”

Sheryl Sandberg: ‘We Build Resilience in Ourselves’

Addressing Virginia Tech graduates, the Facebook COO said: “We don’t have a set amount of resilience – it’s a muscle that any of us can build. We build resilience in ourselves. We build it in the people we love. And we build it together, as a community. That’s called ‘collective resilience,’ and it’s an incredibly powerful force – one that our country and world need so badly right now.”

Sandberg said that as she grieved her own loss – her husband’s sudden death in 2015 – she learned that “it takes strength to rely on others.” She added: “There are times to lean in and there are times to lean on.”

Will Ferrell: ‘You’re Never Not Afraid’

“Yes, I was afraid. You’re never not afraid. I’m still afraid,” the Saturday Night Live alum told USC graduates, speaking of his early years, sitting in an apartment alone “eating spaghetti topped with mustard.” But, he added, “My fear of failure never approached in magnitude my fear of ‘What if? What if I never tried at all?’ ”

“No matter how cliché it may sound,” he told the class of 2017, “You will never truly be successful until you learn to get beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.”

Octavia Spencer: ‘You’re Going to Have to Roll Up Your Sleeves’

In her speech at the Kent State University graduation ceremony, the Oscar winner spoke of her experience working on Hidden Figures with her costars, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe. “Taraji, Janelle and I portrayed women who worked for NASA at a time at best can be described as turbulent crossroads of our history,” the actress shared. “They responded to that tumultuous time and efforts to quiet their voices by rolling up their sleeves and doing the work and I think that’s fair to say that we’re in a similar period right now and no matter where your values lie, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves just like Dorothy Vaughan.”

Pharrell Williams: ‘Fuel the Demand for the Better’

Speaking to the graduating class at New York University, Williams said, “You might think your time and education is done, but after you leave here today I’m asking you guys to let your actions out there in the world fuel the demand for the better, and accessible education.”

He later concluded with a rallying cry: “I know that somebody out there right now in this class just might occupy the White House one day. And let me be clear: not red, and not blue, but maybe purple like NYU!”

Helen Mirren: ‘Listen to Your Instincts’

“The trick is to listen to your instincts, grab the opportunity when it presents itself and then give it your all,” the actress told 2017 graduates of Tulane University in an entertaining commencement address. “Like a hangover, neither triumph nor disaster lasts forever.”

Mark Zuckerberg: ‘Finding Your Purpose Isn’t Enough’

“Today I want to talk about purpose. But I’m not here to give you the standard commencement about finding your purpose. We’re millennials. We’ll try to do that instinctively,” the Facebook CEO told Harvard University graduates. Zuckerberg went on to talk about meeting with a range of people from all over the United States, and finding a common thread: people who don’t have a sense of purpose usually find themselves in a downward spiral.

He added: “Instead, I’m here to tell you finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.”

Hillary Clinton: ‘Don’t Be Afraid of Your Ambition’

Clinton returned to Wellesley College, her alma mater, to deliver a commencement speech that took aim at the Trump administration and focused on the importance of dreaming big. “Don’t be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams, or even your anger,” she said. “Those are powerful forces, but harness them to make a difference in the world.”