'If You Want to Save the World, You Don't Need to Be James Bond': 2019's Celeb Commencement Speakers Share Their Best Life Advice
Winfrey gave a rousing speech as she addressed the graduating class at Colorado College during their commencement ceremony on May 19.
“I’m here to tell you that you actually do get to transform the world every day by your actions,” Winfrey told the crowd. “Small steps lead to big accomplishments.”
“The most important thing is how you’re touching other people’s lives,” Winfrey added, going on to discuss the importance of perspective.
“The truth is, you cannot fix everything,” she said. “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.”
“You will offer your talent and your kindness however you can,” she continued, “and you will radically transform whatever moment you’re in — which leads to bigger moments.”
Winfrey added, “You have no idea what your legacy will be.”
The Dawson’s Creek actress returned to her hometown of Toledo, Ohio, to deliver the commencement speech to more than 2,000 undergraduate students at the University of Toledo’s Glass Bowl Stadium on May 18.
The mother of one gave some cheeky advice on the importance of being yourself — literally. “Another thing I learned, don’t use a fake ID to buy wine and then try to pay with a check. I’m aware that no one pays by check these days, but that’s just more reason not to do it. That’ll be extra confusing,” she said.
She had a particularly potent message for the female graduates: “For the young women in the audience, I want to encourage you to lift up, listen to, and trust one another … Especially now, women supporting women could not be more important.”
She closed with a powerful reminder that there’s no time like the present to work for what you want and enjoy what you already have.
“So if you’re waiting for a sign, this is it. … You are the person who’s going to go out there and make things happen for yourself. And that’s a terrifying and amazing responsibility. You deserve joy — not in ten years, but now. So try to be equal parts tough and gentle with yourself. Take things one step at a time. Work hard when no one is looking. And don’t let anybody say you never called them back.”
The Today co-anchor delivered the George Washington University commencement speech in Washington, D.C., on May 19.
Ahead of her big moment, Guthrie gave PEOPLE a preview of some of the advice she planned to share with the students. “I try to think about what I wish someone had told me when I was their age or at that moment in my life, and my big message is not to worry so much; that they have goals, and they should have goals, but really, the journey is the whole purpose,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie reflected on feeling “excited” and “honored” to be part of the GWU graduates’ special day: “I love the idea of getting to share that moment with people who are just on the verge of really heading out into the world and going after their dreams.”
During the ceremony, which was held on the National Mall, Guthrie took note of the historic surroundings before reminding the students: “You are making your own history.”
She continued, “The diploma you receive today is your own personal monument: to your work, your sacrifice, your passion, your perseverance. It is your accomplishment that will stand as solid as granite through the years and the miles, through the winds and the waters, through the lifetime to come.”
The “Happy” singer returned to his home state to encourage the graduating class of the University of Virginia to use their education to help others and change the world for the better.
During the May 17 commencement ceremony, held at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Williams touched on serious subjects, bringing up Alabama’s controversial measures to ban abortions before stating his confidence in the next generation of leaders to move us forward.
“We ended slavery — you would think we’d be tired of telling other humans what they can and cannot do with their bodies,” he said of the new laws. “Haven’t we learned our lessons about trying to govern human bodies?”
He then asked the students to work on spreading positivity in their everyday lives. “I personally believe that positivity is something that we should bottle up,” Williams said, “because the world as we know it, and we see it, needs it … The good thing is your generation knows all of this already. I am just here to nudge you again as you move on from classrooms to boardrooms.”
“When I look out, I see thinkers, innovators, rule breakers. I see ambition. I see energy. I see bold, audacious dreams that are bound to disrupt,” he added. “History has been anticipating you. Don’t keep it waiting any longer, 2019 — and definitely don’t fail to make your mark.”
The Peppermint star returned to her alma mater, Denison University, to share some funny, timely and encouraging post-grad tips with the class of 2019 at their May 18 commencement ceremony.
“When it comes to Halloween costumes, go funny over sexy,” Garner advised. “Why would you dress like a flirty nurse, when you could be a mailbox?”
In the midst of her more lighthearted quips, she touched on everything from the importance of sun protection to understanding consent: “Mixed signals are not mixed signals, they’re a no.”
The mom of three ended her moving speech with a reminder that happiness is part of the journey, not a destination.
“Chances are, if you’re lucky, life will be 65% happy. That’s a big win. That’s a fresh on Rotten Tomatoes,” Garner joked. “At a certain point you’ll find there is no finish line to cross, no moment where you’re just supposed to be happy. While you wait for those moments, the MCAT score, the perfect job, the engagement ring, your life is happening. Isn’t it enough? Happiness is your own responsibility, so attack it.”
The Orange Is the New Black actress and LGBTQ advocate used her platform at the Pitzer College commencement ceremony in Claremont, California, on May 18 to speak to the graduating class about the importance of being inclusive, particularly in nuanced situations when it may feel challenging to do so.
According to HuffPost, Cox spoke about a recent eye-opening experience, when she had retweeted a statement that read: “Woman’s body. Woman’s right to choose. End of story,” in relation to the recent Alabama abortion ban. When one of her followers expressed their disappointment in the tweet’s language, which excluded trans men and their ability to get pregnant, Cox initially felt defensive.
“I said to myself: ‘Can we just have a moment where we keep this simple? There’s so much going on in the world right now and it is so complicated … Do we have to make it about all of the complicated nuances of the issue?’ ”
As she reflected further on the incident, she realized that “language that is appropriate and fully inclusive is a matter of life and death for so many people out there,” and she wanted to spread that message to the students.
“What this brought up for me is that as you go out into the world, you’re going to be faced with a lot of difficult decisions, a lot of things that will make you uncomfortable, that are complicated and nuanced issues. And sometimes you might just want to keep it simple,” she said. ” ‘Can we focus on this part of the issue right now and just leave this out ― leave this group of people out?’ And what I would like to remind you of today is that when we are leaving people out, we are not really doing the work to be inclusive.”
Taking the stage at her alma mater, the College of William & Mary, on May 11 in Williamsburg, Virginia, The Wife actress encouraged the graduating class to embrace themselves for who they are and focus on making lasting connections, rather than getting caught up comparing themselves to others due to the “enormous pressure of social media.”
“What each of you have, and what you must believe in from this day forward, is your inherent uniqueness. Your singular point of view,” she said. “No one looks out onto the world through your eyes. 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.”
The actress spoke about the value of empathy and in-person connections, adding, “What I have learned is that if we are to remain a free and viable society, we need to spend less time looking at screens and more time looking into each other’s eyes.”
The Crazy Rich Asians actor returned to Greensboro, South Carolina, where he grew up, to deliver a commencement speech about pursuing your passion to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s 2,500 graduates at the Greensboro Coliseum on May 17.
“Find your passion,” the comedian told them. “And if you found your passion, as you graduate, let that evolve.”
He continued, “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,” he said. “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.”
Jeong reminded the students that they have the power to shape their own futures, regardless of circumstance. “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.”
The James Bond actor played on his famous character’s lavish and risky lifestyle when giving advice to Dickinson College’s 597 graduating seniors in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on May 19.
He gave the class of 2019 a small mission: “Graduates, we need you to save the world.”
Brosnan continued, “I know that all of you sitting here have faced your own challenges, and that you have overcome them … I have the greatest confidence that you can tackle these global challenges with equal effectiveness.”
“However, as someone who has saved the world a few times, or at least played someone who has, I’d like to offer you a bit of advice: If you want to save the world, you don’t need to be James Bond,” he added, saying that collaboration is key to changing the world. “In fact, right now our world doesn’t need a Bond. Our world doesn’t need a lone hero, out to solve things solo. We need people from different disciplines and walks of life, who are willing to work together, who can rely on one another, who can push forward, united … We need people who have a passion, and a sense of a mission,” said the actor.
“And finally, our world doesn’t need a hero with a license to kill. We need people with the courage to create. Our world needs you.”
The Houston Texans defensive end spoke at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, telling students in the crowd at Camp Randall football stadium on May 11 to follow their dreams, regardless of what others tell them to do.
“I once had a teacher who told me my dream of one day playing in the NFL was unrealistic,” he said. “Well, hello.”
“The path to your dreams often never goes the way you imagine it will,” he continued. “When I dreamed about coming to Wisconsin I dreamed about getting a scholarship coming out of high school. I dreamed about starting early on in my career and going and winning Rose Bowls.”
“And that’s my message to you,” he said. “Even at this point in your life, you may not have imagined how your college career would go. But here you are. Accomplishing one of your dreams. It will be difficult, it will not look the way you want it to look, but in the end, if you stay focused, if you stay true, if you have the passion for your dream, you will get there.”
“I remember my mentor telling me that as long as I was making myself happy and proud, I am a success,” the Queer Eye star told the graduates at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, California, on May 23, in partnership with EXTRA Refreshers Gum. He reminded grads that “my destiny is determined by me,” and encouraged them to move past fears about their futures. “There was no need to fear my tomorrow because I believe in the person I am today,” he added.
The Fences actress delivered a powerful speech to the graduating class at Barnard College on May 20, encouraging the students to remember their personal histories and the history of our nation as they move forward in their lives.
“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry history with us. We all are history,” Davis said.
The actress addressed America’s past, reminding the students about Jim Crow laws and urging them to “own the fact that that was America.” She stressed the importance of remembering our worst and best experiences alike in order to pave a brighter and more honest future.
“Own all the memories and the experiences, even if they were traumatic. The world is broken because we’re broken. There are too many of us who want to forget,” she said. “Who said that all of who you are has to be good?”
The A Quiet Place actor and director returned to his alma mater, Brown University, to deliver the commencement speech to the school’s undergraduate class of 2019 on May 26.
The Office alumnus challenged the students to hold on to their convictions as they set out for the “real world.”
“Real change is organic. The only responsibility you all have is to hold fast to everything you have lived, right here,” he said. “To not conform, to realize that when you’re out there, you’ve done all this before. Remember fondly the discomfort you felt when you were asked to push yourself farther than you were ever sure you could go. And the elation when you finally got there.”
Krasinski also advised the graduates to “remember to believe in something,” adding, “Fall in love as many times as it takes.”
Speaking on May 29 — the same day special counsel Robert Mueller gave remarks on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — former presidential candidate Clinton told graduates at New York City’s Hunter College that the investigation “deserves the attention of every American.”
“It seems absolutely clear that we’ve got to deal with what has been investigated and reported,” she went on to say.
Clinton also slammed social media platforms — namely Facebook — for their roles in sharing misinformation. But she did manage to keep things light, too, joking about 2018’s commencement speaker, Vin Diesel.
“We’re going to star in a movie together,” she said. “It’s called The Fast and the Still Really Furious.”