A roundup of the greatest – and strangest – words of wisdom from some of this year's commencement speakers

By Lindsay Kimble
Updated May 18, 2015 05:15 PM
Credit: Bob Levey/Getty

Graduation season is well underway, as many colleges and universities across the country have already celebrated, and said farewell, to the class of 2015. No graduation ceremony would be complete without a commencement address, often done by a renowned guest.

This year a slew of famous faces were on hand to offer graduating seniors across the country real-world advice – some of it useful, some of it a little wacky.

George W. Bush
“To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say, ‘Well done,’ ” former President Bush told the class of 2015 at Southern Methodist University, before joking about his lackluster grades. “And as I like to tell the C students – you too, can be president.”

Michelle Obama
“Our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win,” the First Lady told grads at Tuskegee University. “It teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together – then we can build ourselves and our communities up. We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together – together – we can overcome anything that stands in our way.”

Vice President Joe Biden
“The most successful and happiest people I’ve known understand that a good life at its core is about being personal. It’s about being engaged,” said the Vice President to Yale University grads at their Class Day. “It’s about being there for a friend or a colleague when they’re injured or in an accident, remembering the birthdays, congratulating them on their marriage, celebrating the birth of their child. It’s about being available to them when they’re going through personal loss. It’s about loving someone more than yourself.”

Matthew McConaughey
The Oscar-winning actor is known for being quirky, and despite doling out valuable advice to University of Houston’s class of 2015, he couldn’t help but get a little weird. Speaking on what he calls “you versus you obligations,” the actor brought up his infamous 1998 bongo incident.

“They’re [the obligations] secrets with yourself, private council, personal protocols, and while nobody throws you a party when you abide by them, no one will arrest you when you break them either,” he said. “Except yourself. Or, some cops who got a ‘disturbing the peace’ call at 2:30 in the morning because you were playing bongos in your birthday suit.”

The actor later encouraged students to, “Take the lid off the man-made roofs we have put above ourselves and always play like an underdog.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Cook, who’s served as CEO of Apple since shortly before Steve Jobs‘ death in 2011, spoke out against cynics during his George Washington University address.

“The one thing I’d like to bring to you from Cupertino, California, is the idea that progress is possible whatever line of work you choose,” he said. “There will always be cynics and critics on the sidelines tearing people down, and just as harmful are those people with good intentions who make no contribution at all. In his letter from the Birmingham jail, Dr. King wrote that our society needed to repent not merely for the hateful words of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Denzel Washington
“I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you,” Washington told Dillard University graduates in New Orleans. “It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with it.” The award-winning actor also urged students not to place importance on material belongings, saying “You will never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

Ed Helms
The Hangover star spent much of his University of Virginia speech slamming Rolling Stone for its retraced 2014 story about rape on the school’s campus, turning the journalistic failure into a life lesson for the graduates.

Rolling Stone tried to define you this year,” Helms said, later continuing, “The reductive labels aren’t helping and we better stop applying them, because there are a lot of Americans in a lot of pain. We try to define others with simple labels because it makes the world easier to understand.”

Maya Rudolph
Saturday Night Live alum Rudolph couldn’t resist breaking into her famous Beyoncé and Oprah impressions during her commencement address at Tulane University.

“Just say yes,” she urged graduates. “And not just yes, but to add information, so that in adding information, you don’t negate that other person’s idea but in fact, you build on it.”

She also did a mean rendition of the national anthem in the above video.

Bill Nye
Nye addressed Rutgers University grads on Sunday, urging the students to educate themselves about climate change, before offering some quirky tips.

“If you smell fresh paint, don’t walk under the ladder, somebody is up there with a wet paint brush,” he said. “Wear good shoes in a thumbtack factory and don’t try to smoke in the rain. In fact, don’t smoke at all, ever.”