Great news, graduates! The job outlook is looking a lot better than it has in the past few years.
The U.S. economy has added, on average, 238,000 jobs in the past few months, according to the Labor Department. And, job listings targeted at new grads are up slightly from a year ago on job-listing site Simply Hired from last year.
"I think there is this skills-gap shift we're seeing. Younger people coming out of school are more prepared for the kind of jobs we need in this sort of new economy," said Simply Hired CEO James Beriker. Specifically, how adept they are with technology, which he thinks can be helpful for emerging companies as well as those that are well-established.
His advice for new grads? Don't take the summer off! Too many kids say I'm tired, I need a break — I DESERVE a break. I'll start looking for a job in September. But it's still really competitive out there, so he says better to get a jump on the competition and start over the summer.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received is: Don't treat your job search like dating. Don't think "I shouldn't call right away — I should play it cool and wait a few days."
If you remember one thing, remember that applying for a job is NOT a date. And in those two days you were waiting? Somebody else may have already gotten the job. Send your resume. Follow up by email or phone. Leave the coy behavior for that cute girl from chemistry class.
One of the most famous pieces of advice for graduates came from Chicago Tribune writer Mary Schmich, in a column titled: "Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young." (aka, "The Wear Sunscreen Speech.")
"Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it," Schmich said. "Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine."
From business titans like Steve Jobs and Carl Icahn to celebrities like Stephen Colbert and Bono, there has been some great advice delivered at commencement speeches. So, before we kick our young out of the academic nest, squawking and flapping into the real world, here are 12 of the best graduation speeches of all time:
Bill Gates, founder, former CEO of Microsoft, at Harvard (2007)
Bill Gates shows just how level the playing field can be: After dropping out of Harvard, he went on to found Microsoft and become one of the wealthiest men in the world.
"I've been waiting more than 30 years to say this: "Dad, I always told you I'd come back and get my degree. I want to thank Harvard for this honor. I'll be changing my job next year and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume! …
"We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism – if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities. ...
"You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer."
Stephen Colbert, "The Colbert Report" at Northwestern (2011)
Stephen Colbert has given several commencement speeches. At his alma mater, Northwestern, in 2011, he started off by thanking the university president, the board … "and thank you, parents! Of course, if you don't thank them now, you'll have plenty of time to thank them tomorrow when you move back in with them."
"We didn't have cell phones. If you made plans to meet someone in a snow storm, and they didn't show up, you just had to assume they were devoured by wolves and go on with your life."
His best advice was about following your dreams.
"You have been told to follow your dreams. But — what if it's a stupid dream? For instance, Stephen Colbert of 25 years ago lived at 2015 North Ridge — with two men and three women — in what I now know was a brothel. He dreamed of living alone — well, alone with his beard — in a large, barren loft apartment — lots of blond wood — wearing a kimono, with a futon on the floor, and a Samovar of tea constantly bubbling in the background, doing Shakespeare in the street for the homeless.Today, I am a beardless, suburban dad who lives in a house, wears no-iron khakis, and makes Anthony Wiener jokes for a living. And I love it. Because thankfully dreams can change. If we'd all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses."
"So whatever your dream is right now, if you don't achieve it, you haven't failed, and you're not some loser. But just as importantly — and this is the part I may not get right and you may not listen to — if you do get your dream, you are not a winner."
Bono, Rock Star, U2, at University of Pennsylvania (2004)
Bono has given several commencement speeches at different universities and never fails to delight, from talking about "wearing a mirror-ball suit" the last time he was in this particular arena to admitting to he once slept with an economics professor. Oh, he also has some good advice!
"I saw something in the paper last week about Kermit the Frog giving a commencement address somewhere. One of the students was complaining, 'I worked my ass off for four years to be addressed by a sock?' You have worked your ass off for this. For four years you've been buying, trading, and selling, everything you've got in this marketplace of ideas. The intellectual hustle. Your pockets are full, even if your parents' are empty, and now you've got to figure out what to spend it on. …
"So, my question I suppose is: What's the big idea? What's your big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University of Pennsylvania?
"[M]y point is that the world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape."
President Obama at Barnard College (2012)
The president noted that this class came in as freshmen in 2008.
"[J]ust as you were starting out finding your way around this campus, an economic crisis struck that would claim more than 5 million jobs before the end of your freshman year … And while opportunities for women have grown exponentially over the last 30 years, as young people, in many ways you have it even tougher than we did. This recession has been more brutal, the job losses steeper."
"Every day you receive a steady stream of sensationalism and scandal and stories with a message that suggest change isn't possible; that you can't make a difference; that you won't be able to close that gap between life as it is and life as you want it to be … My job today is to tell you don't believe it. Because as tough as things have been, I am convinced you are tougher."
He had two pieces of advice for the class of all women: 1) "Don't just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table," and 2) "Never underestimate the power of your example. The very fact that you are graduating, let alone that more women now graduate from college than men, is only possible because earlier generations of women — your mothers, your grandmothers, your aunts — shattered the myth that you couldn't or shouldn't be where you are."
Carl Icahn, activist investor at Drexel University (2008)
Icahn also made his address in the poignant year of 2008 and took aim squarely at corporate management.
"We today are in a crisis in our economy … One of our major problems in this country is management and their ability to compete. With exceptions, we have terrible management in this country. The system is dysfunctional. I can tell you how bad our boards are, with exceptions of course. I sit on a lot of boards. I don't have to watch 'Saturday Night Live' anymore; I just go to the board meetings. I will tell you, it's a sad commentary, that we have an inability to compete."
"[T]here is no way to hold these guys accountable — except if somebody like myself comes along, or some other person, who's really well to challenge them but you have to go through contortions."
"It's again a sad commentary, the way you get to be a CEO. Don't get into the mold most CEOsget into to get elected. I call it 'anti-Darwinian.' I call it 'anti-survival of the fittest.'"
He talked about one CEO he went up against but had praise for him for bucking the board. His final advice to the graduates: "That is what you should seek to be when you go out into the world. You should try to stand up against the trend."
Lewis Black, comedian at Thurgood Marshall College, University of California at San Diego (2013)
Lewis Black, known for his angry rants, stressed the importance of humor and pursuing your dreams — and he even apologized for the Social Security checks they might not get.
"Our parents passed it on to our generation, but no one ever said to us that we were supposed to pass it on to the next generation. So we spent it."
His best line was about what to expect in the real world.
"You are now entering a world that's filled to the brim with idiots. Since there are so many idiots out there, you actually may start to think you're crazy. You are not. They are idiots."
"Whatever you do, don't tell them that they are an idiot.There may come a day when you may need that idiot. Idiots may be idiots — but they do have a memory."
Michael Lewis, author at Princeton (2012)
Michael Lewis, author of bestselling books including Liar's Poker, The Big Short, Moneyball and Flash Boys, talked about his time at Princeton — and recalls asking a professor what he thought of his thesis.
"What did you think of the writing?" Lewis asked.
"Put it this way: Never try to make a living at it," the professor replied.
Lewis talked about dabbling in writing but being unsure what to write about. By chance of a seating arrangement at a dinner, he wound up with a job at Salomon Brothers. And that, he said, gave him something to write about.
"Wall Street had become so unhinged that it was paying recent Princeton graduates who knew nothing about money small fortunes to pretend to be experts about money."
"I called up my father. I told him I was going to quit this job that now promised me millions of dollars to write a book for an advance of 40 grand. There was a long pause on the other end of the line. 'You might just want to think about that,' he said." Lewis did think about it — then quit and wrote Liar's Poker.
The speech was titled "Don't Eat Fortune's Cookie." Lewis talks about a psychology experiment where a group of three people was tasked with a problem to solve, then brought a plate of four cookies. Every time, the person designated the leader would eat the extra cookie — and with gusto! Lips smacking, the whole nine. So Lewis's parting advice was this:
"All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you'll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don't."
Will Ferrell, actor, comedian at Harvard (2003)
Will Ferrell took the Class of 2003 on a wild verbal ride, touching on everything from the Berlin Wall to that guy voted most likely to eat nachos in his car — and even managed to fire an assistant in the process!
"You're about to enter into a world filled with hypocrisy and doublespeak, a world in which your limo to the airport is often a half-hour late. In addition to not even being a limo at all; often times it's a Lincoln Town car. You're about to enter a world where you ask your new assistant, Jamie, to bring you a tall, non-fat latte. And he comes back with a short soy cappuccino. Guess what, Jamie? You're fired. Not too hard to get right, my friend...
"I'm sorry, graduates. But this is a world where you aren't allowed to use your cell phone in airplanes, during live theater, at the movies, at funerals, or even during your own elective surgery. Apparently, the Berlin Wall went back up because we now live in Russia…
"One of you, specifically John Lee, will spend most of your time just hanging out in your car eating nachos. You will all come back from time to time to this beautiful campus for reunions, and ask the question, 'Does anyone ever know what happened to John Lee?' At that point, he will invariably pop out from the bushes and yell, 'Nachos anyone?!'"
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon at Princeton (2010)
Jeff Bezos starts off with a little snapshot into his childhood:
"As a kid, I spent my summers with my grandparents on their ranch in Texas. I helped fix windmills, vaccinate cattle, and do other chores. We also watched soap operas every afternoon, especially 'Days of our Lives.' My grandparents belonged to a Caravan Club, a group of Airstream trailer owners who travel together around the U.S. and Canada. Every few summers, we'd join the caravan."
He adored his grandparents but his grandmother smoked the whole trip and, Bezos said, he hated the smell.
"At that age, I'd take any excuse to make estimates and do minor arithmetic. I'd calculate our gas mileage or figure out useless statistics on things like grocery spending. I'd been hearing an ad campaign about smoking. I can't remember the details, but basically the ad said 'every puff of a cigarette takes some number of minutes off of your life.' I think it might have been two minutes per puff. At any rate, I decided to do the math for my grandmother. I estimated the number of cigarettes per days, estimated the number of puffs per cigarette and so on. When I was satisfied that I'd come up with a reasonable number, I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder and proudly proclaimed, 'At two minutes per puff, you've taken nine years off your life!'"
He expected praise for his genius but instead, his grandmother burst into tears.
His grandfather said simply, "Jeff, one day you'll understand that it's harder to be kind than clever."
His message to graduates?
There's a "difference between gifts and choices. Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice."
Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter ("A Few Good Men," "West Wing") at Syracuse University (2012)
Aaron Sorkin, a graduate of Syracuse, told a few sweet stories about growing older, then hit the graduates with a comedic reality check — Sorkin-style.
"[M]ake no mistake about it, you are dumb. You're a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You're barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups,they're a-coming for ya."
He also talked about making "A Few Good Men," and about how a young actor, who had been cast in a small role, bailed out because he got a lead role in another movie. That movie was canceled and the actor's replacement was Noah Wyle, who went on to star in "ER." "I don't know what that first actor is doing and I can't remember his name."
His best advice?
"You'll meet a lot of people who, to put it simply, don't know what they're talking about. ... Develop your own compass, and trust it. Take risks, dare to fail, remember the first person through the wall always gets hurt."
J.K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter at Harvard (2008)
Harvard and Gryffindor — a natural pairing!
"The first thing I would like to say is 'thank you,'" Rowling said in her commencement speech. "Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and convince myself that I am at the world's largest Gryffindor reunion."
And despite how much she stressed about the speech, looking back on her own graduation, she doesn't recall a single word from the commencement speaker, British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. "This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.You see? If all you remember in years to come is the 'gay wizard' joke, I've come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step to self improvement."
Her most important wisdom for graduates was about failure.
"You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable ... Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected ... The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive."
Her other message? The importance of imagination.
Steve Jobs, founder and former CEO of Apple at Stanford (2005)
Steve Jobs went there, addressing death in a 2005 speech to Stanford, which was after his 2004 cancer diagnosis. Gradspot.com gave it an award for the "Best Ironically Uplifting Comment About Death."
"Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary… Stay hungry, stay foolish."
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