Oprah, Obama and Others Congratulate '08

It's that time of year again, when college campuses from coast to coast open their doors and send forth their newest class of graduates. Leading them out of the gate are the wise words spoken by some of the nation's most powerful people.

Commencement day addresses are often the highlight of graduation festivities and, these days, more often than not, they are delivered by powerful household names.

From the mouths of authors, actors, politicians and everyone in between, the class of 2008 heard over and over again the importance of passion and perseverance. With humor, humility and hope, many speakers asked the graduating seniors to break with the modern goals of money, power and beauty, and to focus, instead, on what they can achieve through compassion, or in the case of Stephen Colbert, through apathy.

Here are some excerpts (some of which have been condensed) from commencement day speeches delivered around the country in the last few weeks:

Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate

Wesleyan University

Each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come. And I say "chance" because you won't have to take it. There's no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should live by. You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America's.

But I hope you don't. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, though you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get here, though you do have that debt.

It's because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you'll play in writing the next great chapter in America's story.

Jessica Lange, actress

Sarah Lawrence College

We are all citizens of a troubled world, yet it is your generation that carries the weight of the future on your shoulders. We are living in an America that, in the last seven and a half years, has waged an unnecessary war, established prison camps, condoned torture, employed corporate armies, eliminated the right of habeas corpus, practiced extraordinary rendition, and believe me, this is only a partial list -- I had to keep myself in check.

I don't wish to dwell on the misery caused by this administration, but that legacy is being passed down to you. It is a heavy burden to inherit and will require tremendous dedication and hard work to put it right again. You must determine if we are going to measure ourselves on the basis of military might and economic power, or if there is perhaps something deeper -- more essential in our national character -- that needs to be awakened.

J.K. Rowling, "Harry Potter" author

Harvard University

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