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
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
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better.
Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report"
I am begging you to leave the world alone. Some of us like it the way it is. Personally, things are going great for me. Please don't try to change global warming. The older generations cut down the forest and sprayed millions of tons of CO2 in the air for a reason -- because they felt a draft in here. When you're older, you'll understand that it is a lot easier to raise the ocean temperatures a few degrees than to remember to bring a cardigan.
Jerry Springer, talk show host
Northwestern Law School
As happy as I am to look out and see all of your faces, I understand there are a number of you who aren't too happy to see mine. To the students who invited me, thank you. I am honored. To the students who object to my presence, well, you've got a point. I, too, would've chosen someone else. But once asked, I don't know, it would've been kind of arrogant, or at least unappreciative, for me to have said "no."
So, here I am. But in an attempt to soften the pain, let me stipulate to the facts. You are right. I am an imperfect being (on my talk show, more colorful language might be employed), and I feel hardly qualified to tell you what to do with your lives.
The truth be told, though, I've been lucky enough to enjoy a comfortable measure of success in my various careers, let's be honest. I've been virtually everything you can't respect: a lawyer, a mayor, a major market news anchor and a talk show host. Pray for me. If I get to heaven, we're all going.
Oprah Winfrey, talk show host
Many of you know that I started this school in Africa. And I spent five years making sure that school would be as beautiful as the students. I wanted every girl to feel her worth reflected in her surroundings. So, I checked every blueprint, I picked every pillow. I was looking at the grout in between the bricks. I knew every thread count of the sheets. I chose every girl from the villages, from nine provinces.
And yet, last fall, I was faced with a crisis I had never anticipated. I was told that one of the dorm matrons was suspected of sexual abuse. That was, as you can imagine, devastating news. First, I cried -- actually, I sobbed -- for about half an hour. And then I said, "let's get to it -- that's all you get, a half an hour. You need to focus on the now, what you need to do now."
So, I contacted a child trauma specialist. I put together a team of investigators. I made sure the girls had counseling and support. And, as difficult as that experience has been, I got a lot of lessons. I understand now the mistakes I made, because I had been paying attention to all of the wrong things. I'd built that school from the outside in, when what really mattered was the inside out.
James Carville, political commentator
The age of cynicism is dead, you drove a stake right through the heart of it. Your fingerprints are all over it. You heard it, you left because of the storm, you had to disperse all over the country, 600 different schools, you heard about "oh the heat, the humidity, the corruption." You heard every reason that you shouldn't come back and you did.
Every cynic had every reason for you. I want to remind you of what C.S. Lewis said in a 1943 essay. He said, "You can't go on seeing through things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent, but a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is the same as not to see."
And every cynic, every person, could see through everything, but you felt. You felt what you felt. And your feelings are much, much more important to you than your sight. And when the history of this generation is written, at the very top of this generation is going to be the Tulane class of 2008.
Saira Anees contributed to this report.