4. Alan Alda, Connecticut College: Actor Alan Alda's 1980 address at Connecticut College was actually an intimate letter to his daughter Eve, a member of the school's graduating class. In his letter the "Mash" actor told his daughter, and the rest of the graduates, that it was O.K. to be nervous about the future.
"If you feel a little off balance, it's understandable. Adulthood has come upon you suddenly and you're not all that sure you're ready for it. I think that sometimes I'm not ready for adulthood either, yours or mine.
"The day before yesterday you were a baby I was afraid to hold because you seemed so fragile. Yesterday, all I could feel was helplessness when you broke your small, 9-year-old arm. Only this morning you were a teenager. As I get older, the only thing that speeds up is time. But as much as it's true that time is a thief, time also leaves something in exchange. With time comes experience, and however uncertain you may be about the rest of the world, at least about your own work you will be sure."
5. David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College: The novelist and essayist's address to the graduates was inspirational at the time he delivered it, in 2005, but it took on an added poignancy after Wallace committed suicide three years later. "The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head," Wallace told the Kenyon College (Ohio) graduating class.
Wallace asked the graduates to look beyond themselves and challenge their own certainties and ways of thinking. Wallace's speech centered around what he said is the common cliché of liberal arts education: That it "teaches you how to think." He added that the real value of a college education was not knowledge but awareness.
"The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too."
6. John F. Kennedy, American University: Heeding the threat of a total nuclear war, President John F. Kennedy's June 10, 1963, commencement address at American University lobbied for people around the world to understand the importance of world peace and the dangers of nuclear weapons. In a speech that became famous, Kennedy announced that the U.S. was reopening negotiations with the Soviet Union to end testing of nuclear weapons. Two months later, representatives from the U.S., Soviet Union and Great Britain signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, agreeing to ban testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in space and underwater.
"So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."