Commencement 2013 Speakers: Obama to Oprah Winfrey Bestow Words of Wisdom

A look at some of the commencement speakers this graduation season.

ByABC News
May 17, 2013, 6:38 PM

June 1, 2013— -- intro: As high school and college seniors participate in their commencement ceremonies, a long list of distinguished speakers will be sharing their gems of wisdom to the new graduates.

Here's a look at some of the commencement speakers this graduation season.

quicklist: 1title: President Obama, Ohio State University, Morehouse College, Naval Academytext: In his first commencement address of this year's graduation season, President Obama encouraged more than 10,000 graduates gathered at Ohio State University to pay heed to their duty as citizens and become active participants in their country in the years ahead.

"This democracy is ours. As citizens, we understand that it is not about what America may do for us. It's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government and to the class of 2013 you have to be involved in that process," Obama said as he delivered the commencement address before more than 57,000 people at the football stadium at Ohio State University on May 5.

Watch: Obama Tells OSU Grads: 'America Needs Full Time Citizens'

Obama Challenges Ohio State University Graduates to Become Active Citizens

During his commencement speech to the class of 2013 at Morehouse College in Atlanta on May 19, Obama reminded graduates of what a former president of the school said about what a "Morehouse man" should be.

"Benjamin Mays, who served as the president of Morehouse for almost 30 years, understood that tradition perhaps better than anyone," Obama said. "He said, 'It will not be sufficient for Morehouse College, for any college, for that matter, to produce clever graduates... but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and private life -- men who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting [those] ills.'"

WATCH: President Obama's Speech at Morehouse College

Obama also addressed the Naval Academy graduation on May 24.

We still face threats from al Qaeda affiliates and individuals caught up in its ideology," Obama said, addressing the academy's graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Md. "Will still need to conduct targeted strikes against terrorists before they kill our citizens."

Obama Nods to Drones in Naval Academy Speech

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quicklist: 2title: Julie Andrews text: Award winning actress Julie Andrews addressed the class of 2013 at the University of Colorado at Boulder on May 10 and urged them to "live lightly on this earth and giver generously."

"Use your knowledge, and your heart, to stand up for those who can't stand, speak for those who can't speak, be a beacon of light for those whose lives have become dark," Andrews told graduates, The Daily Camera reported.


quicklist: 3title: Bill Clintontext: President Bill Clinton told the more than 2,600 graduates at Howard University to use their talents and what they learned to change the world.

"It turns out there is an economic and social imperative that compels those of us who understand it to work together," he said at the commencement ceremony on May 11. "Creating cooperation works better than constant conflict and we forget that at our peril. You can't share the future unless you share the responsibility for building it."

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quicklist: 4title: Annie Lennox, Berklee College of Musictext: Singer songwriter Annie Lennox passed along her words of wisdom to the 2013 graduates at Berklee College of Music on May 11.

"Consider this, wherever you think you're heading right now might turn out to take a completely different path. What looks like an ending might actually be the start of a brand new beginning. Wherever and however we find ourselves, what a privilege it is to enrich our lives through music: the incredible universal language of the soul. Enter it wholeheartedly, make it yours to share with the world in the very best way you can," Lennox said.

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quicklist: 5title: Carson Kressley, Philadelphia Universitytext: Fashion expert Carson Kressley told Philadelphia University graduates on May 12 to pursue their passions and not be afraid to challenge themselves.

"I could tell you that when I sat [at my graduation] in the May sun holding my diploma 22 years ago, I knew where I was headed and exactly how to get there. But I would be totally lying," the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" host said.

Watch: Carson Kressley's 2013 Commencement Address

"But if you live your life only following the path you think is approved or acceptable, or the one you think is expected of you, you'll be making a huge mistake," Kressley said. "Not a single successful person… has ever done great things because they played it safe. You've got to be true to yourself."

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quicklist: 6title: Michelle Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School in Nashville, Tenn.; Bowie State University in Bowie Md.; Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond Ky. text: First lady Michelle Obama gave commencement speeches at three schools in three states. On May 11, she addressed the class of 2013 at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky. She challenged graduates to continue to give back to the community.

"You can't stop serving once you leave here. Whether you've worn our country's uniform or not, we're all called to serve and to give back to those around us. And you don't have to travel across the globe or even across the country to find ways to serve. All you have to do is take a look around your own community," she said.

On May 17, the first lady traveled to Maryland, where she emphasized the importance of education to the graduating class at Bowie State University.

"We need to once again fight to educate ourselves and our children like our lives depend on it, because they do. We need to dig deep and find the same kind of grit and determination that drove those first students at this school and generations of students who came after them. I am talking about the kind of grit and determination displayed by folks right here at Bowie State," she said.

Michelle Obama Inspires Bowie State Students at Commencement

Delivering her only speech at a high school graduation this year, the first lady joked about the failures her husband, President Obama, has encountered in life as she told a graduating class of high school seniors in Nashville, Tenn., that in order to achieve success in life, they must first experience failure.

"When something doesn't go your way, you've just got to adjust. You've got to dig deep and work like crazy, and that's when you'll find out what you're really made of during those hard times, but you can only do that if you're willing to put yourself in a position where you might fail, and that's why so often failure, is the key to success for so many great people," Obama said at the graduation ceremony for Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School.

Michelle Obama Makes Light of President's Failures in Graduation Speech

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quicklist: 7title: Cory Booker, Washington Universitytext: Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker told the graduating class at Washington University in St. Louis to be bold in their choices.

"It must be great. It must drive us to do the impossible things, but it also must be focused on the true call of citizenship: To be an exemplar of your values, to live your truth, to be authentic in your spirit, and to join with others in substantive ways to take on this world's challenges," Booker said.

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quicklist: 8title: Stephen Colbert, University of Virginiatext: Comedian Stephen Colbert brought his humor along with a dose of reality in his commencement speech to the University of Virginia class of 2013 on May 18.

"You may learn sooner than most generations the hard lesson that you must always make the path for yourself," he said. "There is no secret society out there that will tap you on your shoulder one night and show you the way. Because the true secret is your life will not be defined by the society that we have left you."

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quicklist: 9title: Dalai Lama, Tulane Universitytext: The Dalai Lama hoped that the class of 2013 at Tulane University would expand their community service on a global scale.

"You really are our hope. Please think more seriously how to build a happy century, a peaceful century," he said.

Born Tenzin Gyatso in China's Qinghai province in 1935, the Dalai Lama has millions of followers spread primarily throughout China, Mongolia, India and the Himalayan mountain range.

Tibetan Buddhism flows from the Theravada school of Buddhism, the same denomination that is widely practiced in Myanmar, Thailand and much of Southeast Asia, though many of the rituals are different.

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quicklist: 10title: Kerry Washington, George Washington Universitytext: Before Kerry Washington took telelvision by storm by playing crisis manager Olivia Pope on ABC's "Scandal," she recalled one of her most cringeworthy roles was in college when she was cast as a frog.

"It was not my lifetime dream role to play a frog, in fact the thought of it terrified me," Washington said in a commencement speech on May 19 at her alma mater, George Washington University.

It was Washington's junior year when she was cast as a frog in the musical "Croak, Or The Last Frog," depicting the journey of Cassandra, the last frog on earth.

RELATED: College Role 'Terrified' Kerry Washington

As a presidential scholar for the arts, Washington said she was required to audition for every production at the school in order to keep her scholarship. After being cast in the show, Washington said she took the challenge head-on and spent hours watching frogs, reading about frogs and holding frogs.

"I crossed the threshold into unknown territory," she said with a laugh, adding that it was still her father's favorite role she has taken on as an actress.

WATCH: Kerry Washington to Graduates: 'You Completed This Journey'

The "Scandal" star graduated from George Washington University in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts and was named an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts at today's commencement ceremony.

Washington, whose character on "Scandal", Olivia Pope, is having a steamy affair with the president, joked that graduates that they were probably thinking they were celebrating their achievements "with that lady who is having an affair with the president on that television show."

"In real life, I'm just an actor. I play pretend. I tell stories," Washington said. "So bear with me because that is what I am going to do."

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quicklist: 11title: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Notre Dame Universitytext: New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan reminded the class of 2013 at Notre Dame University to be true to themselves.

"Here at Notre Dame we do not strive to be like Harvard or Oxford, but like Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, Calvary, and the Upper Room at Pentecost . . .with Mary, as the "Word becomes flesh" in the one who called Himself "the Way, the Truth and the Life," Dolan said at the commencement ceremony on May 19. "Here our goal is not just a career, but a call; not just a degree, but discipleship; not just what we've gotten but what we're giving; not just the now but eternity; not just the "I" but the "we"; not just the grades but the gospel."

Watch Cardinal Timothy Dolan's Commencement Address at Notre Dame University

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quicklist: 12title: Madeleine Albright, Bowdoin Collegetext: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave the graduating seniors at Bowdoin College on May 24 a dose of "tough love" in her commencement address.

"You may believe that the class of 2013, more than any other, has been given a raw deal," said Albright. "To those of you who feel that way, I offer my deepest sympathy and also three words of advice: Get over it. No one likes a whiner and besides, every generation has its burdens."

She reminded graduates that every choice they make matters.

"Above all, know that your actions and choices truly do count, and that every obstacle surmounted by your energy; every problem solved by your wisdom; every soul awakened by your passion; and every barrier to justice brought down by your courage will inspire others and enrich your own journey on this earth," she said.

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quicklist: 13title: Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly, Bard Collegetext: Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband retired Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly delivered the commencement address at Bard College on May 25.

"Along the way, there will be bumps in the road. So prepare yourself as best you can. And while I like to think of myself as generally a prepared and level-headed person—I know firsthand, there are no flight plans for life. This is where courage and second chances have to come in," Kelly said.

Watch Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly's Commencement Address at Bard College

Giffords was thrust into the spotlight on Jan. 8, 2011, when gunshots rang out across a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Ariz., andshe was shot in the head at close range while she conducted a Congress on Your Corner event with constituents.

Six people died, including Gabe Zimmerman, the first congressional aide killed in the line of duty; John Roll, a federal judge; and Christine Taylor Green, a curious 9-year-old with a penchant for politics who was coincidentally born on Sept. 11, 2001. Twelve others were wounded before the shooting stopped.

Since then, Giffords and Kelly have been lobbying for stricter gun control laws.

"Graduates, your future shines bright. Find your purpose and go for it. Starting tomorrow, you can change the world. The nation's counting on you to create, to lead, to innovate. But today we celebrate you. Be bold, be creative, be your best. Thank you very much. Thank you," Giffords told Bard graduates.

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quicklist: 14title: Joss Whedon, Wesleyan Universitytext: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon delivered the commencement address for Wesleyan's graduation ceremony on May 26. Whedon, who graduated from Wesleyan in 1987 told the class of 2013 to not "just be yourself. Be all of yourselves. Don't just live. Be that other thing connected to death. Be life. Live all of your life. Understand it, see it, appreciate it."

"So here's the thing about changing the world. It turns out that's not even the question, because you don't have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different," Whedon said. "That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been, and now, it becomes real on a level that it hasn't been before."

Watch Joss Whedon's Commencement Speech at Wesleyan University

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quicklist: 15title: Oprah Winfrey, Harvard Universitytext: Oprah Winfrey, as the main speaker at Harvard University's graduation ceremonies on May 30, the tv personality told graduates that "There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction."

"You will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal. There really is only one, and that is this: to fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity by using your energy to lift yourself up, your family, and the people around you," Winfrey said.

Watch Oprah Winfrey's Harvard Commencement Speech

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quicklist: 16title: Ed Helms, Knox Collegetext: Actor and comedian Ed Helms will address the class of 2013 at Knox College on June 8.

Helms is a correspondent for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

"With his work on The Daily Show and his roles in two of the most popular sitcoms and films in recent memory, Ed Helms is an iconic figure for this generation of students," Knox College President Teresa Amott said in a news release. "I thank the senior class for choosing a speaker who has made such a distinctive contribution to our popular culture."

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