Graduation Speakers Offer Words of Inspiration to the Class of 2009

Commencement season is upon us, when prominent people travel to colleges across the nation to deliver graduation speeches. Offering advice to the graduating class, they often touch on relevant news events and share antidotes of their own experiences.

Deep emotions abound for everyone involved. Parents and family are rightly proud at the milestone their graduate has reached, but are also perhaps a bit sad at the reminder that he or she isn't a baby anymore. That pride, a different kind of sadness and often anxiety (and sometimes relief) collide in the graduates themselves as they move out of the familiar cocoon and into the great unknown.

This year, President Obama spoke to graduates at Arizona State University, the University of Notre Dame and the U.S. Naval Academy. He spoke of current events and the need for graduates to help solve the challenges of today.

"Many of our current challenges are unprecedented," he said at Arizona State. "There are no standard remedies, no go-to fixes this time around. And, class of 2009, that's why we're going to need your help. We need young people like you to step up. We need your daring. We need your enthusiasm and your energy. We need your imagination."

He echoed a similar need for young people at Notre Dame to rise to the occasion with their energy and imagination.

"Your class has come of age at a moment of great consequence for our nation and for the world," he said. "A rare inflection point in history where the size and scope of the challenges before us require that we remake our work to renew its promise; that we align our deepest values and commitments to the demands of a new age."

Graduates this year face a faltering economy and an extremely tough job market. Less than 20 percent of those who applied for a job have one at the time of graduation. By comparison, 51 percent were employed by the time they graduated two years ago.

Commencement speakers across the country alluded to the uncertain times, but encouraged the graduates to prevail.

"The times that you are graduating in are, yes, perhaps more difficult and somewhat more daunting," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at New York University. "But that's when we really rise together."

Author David McCullough said to graduates at the University of Utah, "You who are part of this over-ripe, shadowed, uncertain time which has understandably given rise to so many grave forebodings about the future."

Commencement Speakers Urge Graduates to Give Back

Even with the weight of the economy, the overarching theme this year is that the graduates are lucky, lucky to have fine educations, which come with a powerful responsibility to give something back.

"We need your ideas, graduates," first lady Michelle Obama said at the University of California-Merced commencement. "We need your resourcefulness. We need your inventiveness."

"Dream big, think broadly about your life, and please make giving back to your community a part of that vision," she added.

Writer-political activist Elie Wiesel echoed similar sentiments in his address to graduates at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.

"There must be on this planet at least one person who needs you," he said. "One person you can help. Don't turn away; help."

And, of course, along with calls to step up and become productive members of society, speakers joked with the crowds and offered some light-hearted fun. Graduation is, after all, the celebration of an incredible accomplishment.

"The Great Depression spurred some incredible innovations ... Rice Krispies, Twinkies and the beer can," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "You would never have gotten through college without these three things."

In New Orleans, comedian-actress Ellen Degeneres told graduates at Tulane University, "To conclude my conclusion, follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else's path unless you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path -- and then, by all means, you should follow that."