Some of the most inspirational speeches given to students have been those given by great actors, artists, and world leaders at university and college commencement addresses.

So — from speeches given by Ellen DeGeneres to speeches given by Michelle Obama — here are some of the most inspiring quotes taken from some of the most inspiring speeches:


J.K. Rowling

The world’s richest writer, and the author of the Harry Potter series.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case, you fail by default.”



Ellen DeGeneres

Comedian, actress, and talk show host.

“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 then by all means you should follow that.”


Oprah Winfrey

Talk show host, media tycoon, entrepreneur, and one of the richest women in the world.

“You must have some kind of vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go. I never was the kind of woman who liked to get in the car and just go for a ride … I want to know: Where are we going? Do we have a destination? Is there a plan or are we just riding? What I’ve learned is that’s a great metaphor for life. You want to be in the driver’s seat of your own life because, if you’re not, then life will drive you.”


Michelle ObamaMichelle Obama

First Lady of the United States of America and wife of President Barack Obama.

“Finally, graduates, our greatness has never, ever come from sitting back and feeling entitled to what we have.  It’s never come from folks who climb the ladder of success, or who happen to be born near the top and then pull that ladder up after themselves.  No, our greatness has always come from people who expect nothing and take nothing for granted — folks who work hard for what they have then reach back and help others after them.”


Arnold Schwarzenegger

World champion bodybuilder, action movie star, and former Governor of California.

“Know exactly where you want to go, trust yourself, get out there and work like hell, and break some of the rules, and never ever be afraid of failure. I couldn’t have gone through one lifting event in my life if I had been afraid of failure because, of course, there’s a chance that you can fail.”


Jim Carrey

Comedian and star of films such as Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask.

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it — please! And if it doesn’t happen for you right away, it’s only because the universe is so busy fulfilling my order. It’s party size!”


J.K. Simmons

Academy Award winning actor and star of films such as Whiplash.  

“Take care of yourself: Eat your vegetables. Get some exercise. Floss. Use your turn signal. I know that has nothing to do with taking care of yourself. It’s just a pet peeve of mine. I needed to get that off my chest. Be on time. Please have the decency to not make people wait for you.”


Shonda Rhimes

Creator, writer, and producer of the television series Grey’s Anatomy.

“Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new.”


Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton

Former First Lady, Secretary of State, and currently the American Democratic Party’s presidential nominee for 2016.

“Life is not easy for anyone. Sometimes you don’t see the challenges on the outside, but every single one of us has both those and everything that goes on inside as well. Give it your all. Dare to be all you can be.”


Steve Jobs

Visionary entrepreneur and inventor, as well as co-founder of the Apple computer company.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.


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