14 Graduation-Themed Literary Readings For Your Commencement Speech

Not to brag, but I’ve sat through some killer commencement speeches in my day (the liberal arts students always get the speakers armed with the most creative graduation readings — after all, if you’re about to spend the next few years-to-forever scrimping for your art, you’re gonna need some hella inspiration.) But even if you’re graduating with one of those shiny degrees that’ll require you to actually put on real pants every day and know what “401k” means, you’ve still probably got a lot of questions about your future, and a whole lot of feelings — the exciting ones, and the major anxiety-inducing — to go with them. Sound familiar? Well don’t worry; the literary readings for graduation on this list are sure to comfort and inspire, encourage and motivate — and, if you’re a total sap like me, maybe even evoke a tear or two. Or 100. Oh yeah, and CELEBRATE! You are graduating after all.

Class of 2016, let me just say: life on the other side of those idea-filled, book-covered walls is pretty sweet. Sure, it’s not peaches and daisies 24/7, but on the whole, post-grad life just keeps getting better (at least for this non-real-pants-wearing, liberal-arts-degree(s)-toting gal.) So, with no further ado, 2016 grads: follow your heart, believe in your dreams, try to pay your credit card off as regularly as possible, apply sunscreen liberally, and remember that no matter how little money you make after graduation Netflix is always worth the $8.99-per-month investment.

Here are 14 literary readings for graduation speeches, that’ll inspire you no matter what degree is listed on that hard-won diploma.

1. Have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and try to cherish the questions themselves. Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given to you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

2. You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you’ve got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.

— Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough

3. Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

— Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

4. In the end I’ve come to believe in something. If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, be it your house or old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, and if you’re willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared—most of all—to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

5. Having loved enough and lost enough,I’m no longer searchingJust opening.No longer trying to make sense of painBut trying to be a soft and sturdy homeIn which real things can land.These are the irritationsThat rub into a pearl. So we can talk for awhileBut then we must listen,The way rocks listen to the sea.

— Mark Nepo, Yes, We Can Talk

6. In this twenty-first century of continuing violence and unrest, our future depends on our being able to look without blinking. It depends upon our waking to the deeper life that moves in life — the life that sustains being. It depends upon out knowing what really matters, and living out of that knowledge.

— Paula D’Arcy, Waking Up to this Day

7. To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight: and never stop fighting.

— e.e. cummings, A Poet's Advice to Students

8. Start your life, create your environment where you flourish, where your gifts become fire to the kindling in drought-stricken souls; become the [person] you desire.

— Jimmy Santiago Baca, Healing Earthquakes

9. Stop asking yourself what you want, what you desire, what interests you. Ask yourself instead: What has been given to me? Ask: What do I have to give back? Then give it.

— Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough

10. It’s not a matter of what you deserve, and — more to the point — certainly not a matter of what you think you deserve. All that matters is what you’re committed to, and how you honor that commitment, and — sometimes — what you are blessed by.

— M. Allen Cunningham, In the Absence of Yes

11. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

12. You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.

— Yann Martel, Life of Pi

13. …always the wish that you might be able to find patience enough to endure, and single-heartedness enough to believe; that you might win increasing trust in what is difficult in your solitude among other people. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, at all events.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

14. It doesn’t interest mewhat you do for a living.I want to knowwhat you ache forand if you dare to dreamof meeting your heart’s longing.It doesn’t interest mehow old you are.I want to know if you will risk looking like a foolfor lovefor your dreamfor the adventure of being alive.It doesn’t interest mewhat planets are squaring your moon...I want to knowif you have touchedthe centre of your own sorrowif you have been openedby life’s betrayalsor have become shriveled and closedfrom fear of further pain.I want to knowif you can sit with painmine or your ownwithout moving to hide itor fade itor fix it.I want to knowif you can be with joymine or your ownif you can dance with wildnessand let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toeswithout cautioning usto be carefulto be realisticto remember the limitationsof being human...I want to knowif you can live with failureyours and mineand still stand at the edge of the lakeand shout to the silver of the full moon,“Yes.”

— Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation

Images: Warner Bros. Pictures (1); Baim Hanif, Sylwia Bartyzel, Dayne Topkin, Ian Schneider, Matthew Kane, Austin Schmid, Annie Spratt/Unsplash