17 Must-Read Commencement Speech Quotes

Where has the time gone? Four years probably seemed like forever when you arrived on campus, and commencement speech quotes seemed insanely far away. As spring stretches on, we can no longer deny that days are getting longer, yet time is short. The bucket lists we gleefully drew up during freshman year now have expiry dates that get closer every day.

It feels strange to be on the cusp of such change. Impending graduation can feel like the world you've worked hard to build is crumbling around you. Social gatherings are bookended by realizations you might not see these people again for years, and friendships forged on small campuses will soon span the globe.

But the past four years are just that; only four years of your entire life. Chances to learn and form new relationships continue long after you've packed up your dorm room. College is just one chapter - there is much more to be written, wherever you're headed once the mortarboards land.

At least, this is what I'm telling myself. As part of the class of 2015, these thoughts have been looming in the minds of me and my friends for months now. Already I've started seeking comfort in commencement speeches, partly for the reassurance, partly to temper myself for my own ceremony in June. Here are some of the supportive gems I've found along the way. Congratulations, everyone! See you on the other side...

1. "As you leave here, remember what you loved most in this place ... I mean the way you lived, in close and continuous contact ... You play hardest for a hometown crowd. You become your best self. You know joy."

—Barbara Kingsolver, Duke University, 2008

2. "From now on, time will pass without artificial academic measure. It will go by like the wind. Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is."

–Gloria Steinem, Tufts University, 1987

3. "Don’t underestimate your time here. The experiences you've had and the interests you've developed may well turn up years later in the oddest ways."

—Tracy Chevalier, Oberlin College, 2013

4. "Although you will never fully know or successfully manipulate the characters who surface or disrupt your plot, you can respect the ones who do by paying them close attention and doing them justice. The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone."

—Toni Morrison, Wellesley College, 2004

5. "Try not to worry so much about what you are going to do with your life. You are already doing what you are going to do with your life, and judging by your gownedness, you’re doing all right."

-John Green, Butler University, 2013

6. "Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own."

—Amy Poehler, Harvard University, 2011

7. "I'm not telling you to make the world better ... I'm just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment."

—Joan Didion, University of California, Riverside, 1975

8. "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

—J.K. Rowling, Harvard University, 2008

9. "Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don't have the alibi my class had ... Unlike us, you can't say nobody told you there were other options. Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead."

—Nora Ephron, Wellesley College, 1996

10. "Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end."

—Naomi Wolf, Scripps College, 1992

11. "Do the stuff that only you can do. The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that's not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we've sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision."

—Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts, 2012

12. "When faced with the inevitable, you always have a choice. You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it."

—Margaret Atwood, University of Toronto, 1983

13. "It's all about taking in as much of what's out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you'll soon be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager."

—Susan Sontag, Vassar College, 2003

14. "Life loves the liver of it, ladies … There is no person here who is over one year old who hasn't slept with fear, or pain or loss or grief, or terror, and yet we have all arisen, have made whatever absolutions we were able to, or chose to, dressed, and said to other human beings, 'Good morning. How are you? Fine, thanks.'"

—Maya Angelou, Wellesley College, 1982

15. "The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day."

—David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College, 2005

16. "For me the most important thing in life is to live your life with integrity and not to give in to peer pressure to try to be something that you're not. To live your life as an honest and compassionate person, to contribute in some way."

—Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

17. "Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change."

—Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth College, 2014

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