These speakers should write the book on captivating an audience and speaking truth to power.
Get ready to do a lot of this...
1. Coming Out
"Sure I've been in a few plays and musicals, but more importantly, I've been acting every single day of my life."
New Jersey high school senior Jacob Rudolph showed true bravery earlier this year, when he came out as an LGBT teen during a speech in front of his entire class. His decision to stand up for equality ended up resonating with online viewers so quickly that in less than two weeks after coming out to his friends and classmates, he was invited to multiple television appearances that included a visit to Anderson Cooper's show where actor and LGBT activist George Takei surprised Rudolph.
2. Reforming A Broken Immigration System
"Because I’m not a trained Arizona official, I somehow got that backwards. Actually, Ms. Gomez, of Texas, has helped Mr. Bieber, of Canada, learn all about his adopted country. Justin, when you perform in Phoenix, remember to bring your papers."
"Pick Out The Immigrant" was a game presented by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) to the House of Representatives last year, after the Supreme Court's decision was released on Arizona's now infamous "Show Me Your Papers" law. Combined with Gutierrez's charismatic delivery, the game -- which asked if listeners could figure out who was the immigrant, Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez -- became a brilliant and hilarious takedown of profiling. It remains relevant a year later as we deal with New York City's "Stop and Frisk" policy.
3. Fighting Education Inequality
"The winners of a rigged game should not get to write the rules."
Dylan Garity is a College National Poetry Slam champion. For the 2013 National Poetry Slam, Garity performed "Rigged Game," an emotional poem about his sister, an ESL teacher for an elementary school in Boston. Her students are native Spanish speakers, forced to learn entirely in English due to the 2001 "No Child Left Behind" Act. As Garity eloquently describes, the measure has been crippling to many young students' educations. You can check out more of his work on Garity's Tumblr.
4. Mixing Gay Rights And Religion
"All I have done is simply take out the phrase 'racial integration' and substituted it with the phrase 'gay rights.'"
Phil Snider is a real Reverend from Springfield, Mo. In 2012, he showed up at a community meeting widely attended by anti-gay rights supporters, where he gave unexpected testimony in favor of LGBT equality. Snider used direct quotes from white preachers in the 1950s and '60s who supported racial segregation, pointing out that anti-gay rights arguments of today used nearly identical arguments to the anti-civil rights arguments of previous generations. His biting conclusion is a definite masterpiece.
5. Growing Up Black With The Police
"[I] don't like the fact that he learned to hide from the cops before he knew how to read."
Javon Johnson performed this piece for the semifinals of the 2013 National Poetry Slam at Da Poetry Lounge. Chronicling a question-and-answer exchange he had with his 4 year old nephew, Johnson became increasingly emotional as he dove into why the little boy had been taught to fear the cops before even learning to read. Johnson has also written for Huffington Post's blog in the past.
6. Surviving Terrorism
"They thought that the bullet would silence us ... but they failed."
At 15, outspoken youth activist Malala Yousafzai was shot in the face and neck by the Taliban in Pakistan during a failed assassination attempt. After a months-long recovery period, Yousafzai celebrated her 16th birthday as she addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly to continue her push for peace, education and equality. Her powerful speech proved that the Taliban had completely failed in their effort to silence her with terrorism.
7. Besting The Internet Bullies
"And I feel like it took me a really long time to get to that point. In an instant it was brought down completely."
After discovering in high school that she had been voted the ugliest woman on the Internet, Lizzie Velásquez was understandably sent into an emotional spiral. Born with an extremely rare disease that is believed to be a non-fatal form of neonatal progeroid syndrome, Velásquez has never been able to weigh more than 64 pounds. But instead of letting the nasty comments get to her, she took the high road and became even stronger. Velásquez is now a perfect example of overcoming bullying and becoming a happy and proud human being. For more, you can also catch her appearance on the Today Show.
8. Opposing War As A U.S. Veteran
"We were told we were fighting terrorist...the real terrorist is me."
Michael Prysner is an Iraq War veteran who ranked as a Corporal and was responsible for ground surveillance, raids of homes and the interrogation of prisoners. Upon his return, he became an anti-war activist and has co-founded the organization "March Forward!", which encourages active-duty military personnel to resist deployment. The speech below was given at 2008 Winter Soldier, a meeting for Iraq Veterans Against the War held in Maryland.
9. "Curing" Feminism
"I really want to snort cocaine off of some drunk girl's equality."
Kait Rokowski is currently ranked third in the world for female slam poets. For "How To Cure A Feminist," Rokowski gives a satirical guide to getting in between an empowered girl's legs and then molding her mind to better suit the patriarchy.
10. Saving The Environment
"You grownups say you love us, but I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words."
In 1992, Severn Suzuki, then 12, raised the money to travel 5,000 miles from Canada to Rio de Janeiro to address the UN Earth Summit. When she was only 9, Suzuki founded the Environmental Children's Organization, which was committed to teaching other children about environmental issues. Since giving this tour de force performance, Suzuki has remained an environmental activist. She went on to graduate from Yale, write a book, host a television show for children on Discovery Kids, and basically be an all around awesome person.
11. Living In America As A Muslim
"Listen, there is terrorism. And there are terrorists living. But the last time I checked, terrorism and terrorist are not a religion."
Hersi is a Somali Muslim, slam poet and former United States Marine who served in Iraq. His full name is Shirwa Hersi, but people refused to learn the correct pronunciation and eventually started calling him just "Hersi." This seems to be a launching point for the poem, "Terrorism is not a Religion," which chronicles having to deal with prejudice as a young school boy and the 9/11 apologies Muslim Americans are still forced to make. It's not a public speech like many of the others, but it really resonates.
Now all that's left...
Also on HuffPost:
Deepak Chopra, Author, Physician
At <a href="http://www.hartwick.edu/current-students/commencement-2013/commencement-speaker/chopra-address" target="_blank">Hartwick College</a> in New York: "Know your true self. Your true self is not your self-image that is dependent on the labels you and others have given yourself. Your true self is the innermost core of your being that is beyond all labels, definitions and limitations. All the wisdom traditions tell us that the human spirit is a field of infinite possibilities, a field of infinite creativity, love, compassion, joy and profound equanimity. Know you can only give to the world that which you possess in that innermost core of your being. Remember that you will create peace only when you are peaceful and create a loving world only when you have learned to love."
David Brooks, Columnist
At <a href="http://news.sewanee.edu/academics/2013/05/11/journalist-david-brooks-charms-sewanee-during-commencement-weekend-visit" target="_blank">Sewanee: The University of the South</a>: "Commencement speakers are always telling you to find your passion. This is the biggest load of crap old people have ever foisted on the young. No, you will not find your passion. Your passion will find you. Relax and wait for it. … Don't think about what you want from life, think about what life wants from you. If you're observant, some large problem will plop itself in front of you. It will define your mission and your calling. Your passion won't come from inside, it will come from outside."
Anders Holm, Comedian, "Workaholics"
At the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/19/anders-holm-uw-madison_n_3300686.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">University of Wisconsin-Madison</a>: "To get what you want out of life, all you can really do is find out who you are, and do that." "Practice being curious, want to know things, ask questions." "Consider what people think of you, but don't be afraid of what people think of you."
Joss Whedon, TV & Film Writer/Producer
At <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/29/joss-whedon-commencement_n_3349743.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">Wesleyan University</a>: "You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key not only to consciousness but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. ... Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better."
Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO
At the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/05/19/obama-michelle-colbert-clinton-bill-biden-etc-the-best-2013-commencement-speeches-so-far/" target="_blank">University of Michigan</a>: "Not only can you not plan the impact you're going to have, you often won't recognize it when you're having it."
Stephen Colbert, Host, "The Colbert Report"
At the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/18/stephen-colbert-university-of-virginia_n_3298839.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">University of Virginia</a>: "You may learn sooner than most generations the hard lesson that you must always make the path for yourself. 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. ... I believe we have given you a gift, a particular form of independence. Because you do not owe the previous generation anything. Thanks to us, you owe it to the Chinese."
Katie Couric, TV Journalist
At <a href="http://www.rmc.edu/current-students/commencement/Commencement%20Address.aspx" target="_blank">Randolph Macon College</a> in Virginia: "The losses I've experienced have taught me something else: We are all terminal. You have to appreciate the gifts that every day of your life will bring: Your family. Your friends. A beautiful sky at sunset. A perfect ear of corn in August. The first snowfall of the year. A baby's tiny hand. Be grateful for the time you have and savor the joy that comes your way. Look for those in-between moments … not big events, but the little ones when you're laughing with a friend, taking a walk, helping an elderly neighbor with her groceries."
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)
At the Jewish Theological Seminary: "So I want to say to you as you are leaving this unbelievable institution, leaving this holy ground, you must go out and find a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. You must play a role in helping to make our country, helping to make our world, a better place. Another generation of students, professors, rabbis, ministers, priests and nuns stood up and became headlights rather than taillights. They put their bodies on the line because of justice and fairness."
Bill McKibben, Author, Environmental Activist
At <a href="http://www.eckerd.edu/commencement/13/remarks/mckibben.php" target="_blank">Eckerd College</a> in St. Petersburg, Fla.: "This is not an end, commencement. It's an opening. Your minds have been brought alive, and hopefully your hearts have been brought alive as well by the education for the last many years. Do not let those hearts and those minds go back to sleep."
Newark Mayor Cory Booker
In the <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/us-news-blog/2013/may/14/graduation-2013-best-commencement-speeches#tyson" target="_blank">main address during Class Day for Yale seniors</a> at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.: "Real courage is holding on to a still voice in your head that says, 'I must keep going.' It's that voice that says nothing is a failure if it is not final. That voice that says to you, 'Get out of bed. Keep going. I will not quit.'"
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist
At <a href="http://www.ricethresher.org/tyson-delivers-commencement-speech-1.3043606#.Ua4DietAskk" target="_blank">Rice University</a>: "Your diploma is not a ticket to show off what you know. It's permission to admit to yourself how much you still have yet to learn."
Jon Lovett, Television Writer
At <a href="http://www.pitzer.edu/commencement/videos/speakers-2013-Jon_Lovett.asp" target="_blank">Pitzer College</a> in Claremont, Calif.: "You are smart, talented, educated, conscientious, untainted by the mistakes and conventional wisdom of the past. But you are also very annoying. Because there is a lot that you don't know that you don't know. Your parents are nodding. You've been annoying them for years. Why do you think they paid for college? So that you might finally, at long last, annoy someone else. And now your professors are nodding."
Ed Helms at Knox College in Illinois: <blockquote>And so I was scared again. Really scared, because I'd made some big life changes to accommodate this path. But I had learned to dig a little deeper so I turned to my fear and I said, "Alright, start talking, what's going on here?" And my fear said, "Last night on stage, you tanked. And it was humiliating. So naturally I'm here to nag you and tell you not to get back on that stage." And that led me to another more deliberate question "What will happen if I do get back up there?" And fear squirmed a little, because fear despises truth, but he ﬁnally cracked and said, "Well, you're still here, right? And even if you tank again ...you'll still be here again. And here's a little silver lining that you wouldn't know if you hadn't bothered to talk to me about this. That crowd reaction, albeit brutal, is really useful data. When they laughed it was nice, but when they didn't it was even more valuable. Why did that one joke work two nights ago and bomb tonight?"</blockquote>
At<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/19/arianna-huffington-smith-college-commencement-speech_n_3299888.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank"> Smith College </a>in Massachusetts: "Don't buy society's definition of success. Because it's not working for anyone. It's not working for women, it's not working for men, it's not working for polar bears, it's not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It's only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness and high blood pressure."
Eric Idle, Actor, Comedian
At <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/20/eric-idle-whitman-college-commencement_n_3303075.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">Whitman College</a> in Washington state: "Life took over 4 billion years to evolve into you, and you've about 70 more years to enjoy it. ... Don't just pursue happiness, catch it. And maybe [they'll] even have a cure for it."
Melinda Gates, Philanthropist
At <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/melinda-gates-duke-commencement_n_3266640.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">Duke University</a> in North Carolina: "Of course, all the hype about how connected you are has contributed to a counter-narrative -- that, in fact, your generation is increasingly disconnected from the things that matter. The arguments go something like this: Instead of spending time with friends, you spend it alone, collecting friend requests. Rather than savoring your food, you take pictures of it and post them on Facebook. I want to encourage you to reject the cynics who say technology is flattening your experience of the world. Please don't let anyone make you believe you are somehow shallow because you like to update your status on a regular basis."
Vice-President Joe Biden
At the <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/us-news-blog/2013/may/14/graduation-2013-best-commencement-speeches#tyson" target="_blank">University of Pennsylvania</a>: "Don't listen to the cynics. They were wrong about my generation and they were wrong about yours."
President Bill Clinton
At <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/12/bill-clinton-howard-commencement_n_3262961.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">Howard University</a> in Washington, D.C.: "This whole thing comes down in the end to whether we think the future will be better if we face it with open hands or closed fists. You can't live in a world that is interdependent where the walls come down and borders look more like nets. You can't keep every bad thing out anywhere unless most people believe that what we have in common is more important than our interesting differences."
James Sprung, Graduate of Cooper Union
James Sprung, the senior class speaker, at <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/30/cooper-union-commencement-2013_n_3361217.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">Cooper Union</a> in New York City: "Hope. Hope is everything. A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing. To do a dull thing with hope will never be preferable to doing a dangerous thing with hope. To do a dangerous thing with hope is what I call art. Hope is a way of doing. A way of being done."
Jonathan Safran Foer, Author
At <a href="http://www.middlebury.edu/newsroom/node/451202" target="_blank">Middlebury College</a> in Vermont: "Each step forward in technological communication has made things more convenient. But each step has also made it easier, just a little bit easier, to avoid the emotional work of being present. To write 'LOL' rather than to actually laugh out loud; to send a crying emoji rather than actually crying; to convey information rather than humanity. It's never been easier to say nothing. The problem with accepting, or preferring, diminished substitutes, we too become diminished substitutes. ... This is the work of being human. It can be messy and painful and almost impossibly difficult, but it is not what we give; it is what we get in exchange for having to die. And it is beautiful."
At <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/30/oprah-harvard-commencement-speech_n_3361054.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">Harvard University</a> in Cambridge, Mass.: "It doesn't matter how far you might rise, at some point you're bound to stumble. And when you do, there is something I want you to remember: No such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us into another direction."
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)
At<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/28/gabby-giffords-bard-commencement_n_3345655.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank"> Bard College</a> in New York City: "Be bold, be courageous, be your best."
President Barack Obama
At <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/19/obama-morehouse-speech-2013-commencement-_n_3303349.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">Morehouse College</a> in Atlanta, Ga.: "So yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and powerful, or if you can also find time to defend the powerless. Sure, go get your MBA or start that business; we need black businesses out there. But ask yourself what broader purpose your business might serve, in putting people to work or transforming a neighborhood. The most successful CEOs I know didn't start out intent on making money -- rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed."
Brian Williams, TV Journalist
Without a doubt, our favorite moment of commencement season 2013 was when NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams pulled <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/28/brian-williams-elon-commencement_n_3344052.html?utm_hp_ref=commencement-central" target="_blank">off this gesture at Elon University</a>: "Because there is a dad in Oklahoma who would give all he has to be able to throw a baseball to his son," Williams said. He stopped, took a step to the side of the podium and threw a baseball to his son in the crowd. "Here's the deal ... When you get home, you return the bargain by throwing that back into my mitt, which is the mitt you learned to pitch into, and then we will be whole again. Because all of this has us thinking about time."