Commencement Speakers' Advice for Graduating College Seniors: Sunscreen, Imagination, and a Well Made Bed

High school seniors, you will soon hear commencement addressees filled with advice on how to begin your life’s journey. Some are better than others, and a handful are exceptional. Some of the journey-launching send-offs that I like most are not even really commencement addresses. Here are three speeches (a music video, a professor's last college lecture, and a true commencement address) that I recommend. 


Wear Sunscreen,” Baz Lurhmann’s Music Video based on Mary Schmich’s Newspaper Column

Famed film director Baz Luhrmann made the music video for “Wear Sunscreen,” from a 1997 column titled “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young,” in the Chicago Tribune by Mary Schmich. Living in southern California, I love how her speech starts—”Wear sunscreen!”—but Schmich’s advice highlights the wide range that a commencement speech can cover. She makes the point that there is no limit to the advice you can receive, and gives permission to ignore much of it (except the sunscreen.)


Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University (2007)

When Carnegie Mellon University’s faculty retire, they are invited to deliver to the CMU community their “Last Lecture.” Randy Pausch was one of the leading authorities on virtual reality when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. Pausch wowed his audience with his positive attitude and his focus on achieving his childhood dreams. While he never played in the NFL, he demonstrates how the journey to achieve your dreams makes you a better person, and he was proof that helping others achieve their dreams can be even more rewarding.


Ten Life Lessons from a Navy Seal,” Admiral William McRaven’s University of Texas Commencement Speech (2014)

Make your bed. That’s how the elite Navy SEALs start their day, and Admiral McRaven says that you should, too. McRaven, now the University of Texas System’s Chancellor, offered a short-but-to-the-point set of rules from his time as a SEAL. Focusing on doing the small things well and acknowledging that you will fail sometimes, on the battlefield or elsewhere, McRaven shared ten examples of how a positive attitude can help you make the best of any situation.

Congratulations, Class of 2016! 


Photo of Admiral William McRaven, August 28, 2014, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense