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10 Best Commencement Speech Moments of 2017

Oprah, Hillary Clinton and Steve Van Zandt are some of the celebrities that helped send this year’s class into the real world

Graduation is a big deal, but as students across the country learned over the past few weeks, it’s maybe a bigger deal depending on who is giving the big commencement speech to help usher them into the real world. From Notre Dame students walking out on Vice President Mike Pence, Oprah
inspiring at Smith, Hillary returning to Wellesley and Robert De
Niro offering the classic line, “You’re graduating into a tragic, dumbass
comedy,” 2017 has offered up more than a few great college commencement moments. 

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Oprah Winfrey, Smith College

Oprah’s at your graduation, and your graduation, and your graduation and yours! You get a speech, you get a speech and you get a speech! The TV legend and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks actress recently spoke at Skidmore College, as well as Agnes Scott, and gave an inspiring address at Smith College, above. “Make it your intention to serve through your life with purpose – you will have a blessed life,” Winfrey said.

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Hillary Clinton, Wellesley College

Hillary Clinton headed back to her alma mater, Wellesley College, again to deliver its 2017 commencement address. “Now you may have heard things didn’t exactly go the way I’d planned,” said Clinton, who won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, getting laughs from the crowd. “But you know what? I’m doing OK. I’ve gotten to spend time with my family, especially my amazing grandchildren. I was going to give the entire commencement speech about them but was talked out of it. Long walks in the woods. Organizing my closets, right? I won’t lie, chardonnay helped a little, too. But here’s what helped most of all: Remembering who I am, where I come from, and what I believe, and that is what Wellesley means to me.”

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Robert De Niro, Brown University

“Are you sure you want to do this?” De Niro asked Brown University students in May. Even if you’re not graduating, it’s a good question.

Later on, De Niro compared the times to movie genres. “In movie terms, when you started school, the country was an inspiring, uplifting drama. You’re graduating into a tragic, dumbass comedy.” 

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Bernie Sanders, Brooklyn College

While some commencement speakers decide to use metaphors about navigating this big, scary world or about the state of today’s society, Bernie got real and cut to the numbers at Brooklyn College’s celebration. “Today in America, CEOs are earning almost 300 times what the average worker makes. And in terms of income, while you and your parents are working in some cases two or three jobs, 52 percent of all new income generated today goes to the top one percent. Meanwhile, at the same time as we have more income and wealth inequality than any other nation, 43 million Americans live in poverty, half of older workers have nothing in the bank as they approach retirement, and in some inner cities and rural communities, youth unemployment is 20, 30, 40 percent.”

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