So you’re entering the next phase of your wildly ambitious commitment to a life of creativity. Maybe you’re going to a trade school, maybe going for a degree in the communication arts…maybe you’re entering into the workforce of the creative class. Well, it ain’t gonna to be easy. Look forward to a lifetime of rejection, heartbreak and dealing with people who ‘just don’t get it’. Wow, your life is gonna get lower than low, your friends are gonna be partying while you’ll be in the studio working until the early morning (not liking at all what you’re creating). Well, in the moment of complete despair, you might have Googled, ‘Why the hell did I ever ever ever become a designer? Gawd I’m a dumbass!’ And you found this blog… well, I’ve gathered some very encouraging commencement tongue-lashings […I mean speeches] you can replay (or read) anytime you fell like givin’ up. Hey, keep your head up artist—you ain’t naïve, you are changing the world—don’t forget why you started this journey. 💋❌⭕❌⭕
Neil Gaiman. University of the Arts, 2012
“When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.”—Neil Gaiman.
Toni Morrison. Wellesley College, 2004
“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. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean. But then, I am a teller of stories and therefore an optimist, a believer in the ethical bend of the human heart, a believer in the mind’s disgust with fraud and its appetite for truth, a believer in the ferocity of beauty. So, from my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.”—Toni Morrison.
Zadie Smith, The New School, 2014
“Hold on to that desire for human connection. Don’t let anyone scare you out of it. Walk down these crowded streets with a smile on your face. Be thankful you get to walk so close to other humans. It’s a privilege.”—Zadie Smith.
Joss Whedon, Wesleyan University, 2013
“So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been, and now, it becomes real on a level that it hasn’t been before.”—Joss Whedon.
Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University, 2013
“…Even when things are difficult, be grateful. Honor your calling, don’t worry about how successful you will be. Don’t worry about it. Focus on how significant you can be in service and the success will take care of itself. And always take a stand for yourself. Your values, you are defined by what you stand for. Your integrity is not for sale.”—Oprah Winfrey.
Bill Nye, Goucher College, 2019
“Now when it comes to changing the world, don’t be scared. Don’t freak out. When you have to perform doing anything, be it a final exam, dressing for a date, winning a world war, or managing a planet, you might be nervous. You might be scared. And that fear can stop you cold. But don’t let it. As we say in the theater, and on television, take that fear and turn it into excitement..”—Bill Nye.
Arianna Huffington, Smith College, 2013
“And remember that while there will be plenty of signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are, to take care of yourself along the way, to reach out to others, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place from which everything is possible. Give me a place to stand—my Greek compatriot Archimedes said—and I will move the world. So find your place to stand—your place of wisdom and peace and strength.”—Arianna Huffington.
Wynton Marsalis, University of Vermont, 2014
“It’s harder to build than destroy. To build is to engage and change. In jazz, we call progressing harmonies changes. Changes are like obstacles on a speed course. They demand your attention and require you to be present. They are coming… They are here… and then they are gone. It’s how life comes. Each moment is a procession from the future into the past and the sweet spot is always the present. Live in that sweet spot. Be present.”—Wynton Marsalis.
Tim Cook, Tulane University, 2019
“As you go out into the world, don’t waste time on problems that have been solved. Don’t get hung up on what other people say is practical. Instead, steer your ship into the choppy seas. Look for the rough spots, the problems that seem too big, the complexities that other people are content to work around. It’s in those places that you will find your purpose. It’s there that you can make your greatest contribution. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of being too cautious. Don’t assume that by staying put, the ground won’t move beneath your feet. The status quo simply won’t last. So get to work on building something better.”—Tim Cook.
David McCullough, Wellesley High School, 2012
“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.”—David McCullough.
Above illustration by Angelo Lagdameo (but it’s just a collage of screen shots from the publicly available YouTube links used in the article.)