The Best Of 2011 Commencement Speeches: Clinton, Hanks, Poehler, Denzel, The First Lady And More

This month, college students across the country have donned their caps and gowns, crossed their stages, shook the hands of prominent university and college figureheads, accepted their diplomas and were instantly offered their dream jobs that they’ve worked so hard to achieve for the past four years. And while that last part may be exaggerated, graduation at least offers many of us the opportunity for excitement and the revelation that it’s time to enter the real world. The day after graduation, however, is when we realize that we don’t want to be in the real world anymore and we want to go back to sleeping until noon and spending our afternoons updating our Tumblr and Tweeting about how rad last night’s graffiti social at the quad was.
But lost in the concern of the little things like disposable income, paying back student loans, and general foundations for a successful future, are the important messages that are delivered to us at our graduations by commencement speakers. Every year, a slew of celebrities, politicians, CEOs, athletes, Nobel Prize winners, handsome billionaires, and all-around awesome people take the stage to give us hope that tomorrow will bring the beginning of the dreams that we have long reached for with thoughtful, sometimes humorous, and always inspirational commencement speeches. Mostly, we just hope that they’ll take a picture with us so we can put it on Facebook.
Travel to America’s finest institutions of higher learning with me and witness this year’s best commencement speeches*.

*Keep in mind that Conan O’Brien will give Dartmouth’s commencement speech on June 12 and that will immediately become this year’s best.

Novelist Toni Morrison has won a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize for Literature and Fiction, respectively, but you probably know her better as the lady who received $30,000 to give this commencement speech, while The Jersey Shore‘s Snooki received $32,000 for a Q&A session at Rutgers earlier this year.

Steve Wozniak is the co-founder of Apple, often an afterthought to his fellow co-founder Steve Jobs. There was a third co-founder, but your guess is as good as mine.

Sharyl Sandburg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. Before her speech, there was a moment of unrest as she accidentally checked into Bernard College.