2017 commencement speeches: The best work advice | Ladders

Advice that's good for everyone, not just new grads.
Inspiration

The 5 most inspiring thoughts from 2017’s graduation speakers

Part of the process of graduating is hearing unsolicited career advice about what you should be doing next with your life.

Here at Ladders we sifted through the good, the great, and the tired cliches to find you the best career wisdom commencement speakers gave the Class of 2017.

1. Get used to failure. Failure is there to wake you up.

Failure was a common relatable theme many of the speakers gave in their speeches. It reminds us that many of these famous speakers were just like many of the graduates in the audience, full of ambition and unsure of what to do with it.

As comedian Will Ferrell told University of Southern California’s Class of 2017, he was scared as a college graduate trying out sketch comedy and he still gets scared now as a famous actor speaking to a crowd.

But he learned how to overcome his fear of failure by knowing it’s worse to never try at all: “My fear of failure never approached in magnitude my fear of what if. What if I never tried at all?”

Venture capitalist Martin Casado, who sold his startup for $1.26 billion, told new grads they need to embrace failure because trying and failing means you’re “not stalling your own progress by hiding.” Failure is how you know you’re progressing, Casado believes: “get back up, apply what you’ve learned, and hit reset.”

2. Get resilient

As the co-authors on “Option B,” a new book about resilience, both behavioral psychologist Adam Grant and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made resilience the theme of their commencement speeches.

“Grit doesn’t mean ‘keep doing the thing that’s failing,'” Grant told new grads. “It means ‘define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail.'”

For Sandberg who discussed her husband’s death in her speech, resilience was a personal message. As someone who cried every night after the first month of losing her husband, Sandberg said everyone should learn the “strength to rely on others” because “there are times to lean in and there are times to lean on.”

Resilience is something we can all build “through shared experiences” and “through shared narratives,” Sandberg believes. “We are not born with a certain amount of resilience – it is a muscle and that means we can build it,” she said.

3. Get paid

While other speakers focused on dreams, Maria Bamford, a self-described “crass, money-grubbing comedian from Duluth,” discussed the gritty details of how to fund those dreams.

For her public salary negotiation lesson, she used the example of how she negotiated her commencement fee from zero dollars to $10,000.

When her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, initially said it couldn’t pay her, Bamford countered, “Was the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts suggesting that I couldn’t get paid for the exact job that I paid them to teach me how to get paid to do?”

Knowing to “never say no without a number,” she eventually raised the fee from free to $10,000 and she gave the money that remained after taxes to a student in the audience. It’s a valuable lesson every graduating adult should learn: know your worth.

4. Don’t compare yourself to others

Stay in your lane, and don’t get jealous about what others are doing alongside you was another theme that emerged from speeches.

“Please, please, oh please, don’t let yourself get caught up in the trap of comparison. You know what I’m talking about. Ignore the silly 30-Under-30 list,” actress Octavia Spencer told Kent State University. “Comparing yourself to other’s success only slows you down from finding your own.”

For Pharrell Williams, staying focused means not getting caught up in fame and attention. “These great scientists, public servants, and activists cannot be bothered with building their Instagram followers,” he told New York University graduates. “Or how many views they get on Youtube…But they are the real influencers. Their work makes us healthier, safer, more enriched, and more intelligent.”

5. Serve others

“Summon your compassion, your curiosity, your empathy towards others and your commitment to service. Give more than you receive and I promise you, it will come back to you in ways you can’t possibly imagine,” is the advice former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had for graduates.

That’s similar advice the woman who made a billion-dollar career out of giving advice, Oprah Winfrey, had for graduates. Winfrey urged Smith College graduates to “shift the paradigm to service and the rewards will come.”

Instead of focusing on individual gain, Winfrey believes new grads should be asking themselves: “How can I be used? Life, use me. Show me through my talents and my gifts, show me through what I know, what I need to know, what I have yet to learn, how to be used in the greater service to life.”