Best Female Commencement Speakers 2013

Women may be graduating from college in greater numbers than their male counterparts, but the podiums on graduation day are still dominated by men. (Sigh.)  Still, the roster of commencement speakers this year was peppered with powerful women in a broad range of fields–from politicians to poets, philanthropists to CEOs. Here are excerpts from some of our favorite speakers, including Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, Annie Lennox, Arianna Huffington, and, of course, Oprah.

Wise Women Take the Stand

The roster of commencement speakers this year is peppered with powerhouse women from politicians and poets to philanthropists and CEOs. Oprah, Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, Annie Lennox, Arianna Huffington, and others, had wise words for us. Keep reading to see what some of our favorites had to say.

Mistakes are There to Teach You

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction. Now, when you’re down there in the hole, it looks like failure. … Give yourself time to mourn what you think you may have lost, but then here’s the key: Learn from every mistake because every experience, encounter and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you and force you into being more who you are. And then figure out what is the next right move. And the key to life is to develop an internal moral, emotional GPS that can tell you which way to go.”

— Oprah Winfrey, media mogul, talk show host, producer and philanthropist, to the graduates of Harvard University.

Redefine Success

“Please don’t settle for just breaking through glass ceilings in a broken corporate system or in a broken political system, where so many leaders are so disconnected from their own wisdom that we are careening from one self-inflicted crisis to another. Change much more than the M to a W at the top of the corporate flow chart. Change it by going to the root of what’s wrong and redefining what we value and what we consider success.”

— Arianna Huffington, author and syndicated columnist. To the graduates of Smith College.

Keep Learning

“Keep learning as you go. Acknowledge that there will be fear and adversity. Then go out and kick butt.”

— Julie Andrews, actress, to the graduates of the University of Colorado.

Put Down Your iPhone

“Put down that iPhone so you won’t miss it. Live. Really live. And do everything you can to become our next great generation.”

— Katie Couric, journalist, author and talk show host, to the graduates of Randolph-Macon College.

Get In There and Fix It

“If the school in your neighborhood isn’t any good, don’t just accept it. Get in there, fix it. Talk to the parents. Talk to the teachers. Get business and community leaders involved as well, because we all have a stake in building schools worthy of our children’s promise.”

— Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, to the graduates of Bowie State University.

Stay Connected

“Just because you don’t qualify for sainthood doesn’t mean you can’t form deep human connections – or that your connections can’t make a difference in the world.”

— Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and philanthropist. To the graduates of Duke University.

Don’t Be Shy

“Don’t be shy no matter how crazy it seems to you. That crazy idea may just be the solution for some crazy global or local problem.”

— Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel peace Prize recipient, to the graduates of Barnard college.

Be Courageous

“Graduates – your futures shine bright. Find your purpose and go for it. Starting tomorrow you can change the world. The nation’s counting on you to create, to lead, to innovate. Today we celebrate you. Be bold, be courageous, be your best.”

— Gabrielle Giffords, former member of the House of Representatives, to the graduates of Bard College.

Move Beyond Your Fears

“What would we all do if we acknowledged our fear, embraced it, deciphered it, and then cast it away, moving well beyond it?”

— Ruth Markowitz Owades, entrepreneur and corporate director, to the graduates of Scripps College.

We Are Not Alone

“We owe everything to others. We owe others our language, our history, our art, our survival, our neighborhood, our relationship with family and colleagues. Our ability to defy social conventions as well as support these conventions. All of this, we learn from others. None of us is alone. Each of us is dependent on others.”

–Toni Morrison, novelist, editor, and professor, to the graduates of Vanderbilt University.

What Looks Like the End Could Be a Beginning

“Wherever you think you’re heading right now, you might turn out to take a completely different route down a completely different path. And what looks like the end might actually be the start of a brand new beginning.”

— Annie Lennox, award-winning musician, to the graduates of Berklee College of Music.

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