It’s graduation season, which means that college students everywhere are getting a heavy dose of advice for finding their passions, chasing success, and thriving in the real world.

Which—let’s face it—we all could probably use.

So today, we rounded up 35 of the best graduation quotes of all time. Sure, they’re great tips for the new grads out there, but they’re bound to offer the rest of us some big-time inspiration, too.


Do all the other things, the ambitious things—travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes...but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.

George Saunders to Syracuse University in 2013

Sometimes you find out what you are supposed to be doing by doing the things you are not supposed to do.

Oprah Winfrey to Howard University in 2007

Don’t buy society’s definition of success. Because it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it’s not working for men, it’s not working for polar bears, it’s not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It’s only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness, and high blood pressure.

Arianna Huffington to Smith College in 2013

Do not worry too much about your lawn. You will soon find if you haven’t already that almost every adult American devotes tremendous time and money to the maintenance of an invasive plant species called turf grass that we can’t eat. I encourage you to choose better obsessions.

John Green to Butler University in 2013

And how do you know when you’re doing something right? How do you know that? It feels so. What I know now is that feelings are really your GPS system for life. When you’re supposed to do something or not supposed to do something, your emotional guidance system lets you know. The trick is to learn to check your ego at the door and start checking your gut instead.

Oprah Winfrey to Stanford University in 2008

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage or secure a pension. I know that the irony strikes with the force of a cartoon anvil, now.

J.K. Rowling to Harvard University in 2008

Be bold, be courageous, be your best.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to Bard College in 2013

Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Steve Jobs to Stanford in 2005

Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.

Barack Obama to Barnard College in 2012

Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.

Nora Ephron to Wellesley in 1996

You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

David Foster Wallace to Kenyon College in 2005

A world where men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions would be just a much better world.

Sheryl Sandberg to Barnard College in 2011

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 to Wellesley College in 2004

There is nothing more beautiful than finding your course as you believe you bob aimlessly in the current. Wouldn’t you know that your path was there all along, waiting for you to knock, waiting for you to become. This path does not belong to your parents, your teachers, your leaders, or your lovers. Your path is your character defining itself more and more everyday like a photograph coming into focus.

Jodie Foster to University of Pennsylvania in 2006

Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.

Anna Quindlen to Villanova University in 2000

There is no script. Live your life. Soak it all in.

Dick Costolo to University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2013

But real leadership comes from the quiet nudging of an inner voice. It comes from realizing that the time has come to move beyond waiting to doing.

Madeleine Albright to UNC in 2007

I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.

Maya Angelou to UC Riverside in 1977

Thankfully dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it, you haven’t failed, and you’re not some loser. But just as importantly—and this is the part I may not get right and you may not listen to—if you do get your dream, you are not a winner.

Stephen Colbert to Northwestern in 2011

The most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and to not give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not.

Ellen DeGeneres to Tulane in 2009

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.

J.K. Rowling to Harvard in 2008

The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are. So make up your own rules.

Neil Gaiman to The University of the Arts in 2012

And when your journey seems too hard, and when you run into a chorus of cynics who tell you that you’re being foolish to keep believing or that you can’t do something, or that you should just give up, or you should just settle—you might say to yourself a little phrase that I’ve found handy these last eight years: Yes, we can.

Barack Obama to Howard University in 2016

Now the first suggestion is to aim high, but be aware that even before you have reached your ultimate professional destination, if you always strive for excellence, you can and should have a substantial impact on the world in which you live.

Sandra Day O’Connor to Gettysburg College in 2008

Don’t be afraid of fear. Because it sharpens you, it challenges you, it makes you stronger; and when you run away from fear, you also run away from the opportunity to be your best possible self.

Ed Helms to Knox College in 2013

Be compassionate to everyone. Don’t just search for whatever it is that annoys and frightens you, see beyond those things to the basic human being. Especially see the child in the man or woman. Even if they are destroying you, allow a moment to see how lost in their own delusion and suffering they are.

Alice Walker to Naropa University in 2007

Not only can you not plan the impact you’re going to have, you often won’t recognize it when you’re having it.

Dick Costolo to University of Michigan in 2013

Real courage is holding on to a still voice in your head that says, ‘I must keep going.’ It’s that voice that says nothing is a failure if it is not final. That voice that says to you, ‘Get out of bed. Keep going. I will not quit.’

Cory Booker to Yale University in 2013

There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.

Conan O’Brien to Dartmouth College in 2011


Photos courtesy of Pablo.