George Washington University
"You guys can't be stopped. You don't know the meaning of the word 'can't.' And every time someone's tried to say to tell you that, you've replied, 'Oh, yes we can.' In fact, you remind me of something President Wilson once said. He said: 'Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that's the way I know I'm an American.'
"Even so, you've probably also run up against people who love your idealism but warn you to lower your sights, to scale back your ambitions a bit, to settle for something less. And you know their hearts may be in the right place. They may be worried that you're in for a letdown once you realize that it can take years and even decades for your best efforts to bear fruit. See, we live in a culture, after all, that tells us that our lives should be easy, that we can have everything we want without a whole lot of effort. But the truth is, and you know this, creating anything meaningful takes time."
— First lady Michelle Obama, who promised to speak at George Washington if they performed 100,000 hours of community service
"I'm not saying you should take it easy and just see what happens. You need to outwork everyone around you. You need to arrive early, stay late; you need to make yourself indispensable. You should also probably get rid of those Facebook photos of you passed out on Bourbon Street.
"But as you consider what to do now, you shouldn't necessarily feel that your next step is the most important one you'll ever take. It's not. You will go down many paths that go nowhere—especially you English majors. You will try things on and realize they don't fit, and that's how it should be. Learning what you don't want to do is the next best thing to figuring out what you do want to do."— CNN anchor Anderson Cooper
New York University
"In my life, I have learned that when you do not commit, you do not risk, you discover you should have—that is even more consequential. The myth of the risk-free life is just that: myth."
— Actor Alec Baldwin
University Notre Dame
"We patriots, and I'm not talking about TV patriots whose belief is if you say it, loud and often enough, people will think you love your country more than you do. I am talking about those of us ordinary patriots who wake up every day and love our country and believe it's the best place on earth and the best idea on earth. We patriots see the problem and we want to get better. This involves you."
— NBC News anchor Brian Williams
Savannah College of Art and Design
"Art, inspiration and the best ideas come from doing and not merely thinking or fearing. Don't discriminate. Just do."
— Actress Isabella Rossellini
University of North Carolina
"The most difficult part of writing a book is not devising a plot which will captivate the reader; it is not developing characters the reader will have strong feelings for or against; it is not finding a setting which will take the reader to a place he or she has never been; it is not the research, whether in fiction or nonfiction. The most difficult task facing a writer is to find a voice in which to tell the story.
"In this respect, writing is a lot like life itself. In life, a voice is much more than the sound we make when we talk. Infants and preschoolers have voices and can make a lot of noise, but a voice is more than sound. The voice of change, the voice of compassion, the voice of the future, the voice of his generation, the voice of her people. We hear this all the time. Voices, not words."
— Best-selling author John Grisham
Loyola University New Orleans
"No matter where you're from or where you go from here, keep New Orleans close to your heart and remember what you are part of. Know that we are now linked together forever."
— New Orleans Saints quarterback and Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees
"We've got nothing against saving the world in one fell swoop. But we think it's important not to disparage or discount the idea of changing the world one brick at a time."
— Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
"Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life—the life you author from scratch on your own—begins. How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make? Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions? Will you follow dogma, or will you be original? Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure? Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions? Will you bluff it out when you're wrong, or will you apologize? Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love? Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling? When it's tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless? Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder? Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?"
— Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos
"Women, I feel I can say this authoritatively, especially at Barnard [an all-women's college] where they can't hear us, ... women are better at acting than men. Why? Because we have to be. ... Pretending is not just play. Pretending is imagined possibility. Pretending or acting is a very valuable life skill, and we all do it. All the time, we don't want to be caught doing it, but nevertheless it's part of the adaptations of our species. We change who we are to fit the exigencies of our time, and not just strategically, or to our own advantage, sometimes sympathetically, without our even knowing it for the betterment of the whole group."
— Meryl Streep
Ohio Wesleyan University
"Once in a great while, a person is confronted with a choice, the implications of which are so profound that its resolution affects your life forever. But that happens rarely and to relatively few people. For most people, life is long enough and varied enough to overcome occasional mistakes and failures.
"You might think that I'm now going to advise you not to be afraid to fail. I'm not. Be afraid. Speaking from considerable experience, failing stinks. Just don't be undone by it. Failure is no more a permanent condition than is success."
— Sen. John McCain
"The best way to move ahead is to focus on asking the right questions along the way. It sometimes amounts to placing more importance on the question than the answer. Something as simple as asking yourself what you are really looking for is often missed, but it becomes evident how important it is when you realize that once you have a very clear idea about what question is, the answer is often just sitting there waiting for you.
"This is where I really get excited. This is where the curiosity, the joy of exploration comes in. This is the big adventure! ... Just because you are an adult does not mean you should stop playing with things like a child or even like a puppy does. Poke something with a stick, try things, experiment."
— Mythbusters co-host Jamie Hyneman
University of Michigan
"On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was famously asked, "Well, doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?" And Franklin gave an answer that's been quoted for ages. He said, 'A republic, if you can keep it.'
"Well, for more than 200 years, we have kept it. Through revolution and civil war, our democracy has survived. Through depression and world war, it has prevailed. Through periods of great social and economic unrest, from civil rights to women's rights, it has allowed us slowly, sometimes painfully, to move towards a more perfect union. And so now, class of 2010, the question for your generation is this: How will you keep our democracy going? At a moment when our challenges seem so big and our politics seem so small, how will you keep our democracy alive and vibrant? How will you keep it well in this century?"— President Barack Obama
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