Best Quotes From 2013 Graduation Speeches

See what Barack Obama, Rita Dove and others had to say at this year's commencement ceremonies.

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  • It’s graduation season, when college students across the nation embark on a new chapter of their lives, often encouraged by the words of wisdom imparted to them by keynote speakers during their commencement celebrations. Here are inspirational quotes that black notables and other luminaries — from Barack Obama to Toni Morrison to Bill Clinton and more — delivered to the Class of 2013.

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    Dr. Bill Cosby (Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty)

    Dr. Bill Cosby

    “Don’t you dare accept that you’re teachers because you can’t do anything else.” “You always hear that people, who can’t do, teach,” “But if you don’t teach, they can’t do.”

    At Temple University in Philadelphia, P.A., on May 16, 2013

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    (Thomas Vilsack/Chris Renegar/Tuskegee University)

    Thomas Vilsack, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.

    “I want you to accept the challenge of your time, don’t be afraid to seek compromise, embrace the middle, and embrace the compromise.”

    At Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, on May 11, 2013

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    President Barack Obama (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

    President Barack Obama

    As Morehouse men, you now wield something even more powerful than the diploma you’re about to collect — and that’s the power of your example. So what I ask of you today is the same thing I ask of every graduating class I address:  Use that power for something larger than yourself.” 

    –Morehouse College in Atlanta, May 19, 2013

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    Screenshot of Claude M. Steele (YouTube)

    Social Psychologist Claude M. Steele

    “Think hard, always think hard, but don’t worry too much about figuring out a precise strategy, a step-by-step plan. Instead cultivate a faith, a specific faith that, by and large, doing the best you possibly can at what you value doing will bring you the chances and opportunities you need.”

    –Tufts University in Medford, Mass., May 19, 2013 


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    Kerry Washington (Kris Conner/Getty Images) 

    Actress Kerry Washington

    Your life is your story, and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.”

    –George Washington University in Washington, D.C., May 19, 2013


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    Sanya Richards-Ross (Marsha Miller/UT Austin)

    Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Richards-Ross

    I believe that every desire we have to do something great is placed in our spirits by God. It’s there for a reason, and it’s in our chasing that dream that we become the people we only dream of.”

    –University of Texas at Austin, May 18, 2013

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    Cory Booker (Jason Reed/Reuters)

    Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker

    “First class in life has nothing to do with the clothes you wear, the car you drive or the house you live in. First class is and always will be about the content of your character, the quality of your ideas and the kindness of your heart.”

    –Yale University in New Haven, Conn., May 19, 2013

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    Screenshot of Wynton Marsalis (YouTube)

    Musician Wynton Marsalis

    Don’t you leave your support system. When you’re in distress, embrace us. We are here when you need us. And if need be, we will travel to where you need us to be. As we have come today from everywhere.”

    –University of Vermont in Burlington, May 19, 2013 


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    First lady Michelle Obama (official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    First Lady Michelle Obama

    I am thinking about all the folks who worked that extra shift and took that extra job, and toiled and bled and prayed so that we could have something better.”

    –Bowie State University in College Park, Md., May 17, 2013

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    Rita Dove (Emory)

    Poet Rita Dove

    You’ve nursed your dreams and done your labor, and here you are now on the balm of a chilly Southern morning, receiving your laurels. What will be next? You’ll learn.”

    –Emory University in Atlanta, May 13, 2013

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    Darius Rucker (YouTube)

    Musician Darius Rucker

    Take some time, take some real time to find something. Find something in your life that makes you want to give up your day off to help. Find something that makes you want to give and give and give until it hurts.”

    –University of South Carolina in Columbia, May 11, 2013

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    Neil deGrasse Tyson (YouTube)

    Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson

    The original seeds of the space program were planted right here on this campus, and I can tell you that in the years since we have landed on the moon, America has lost its exploratory compass. Now is the time for you, the Class of 2013, to lead the nation as Rice graduates once again.”

    –Rice University in Houston, May 11, 2013

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    Former President Bill Clinton (Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

    Former President Bill Clinton

    This whole thing comes down in the end to whether we think the future will be better if we face it with open hands or closed fists. You can’t live in a world that is interdependent, where the walls come down and borders look more like nets. You can’t keep every bad thing out anywhere unless most people believe that what we have in common is more important than our interesting differences.”

    –Howard University in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2013

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    Norman B. Anderson (YouTube)

    American Psychological Association CEO Norman B. Anderson

    I challenge you to consistently, actively and consciously do the things that will lead to enduring happiness for you for the rest of your life.”

    –The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, May 10, 2013

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    Toni Morrison (YouTube)

    Author Toni Morrison

    None of us is alone. Each of us is dependent on others. Some of us depend on others for life itself.”

    –Vanderbilt University in Nashville, May 9, 2013

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    President Barack Obama (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

    President Barack Obama

    You have been tested and tempered by events that your parents and I never imagined we’d see when we sat where you sit … And yet, despite all this — or more likely because of it — yours has become a generation possessed with that most American of ideas: that people who love their country can change it for the better. I dare you to do better. I dare you to be better.”

    –Ohio State University in Columbus, May 5, 2013

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