Five Graduation Speeches That Might Still Change Your Life

Rik Mayall, Tim Minchin and J K Rowling offer their most inspiring life lessons

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Graduation season is upon us, meaning that scores of students up and down the country will be piling into grand old buildings and receiving the most important piece of paper of their lives as they embark on a glorious journey toward adulthood and crippling debt repayment.

One notable graduation tradition is the graduation speech. More often than not these are monotone monologues delivered by 80-year-old men with dodgy knees.

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But, just occasionally, these speeches – which are huge in America, where they are known as a ‘commencement address’ – are given by a celebrity, who tells the assembled students what they have learned during their ride to the top.

Here are five of the very best of recent years, each of which will make you wish you could go back to Uni and do it all over again (with fewer exams and more sex, granted).

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1 | Rik Mayall, 2008, Exeter

Watch it if: You need a bit of a kick up the arse.

Key advice: Nobody is genuinely your superior.

Best line: “Start living your lives to the full in the real, nasty, sexy world out there.”

2 | Tim Minchin, 2013, University of Western Australia

Watch it if: You thought Tim Minchin only did funny songs.

Key advice: Don’t rush. It doesn’t matter that you don’t yet know what to do

Best line: “A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arseholes, in that everyone has one. I would add that opinions differ significantly from arseholes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.”

3 | JK Rowling, 2008, Harvard

Watch it if: You want to know how to turn any amount of failure into success.

Key advice: You don’t know yourself until you’ve lost something very important.

Best line: “My parents took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage or secure a pension.”

4 | Neil Gaiman, 2012, University of the Arts

Watch it if: You want great advice on dumping the 9-5 and going freelance.

Key advice: When things are going well, really enjoy them.

Best line: “Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art.”

5 | Conan O’Brien, 2011, Dartmouth

Watch it if: You want to know how to nail a damn funny speech.

Key advice: Work hard and be kind.

Best line: “Though some of you may see me as a celebrity, you should know that I once sat where you sit. Literally. Late last night I snuck out here and sat in every seat. I did it to prove a point: I’m not bright, and I have a lot of free time.”

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