10 Powerful Commencement Speeches to Inspire Every Graduate and Ambitious Person

"No matter what people say, words and ideas can change the world”. Powerful words from Dead Poets Society. Indeed, it only takes a spark to set a forest on fire. Likewise, a few words, mixed with passion and delivered with emotion, can give great direction to someone feeling lost. Speeches create revolutions for individuals and entire nations. Just think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s thundering and piercing words: "I have a dream”.

One of the beauties of our culture and technology is the access we have to inspiring people. Geographical walls are broken down and you can be in the audience from right in front of your computer. Whether you’ve just graduated, or about to embark on a new life journey, these ten inspiring commencement speeches will set you on fire for achieving your dreams.

1. J. K. Rowling at Harvard University

The author of worldwide phenomenon Harry Potter shares her struggles as a single mother and the countless rejections before she became successful.

2. Jim Carrey at Maharishi University of Management

Comedian and Hollywood star Jim Carrey surprises people with deeply profound truths. Using an amazing piece of art as a backdrop for his message, he talks about the importance of faith and belief.

3. Billy Kenoi at Hawaii Pacific University

The Mayor of Hawaii is not only highly entertaining but insightful as he shares his story going from a 1.8 GPA in high school to finishing law school and becoming the mayor of his hometown.

4. Bill Gates at Harvard University

Worldwide polls on the most respected and admired individuals always feature the co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates.

5. Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University

The American comedian, actress, and talk-show giant has overcome tremendous odds to arrive at her success, and offers a different perspective for those feeling lost.

6. Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth College

The American comedian is best known for hosting numerous late night talk shows. His commencement speech sent an inspiring message about failure and life’s twists and turns.

7. Oprah Winfrey at Harvard University

Talk show queen, media entrepreneur, and actress Oprah Winfrey highlights the importance of using any success for a greater good.

8. Neil Gaiman at the Univerisity of the Arts

Award-winning English author Neil Gaiman’s speech is directed toward a creative audience, but is absolutely relevant to any ambitious person.

9. John Legend at Pennsylvania State University

The nine-time Grammy Award winner returns to his alma mater and shares the one thing that should drive everyone’s dreams.

10. Steve Jobs at Stanford University

The genius behind Apple talks about how life’s wrong directions can turn out to be your greatest blessings—that it’s only possible to "join the dots" when you’re looking backward.

Have you come across any great speeches that aren’t mentioned? Have any of these speeches inspired you in some way? Let us know in the comments section below!