Top 10 Famous Motivational Speeches

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Motivation is a stimulating feeling that we seek to inspire us, to continue pressing forward through hardships and to find meaning amidst chaos. What inspires us is sometimes found in the rarest of forms. It is sometimes in plain sight. It is often stumbled upon without intention, and it is sometimes graciously handed to us in the form of wise words, spoken by experienced and influential minds. For those who are feeling aimlessly lost in the journey to find themselves, those who are feeling stuck under the darkest clouds waiting for a ray of sunshine and those who simply need a dose of encouragement, heed these words of wisdom.

From some of the most gifted minds to the greatest influencers of our generation; from currently eminent leaders to those illustrious leaders who made a difference and left us too soon, here are some of the most motivational speeches.

10. Jeff Bezoz on A Life of Action


Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, delivers an inspiring and engaging graduation keynote speech at Princeton University. His speech focuses on the differences between gifts in life, and choices in life. The difference between being clever and kind is that cleverness is a gift, but being kind is a choice. Using the gifts people possess to act kindly towards others is something Bezos encourages the entire audience of students to strive for. He asks the students to think about whether or not they will choose a life of ease or a life of service and adventure; will they wilt under criticism of will they follow their convictions. Bezos graduation keynote speech is unique in that it hardly touches on his success at Amazon, and instead, demonstrates a very human side of him.

“When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.”

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9. Cory Booker on Education as Connectivity


The importance of hard work is appreciated and singled out by politician and mayor of Newark New Jersey Cory Booker in his Stanford University hard work commencement address. As one of the most respected political voices in American politics today, Booker emphasizes how “the tassle is work the hassle” in terms of receiving a university education. Tackling the concept of change, Booker speaks to the importance of women in setting a new standard and integrating new innovations. Sharing some of the lessons that were passed on to him by his father and grandfather, Booker explains the way that people should work on coming into their own personalities and the standards they should set for themselves. Booker’s hard work commencement speech for Stanford University hits some current issues that are ongoing and affect every graduate and human being of the modern day.

“I say to you on this graduation, to join the conspiracy. To be a class of people that rejects cynicism. … Be lovers. Join the conspiracy and love with all of your heart and all of your courage.”

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8. Meryl Streep on The Importance of Authenticity


This women’s commencement keynote by Meryl Streep was given to the graduates of Barnard University, and includes many anecdotes. In the speech, the iconic actress addresses the all-female Barnard class of 2010. Speaking to her personal experiences “faking it” as a more refined and subdued version of herself, she goes on to explain the value in being yourself. Because the audience for the speech is uniformly female, she speaks to issues of gender and how they have changed over the years. Reminding the audience of how fortunate they are to live in a time when their skills and accomplishments are valued, her speech is a humble and relaxed reflection on the current state of women in power. Personal, but incredibly relevant to the audience, this women’s commencement keynote is as brilliant as one might expect from Meryl Streep.

“If you have been touched by the success fairy, people think you know why. People think success breeds enlightenment and you are duty-bound to spread around like manure. Fertilize those young minds!”

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7. David Foster Wallace on Choosing to Think


David Foster Wallace is truly motivational as he delivers this inspiring commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College. During his opening remarks he announces that he will do his best to avoid cliches even though they can harbor some of the truest advice. David tells the graduation class to remember that they can chose what to think. The significant education in thinking that graduates are supposed to get is not about the capacity to think but rather about the choice of what to think about. If the total freedom of choice concerning what to think about seems obvious he reminds listeners that the totally obvious is very valuable. In closing this inspiring commencement speech David Foster Wallace urges the class to remember that the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people depending on how these people construct meaning from experiences.

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention ad awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad, petty, unsexy ways every day.”

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6. Oprah Winfrey on Learning and Evolving as Human Beings


In this inspiring commencement speech presented to the graduating class of Stanford University in 2008, Oprah Winfrey shares a variety of work and life-related experiences. Oprah’s speech focuses on the countless learning opportunities that are presented each and every day in life. She describes the world as a school and our lives as the classroom. Oprah Winfrey believes that the secret to getting ahead in life is to remain open and eager to self-improvement. She believes there are lessons to be learned in everything we do, providing us the chance to evolve every day. She leaves the graduating class with the inspiring message that inner wisdom is more precious than any level of wealth or richness.

“There’s no easy way out. If there were, I would have bought it. And believe me, it would be one of my favorite things!”

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5. Tim Cook on The Value of Intuition


CEO of Apple Inc. Tim Cook delivers an inspiring commencement keynote speech to the graduating class of Auburn University in 2010. He shares the most important discoveries of his life as well as his decision to join Apple. Cook firmly believes in the power of intuition when it comes to making important life decisions. He argues that even the most careful analysis of costs and benefits just does not cut it sometimes. In facing life’s most important decisions, Cook relies on intuition and views it as the best route to take. His commencement keynote speech highlights the ability of intuition to direct or redirect someone in life when they are lost or looking for an answer. Cook reminds the audience that structured, linear life plans do not accommodate intuition, and for this very reason, should be abandoned.

“My most significant discovery so far in my life was the result of one single decision, my decision to join Apple. Working at Apple was never in any plan that I’d outlined for myself, but was without a doubt the best decision that I ever made.”

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4. J K Rowling on The Benefits of Failure


Presented to the graduating class of Harvard at the school’s commencement, this JK Rowling speech offers the perfect balance of inspiring words and engaging personal experiences. Looking back on her own experience as a young woman who had recently graduated university, she discusses the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination. The famous author explains how the world is too eager to provide a set of criteria for measuring failure today, and that we must define it ourselves. She goes on to discuss the failure of her own marriage and career as a young woman. She believes that it is impossible to live without failing, unless one lives so cautiously — at which point makes it seem as if one is’t really living at all.

“To truly know yourself and those you love, failing is a necessity.”

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3. Barack Obama on Overcoming Adversities


President Barack Obama delivered a commencement address to the graduating class of 2011 at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee. In this captivating keynote speech, President Barack Obama speaks of education, dedication and overcoming adversity. Barack Obama spoke at the high school’s 2011 commencement ceremony as a reward for winning the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, a $4.3 billion contest put on by the United States Department of Education. Drawing on stories from his and Michelle’s life as well as that of Booker T. Washington’s, President Barack Obama delivers powerful words to the graduates on the importance of education and his pride in them for surpassing the stereotypes and expectations of those who doubted their potential to succeed.

“But if you do push yourselves, if you build on what you’ve already accomplished here, then I couldn’t be more confident about your futures.  I’m hopeful and I’m excited about what all of you can achieve.”

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2. Steve Jobs on Loving what you do


In 2005, about a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Apple CEO Steve Jobs stood before the graduating class of Stanford University to tell three stories of his life about connecting the dots, love and loss and death. Jobs’s address is extremely moving and powerful, as it instills confidence in the form of reality paired with personal reflection. He concludes his speech with a quote that he once saw and remembered forever, which read, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

“You’ve got to find what you love.”

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1. Randy Pausch on Achieving your Childhood Dreams


With three to six months of good health left, Professor Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon goes on to deliver the final lecture of a series called ‘The Last Lecture’ to a full audience in a university auditorium. In the speech titled, “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch discusses his life lessons learned and dispenses invaluable advice on how to accomplish your own career and reach your personal goals — words that every Gen-Yer searches for on a daily basis. Coming from a man with a limit on life at the time, you may not find a more inspiring speech than this one by the late Randy Pausch.

“Anything is possible, and that’s something we should not lose sight of. The inspiration and the permission to dream is huge.”

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Motivation can do unimaginable things. Stumble upon a good speech, and you’ll come out a far more knowledgeable and motivated person in the 20 minutes it takes to watch. What’s more, all the presenters are masters of public speaking so you’ll pick up some great techniques too. We all need a boost sometimes, so let these inspirational and gifted public speakers give you the guts and guile to go and achieve your goals. Hell yeah!

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