2009 Commencement Address Highlights

President Obama
President Obama makes remarks at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation, May 22, 2009.

Public service has been a common theme at college commencement ceremonies around the country this past month. Here's a sampling.

  • "Do nothing - Or, take history into our own hands and like few generations are given the chance, bend it, bend it, in the service a better day."

    -Vice President Joe Biden, Syracuse University

  • "It is really fantastic to have your own jet. And anybody who says it isn't is lying to you. But you really haven't completed the circle of success unless you can help somebody else move forward."

    -Oprah Winfrey, Duke University

  • "A person who can teach a child to read is infinitely more valuable to our society than a person with a good jump shot."

    -Attorney General Eric Holder, Howard University Law School

  • "When you get a chance to earn a living living your dream, you cannot beat that. So if that happens for you, embrace that with your entire being."

    -Smokey Robinson, Berklee College Of Music

  • "There's nothing wrong with money or position. But at the end of the day, the source of true happiness and success is that you have that sense of personal satisfaction of knowing that you are doing something of value for the society that you are a part of."

    -Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Franklin & Marshall College

  • "The most important question of the 21st century is not what or how much, it is 'How?' How do you propose to turn your good ideas into positive changes in other people's lives? You must be the 'how generation.'"

    -Bill Clinton, Florida A&M University

  • "Never allow anyone to tell you how to feel about your own work or limit your view of yourself or who you are."

    -Actress Laura Linney, The Julliard School

  • "Insist that we support the sciences and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the defense of the country; they just make the country worth defending."

    -Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, Boston College

  • "It seems to me, that it's all about opportunity and 'make your own luck.' You study the most successful people, and they work hard, and they take advantage of opportunities that come that they don't know are going to happen to them."

    -Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Carnegie Mellon University

  • "It is possible to eradicate hunger. How can we live and sleep comfortably knowing that millions of our sisters and brothers go to bed hungry?"

    -Archbishop Desmond Tutu, University Of North Carolina

  • "One reason not to wait to address the world's biggest problems is that they need your attention before you accept the status quo, before you are plagued by the knowledge of what is 'impossible.'"

    -Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp, Washington University-St. Louis

  • "I didn't go to college at all, any college. And I'm not saying you wasted your time or money, but look at me, I'm a huge celebrity. I know a lot of you are concerned about your future, but there's no need to worry; the economy is booming, the job market is wide open. You've already survived a Hurricane, what else can happen to you? … And now you know the right question to ask for your first job interview, like, 'Is it above sea level?'"

    -Ellen Degeneres, Tulane University

  • "People ask me all the time, they say to me, 'What is the secret of success?' And I give them always the short version. I say, 'Number one, come to America. Number two, work your butt off. And number three, marry a Kennedy.'"

    -California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, University Of Southern California

  • "Know your power and follow your passion. The power and passion that spring from the beauty of your dreams, the depth of your imagination, and the strength of your values."

    -House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Johns Hopkins University

  • "Be the special envoy of your ideals. Be citizen-ambassadors, using your personal and professional lives to forge global partnerships built on a common commitment to solve our planet's common problems."

    -Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York University

  • "Careers focused on lifting up our communities - whether it's helping transform troubled schools or creating after-school programs or training workers for green jobs. These careers are not always obvious, but today they are necessary."

    -First Lady Michelle Obama, University Of California-Merced

  • "We pay tribute to all those who have given their lives so that we might live free. // These Americans have embraced the virtues that we need most right now: self-discipline over self-interest, work over comfort, character over celebrity. // Congratulations Class of 2009."

    -President Barack Obama, U.S. Naval Academy