9 Great Commencement Speech Quotes

Including inspiring advice from Alan Alda, this year’s keynote speaker

Commencement is a time filled with joy, nostalgia, and possibility. While this year’s big day may be different than before—you’ll be toasting at home during SFCM’s virtual commencement on May 22 rather than in person—it is no less a time to celebrate all your achievements and look forward to the exciting years to come.

As you prepare for the big day, here are some great commencement speech quotes (including one by this year’s commencement speaker Alan Alda) that we hope encourage and inspire you to pursue a bright future and live your life with vigor.

  1. Alan Alda
    “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing, but what you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.”

  2. Bill Gates
    "Don't let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives."

  3. Oprah Winfrey
    “Class of 2020, this is not the graduation ceremony you envisioned. Even though there may not be pomp because of the circumstances, never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose and vision, passion and energy, and hope. My hope is that you will harness your education, your voice, your vote and use it to create more equity, more justice, and more joy in the world.”

  4. John Adams
    Music is the art of feeling. For us, music is not a profession—it’s a life. But it’s a life with real meaning, and in this current era of constantly distracting data, with our attention hijacked and our concentration seduced and scattered, to do something that requires stubborn effort and sustained focus, something that has genuine meaning and that forges a real bridge between ourselves and others, something that makes us feel at the deepest levels of our being—that is a privilege. It is a privilege that only us lucky ones who have the gift of being musicians can enjoy and be thankful for.”

  5. Aaron Sorkin
    “Decisions are made by those who show up. Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit, things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day: civility, respect, kindness, character.”

  6. Barack Obama
    “No generation has been better positioned to be warriors for justice and remake the world.”

  7. J.K. Rowling
    “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

  8. Kumail Nanjiani
    “You can go slow. Allow your dreams and goals to change, but live an intentional life.”

  9. Steve Jobs
    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”


You’ve worked tirelessly, honed your craft, and cultivated lifelong friendships at SFCM. Know that your colleagues, collaborators, professors, mentors, support staff, and administration at the Conservatory are proud of each and every one of you.

We hope you carry the sentiments from these speech quotes—and all the words of wisdom from your time at SFCM—into this year’s virtual commencement and beyond.

And on the big day, let’s not focus on the few months of separation but the many that were shared together.

Watch SFCM’s virtual commencement on May 22.