11 Inspiring Graduation Speeches By Asian Americans


Ah, Commencement Day. With graduates struggling to wave to Mom and Dad in the sea of camera flashes while simultaneously planning their after-party routes and trying to remember where they’re supposed to return their caps and gowns, the speeches often get lost in the frenzy. But sometimes, when we listen in, there’s great wisdom that comes from the podium.

Here are eleven inspiring graduation speeches by Asian Americans, who remind us that life is what we make of it — so try not to screw it up.

Kal Penn, actor, DePauw University (2014) 
“Contrary to what TV sells us, fame is not a profession. Be careful not to confuse fame and status and money with actual things that actually matter — like happiness and humanity and kindness.”

Jeff Chang, author and music critic, UCLA’s Asian American Studies commencement (2005)
“Building community goes beyond centering the self. It is about imagining what it takes to revere justice, to respect difference, to reduce hurt, to correct wrong, to nurture growth, and to discover joy. It is about activating and propagating these values within a conception of ‘we’ that continually expands, and is always concerned with caring for the least of us first.”

Maya Soetoro-Ng, educator and half-sister of President Barack Obama, University of Hawai’i-Mānoa (2010)
“You can be anything you want to be. My charge and question to you today is hopefully quite clear by now: What are you going to do to shine light on more of the world’s shadows? What else are you going to do to improve your community?”


Guy Kawasaki, business guru, Babson College (2000)
“One of the biggest mistakes you can make in life is to accept the known and resist the unknown. You should, in fact, do exactly the opposite: challenge the known and embrace the unknown.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, Northeastern University (2013) 
“Uncertainty means that the future is yours to shape — with the force of your will, the force of your intellect, and the force of your compassion. Uncertainty is freedom. Take that freedom and run with it.

Steven Chu, former United States Secretary of Energy, Pomona College (2011)
“Do something that matters. Do something that matters beyond your immediate world. When you are old and gray, and look back on your life, you will want to be proud of what you have done. The source of that pride won’t be the things you have acquired or the recognition you have received. It will be the lives you have touched and the difference you have made.”

Grace Lee Boggs, author and social activist, Ecumenical Theological Seminary (2012) 
“Especially since the success of the civil rights movement we have emphasized integration without realizing that in doing so, we have been raising our young people to value material things more than community or our social ties to one another.” (Excerpted from a blog post where Boggs reflects on the commencement speech.)  

Michelle Rhee, education reformer and former chancellor of D.C. schools, The College of Saint Rose (2011)
“We should be striving always to be better or we will never be better. Our country needs to regain its competitive spirit.”


Wesley Chan, co-founder of Wong Fu Productions, University of California, San Diego (2012)
“I will encourage you not to just make a living, but to live to make something.”

Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, University of Michigan (2012)
“You know what makes your heart swift, you know what makes your breath catch your throat, you know what makes your chest tight with anticipation. Go get that!”

Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!, University of Hawaii (2009) “You shouldn’t be afraid to let passion get behind the wheel — you might really love where you end up.”