It's that time of year again, when newly minted college graduates prepare to make their entry into the real world. But first, they have to sit through that last ritual of the campus experience — the commencement speech. This year, the bold-faced names drafted to inspire graduates with their humor and wisdom included everyone from politicians to Oscar winners. Here, a look at some of the best advice the class of 2012 received:
The president followed up his endorsement of same-sex marriage with a speech to the young women graduating from Barnard College in New York, telling them to "fight for a seat at the head of the table." Obama also used his remarks to call attention to his record on women's issues and contrast his policies with those of Republican rival Mitt Romney. "It's up to you to stand up and be heard, to write, and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote," he said. "Don't be content just to sit back and watch."
Obama's GOP rival also planted an appeal to a key constituency in his commencement speech. Romney, a Mormon, told graduates of Liberty University, a private Christian school, that evangelical Christians — a key GOP voting bloc — can count on him to uphold their values on issues such as marriage, which he says should be between a man and a women, not same-sex couples. "There is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action," Romney said. "What you believe, what you value, how you live, matters."
The first lady told graduates of Virginia Tech, the university shaken by a massacre in 2007 that left 33 dead, that she and other Americans have been inspired by their school's resilience. "I know that as one of your commencement speakers today, I'm supposed to offer you all kinds of wisdom and advice and life lessons," she said. But "I have witnessed the strength and spirit of the Hokie Nation, and I think that you all already learned plenty of lessons here at Virginia Tech."
The talk show queen urged students picking up their diplomas at Spelman College in Georgia not to simply go with the flow. "You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don't know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go," Winfrey said. "You want to be in the driver's seat of your own life because if you are not, life will drive you."
The Oscar-winning screenwriter, speaking to students at his alma mater, Syracuse University, used some favorite lines recycled from one of his biggest TV hits, The West Wing, including a quote from Margaret Mead that his fictional President Bartlett once recited: "Don't ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world," he said. "It's the only thing that ever has."
Glee star Jane Lynch poked fun at herself while inspiring cheers from the women of Smith College's class of 2012. "If life gives you lemons, grab it by the horns and drive — and yes, I just mixed three metaphors," said Lynch, who is married to a graduate of the Massachusetts school. "Remember, I was a C student."
Actor James Franco thanked fellow actor Seth Rogen for helping him write a speech he delivered at the University of Texas at Arlington. "It is the fool who puts all his eggs in one basket," Franco said. "I say, spread your eggs around... Some of them might crack, or break along the way, but many will stay intact. Probably more than you think. You don't like eggs? Too bad. That's the analogy Seth wrote for me."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used his graduation speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to launch an attack on Amendment One, a ban on gay marriage that the state's voters recently passed. "Each and every generation has removed some barrier to full participation in the American dream," Bloomberg said. "That work is not over. Far from it... And, I would argue, [the May 6] referendum banning same-sex marriage shows just how much more work needs to be done to ensure freedom and equality for all people."