On Your Mark, Get Set, Commence Your Life!

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For full texts of 2015 graduation speeches, see time.com
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definitions & notes only words
  1. trump
    get the better of
    When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense.
    --Robert DeNiro at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts
  2. mantra
    a commonly repeated word or phrase
    I can see all of you graduating in custom TSOA T-shirts. On the back is printed "Rejection, it isn't personal" and on the front, your motto, your mantra, your battle cry: "Next."
    --Robert DeNiro at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts
  3. particular
    small part that can be considered separately from the whole
    I'm still learning now that it's about "good and maybe never done," that the joy and work ethic and virtuosity we bring to the particular can impart a singular type of enjoyment to those we give to and of course to ourselves.
    --Natalie Portman at Harvard University
  4. oblivious
    lacking conscious awareness of
    I was so oblivious to my own limits that I did things I was woefully unprepared to do, and so the very inexperience that in college had made me feel insecure and made me want to play by others' rules now was making me actually take risks I didn't even realize were risks.
    --Natalie Portman at Harvard University
  5. substance
    the most essential part of some idea or experience
    With all these people appealing to you, you're going to have to learn pretty damn quick how to tell the difference between hype and substance.
    --Stephen Colbert at Wake Forest University
  6. standard
    the ideal in terms of which something can be judged
    If there's one thing you need even more, it's your own set of standards.
    --Stephen Colbert at Wake Forest University
  7. proportion
    relation with respect to comparative quantity or magnitude
    A sense of proportion is recommended: we can’t all be “first.” (Conversely, it is an optimistic observation to realize: we can’t all be “last.”)
    --Joyce Carol Oates at Niagara County Community College
  8. prevailing
    most frequent or common
    Energy—industry—refusal to be discouraged—a prevailing sense of humor: these are essential in our lives.
    --Joyce Carol Oates at Niagara County Community College
  9. participate
    be involved in
    For those of you, who don’t want to participate — who don’t want to vote, would you please just shut up, so the rest of us can get things done.
    --Bill Nye at Rutgers University
  10. phenomenon
    any state or process known through the senses
    Just think what else is out there, what other physical or biological phenomenon is just waiting to be discovered, or invented, or thought of.
    --Bill Nye at Rutgers University
  11. potential
    the inherent capacity for coming into being
    It happened because I worked hard, and I belonged to an institution that was only concerned about my performance and my potential.
    --Colin Powell at Rice University
  12. motto
    a favorite saying of a sect or political group
    When you drive on the base at Fort Benning the first sign you see is the motto of the infantry: ‘Follow Me’
    --Colin Powell at Rice University
  13. emblem
    a visible symbol representing an abstract idea
    You are emblems of the sense of possibility that will define our new age. You can write the code for all of us.
    --Eric Schmidt at Virginia Tech
  14. harness
    exploit the power of
    Technology doesn’t work on its own. It’s just a tool. You are the ones who harness its power.
    --Eric Schmidt at Virginia Tech
  15. capacity
    capability to perform or produce
    And it was here that President Ronald Reagan called on us to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds.
    --Tim Cook at George Washington University
  16. proclaim
    state or announce
    A friend of mine at Apple likes to say the best way to solve a problem is to walk into a room full of Apple engineers and proclaim, “this is impossible.”
    --Tim Cook at George Washington University
  17. impact
    a forceful consequence; a strong effect
    We use lessons learned in our “other lives” to put together a winning team on the field, but also to have impact off the field.
    --Jon Bon Jovi at Rutgers University-Camden
  18. embrace
    take up the cause of someone and use it as one's own
    Embracing “we” doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to lead.
    --Jon Bon Jovi at Rutgers University-Camden
  19. introspection
    contemplation of your own thoughts and desires and conduct
    Now is the time to consider all the infinite possibilities with introspection, deliberation and thoughtfulness.
    --Katie Couric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  20. intersection
    a representation of common ground between phenomena
    A fulfilling professional life can be found at the intersection of what you love and what you’re good at.
    --Katie Couric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  21. serendipity
    good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries
    Much of the plot was improvisation and serendipity.
    --Cass Sunstein at Penn Law
  22. revelation
    an enlightening or astonishing disclosure
    You are going to have plenty of "I am your father" moments, trust me on that. They are going to cast your whole life's narrative in a new light; there will be losses and gains and revelations.
    --Cass Sunstein at Penn Law
  23. destiny
    a course of events that will inevitably happen in the future
    So if I must give any of you advice it would be Say Yes. Say Yes, And… and create your own destiny.
    --Maya Rudolph at Tulane University
  24. criterion
    the ideal in terms of which something can be judged
    And be nice to jerks because we still don’t know the criteria for getting into heaven yet.
    --Maya Rudolph at Tulane University
  25. maintain
    keep in a certain state, position, or activity
    So first, we have to DEFINE success for ourselves, then we have to put in the work to MAINTAIN it — take our daily tally, tend our garden, keep the things that are important to us in good shape.
    --Matthew McConaughey at the University of Houston
  26. elimination
    the systematic rejection of unacceptable alternatives
    So get rid of the excess, the wasted time, decrease your options… and you will have accidentally, almost innocently, put in front of you, what is important to you by process of elimination.
    --Matthew McConaughey at the University of Houston
  27. resilient
    recovering readily from adversity, depression, or the like
    We are diverse, we are entrepreneurial, and we are resilient.
    --Madeleine Albright at Tufts University
  28. surmount
    get on top of; deal with successfully
    Today, at this ceremony of cherished memory and shared resolve, let us each embrace the faith that every challenge surmounted by our energy; every problem solved by our wisdom; every soul awakened by our passion; and every barrier to justice brought down by our determination will ennoble our own lives, inspire others, and explode outward the boundaries of what is achievable on this earth.
    --Madeleine Albright at Tufts University
  29. contentious
    involving or likely to cause controversy
    Today, I want to urge you to actively seek out the most contentious, polarized, gridlocked places you can find.
    --Michelle Obama at Oberlin College
  30. incremental
    increasing gradually by regular degrees or additions
    And they also understood that often, the biggest, most dramatic change happens incrementally, little by little, through compromises and adjustments over years and decades.
    --Michelle Obama at Oberlin College

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