NBC News Anchor
Bates College, Lewiston, Maine
The world has changed so much since you arrived within these walls. As much as we would like to hold you all and cradle you in our collective arms and guarantee your safe passage into that American ideal of job and family and prosperity and happiness, that no longer, sadly, comes with the diploma you will receive today. But I'm not altogether sure it ever did.
The Class of 1938 saw their world transformed in a way they could not have known, and many of them strapped on rifles and headed to Europe and the Pacific. Your equipment will be your minds, your smarts, your talents, your love of country. You are the products of greatness. Things will be asked of you, and lives may depend on you. And you are ready. We are ready to watch you lead.
In our society, which is now so full of noise, listen only to the voices you've come to trust. In our world, which is so full of uncertainty, remember who you are and what you stand for and keep steering straight. In our nation, founded on the ideals of freedom and liberty, step up and say so if and when we go astray.
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.
All too often in my primary field of endeavor - sports - the headlines go to the players who defy authority and misbehave on and off the field, players who showboat and show up others.
Instead, those who should be recognized more often are the fine athletes who are also fine citizens and role models for the youngsters following in their footsteps.
One of professional football's finest players who is just retiring from the game is a prime example of this. Emmitt Smith, the brilliant running back of the Dallas Cowboys, left the University of Florida early to pursue his pro career, but he promised his mother he'd go back to school in the off-seasons and earn his degree.
He fulfilled that promise years ago and here's what he had to say at the time: "If I can reach just a few kids and let them know that education is a wonderful and necessary thing in today's workplace, then I have been successful."
Social critic and writer
Barnard College, New York
There are no fragile flowers seated before me today. We are smart and sure and strong enough to overcome the condescending notion that opposing viewpoints are too much for us to bear - in politics, in journalism, in business, in the academy.
Open your mouths. Speak your piece. Fear not.
You understood this message in your marrow even four years ago. You had to have some essential bravery to even choose Barnard. It is not the easy choice; many of you have had to explain yourselves - the university, the city, the single-sex institution. At its core it must have spoken to something within you that was daring, that was confident, that knew that you knew best what was best for you.
And it was not an easy time, when most of you began here. Two weeks in and the golden city was bombed and bereaved and burst into flames and then smoked for weeks after. Dean [Dorothy] Denburg remembers being downtown less than a week afterwards, on Fifth Avenue, and coming upon a group of students wearing Barnard T-shirts, passing out leaflets calling for tolerance for people of all backgrounds and all religions at a time when tolerance was the last thing on most Americans' minds.
What a brave thing to do. What a Barnard thing to do.
I have a Barnard T-shirt, too. Many of them actually, but the one I like best says, "Barnard: you got a problem with that?"
There is a wealth of subtext behind the slogan, but the most elemental is this: Don't mess with me. I am a woman who was educated at the epicenter of education for women, a woman who grew to adulthood in a place that told her, every day, that her opinion was not only important, that it was absolutely required.
Federal Reserve Chairman
Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
I presume that I could offer all kinds of advice to today's graduates from my nearly six decades in private business and government. I could urge you all to work hard, save, and prosper. And I do. But transcending all else is being principled in how you go about doing those things. It is decidedly not true that nice guys finish last.
I do not deny that many appear to have succeeded in a material way by cutting corners and manipulating associates, both in their professional and in their personal lives.
But material success is possible in this world, and far more satisfying, when it comes without exploiting others.
The true measure of a career is to be able to be content, even proud, that you succeeded through your own endeavors without leaving a trail of casualties in your wake.
Our system works fundamentally on trust and individual fair dealing. We need only look around today's world to realize how valuable these traits are and the consequences of their absence. While we have achieved much as a nation in this regard, more remains to be done.
Prejudice of whatever stripe is unworthy of a society built on individual merit. A free-market capitalist system cannot operate fully effectively unless all participants in the economy are given opportunities to achieve their best. If we succeed in opening up opportunities to everyone, our national affluence will almost surely become more widespread. Of even greater import is that all Americans recognize that they are part of a system that is fair and worthy of support.
Former president of the Navajo Nation
Arizona State University, Phoenix
There are eight of us in my family. My mother, who to this day doesn't speak English, knows the value of education. She kept pushing all of us to further our education, and she did it without any resources.
Her advice and wisdom did not mention anything about financial resources. She simply stressed that there is no substitute for hard work, tenacity, resourcefulness, and self- sufficiency. She said these things will always take you where you want to go. And I say to her, "Ahe' hee Shi ma" (Thank you, my mother).
When I first enrolled at ASU, there were very few native Americans on campus. But over the course of the last decade, the native American presence has begun to achieve a critical mass. I emphasize the "begun."
Arizona is home to 22 Indian tribes whose land base covers roughly one-third of the state. This campus sits on the homelands of the Hohokam people. Metropolitan Phoenix is surrounded by tribal lands and reservations and has one of the largest populations of urban American Indians in the nation. To what extent is this reflected in our academic community?
The number of native American students has increased from 672 in 1995 to more than 1,300. But in a state where native Americans comprise more than 5 percent of the population, 1,300 students represent only 2 percent of the ASU student body.
I want to live to see the day that when a new student first arrives, he or she [has a sense of belonging]. It is my hope that when that student studies with a native American professor, he or she will think, "I want to be like that person. I want to make a difference and make my contribution."
Cohost of 'Car Talk'
Green Mountain College, Poultney, Vt.
I was working hard [at the garage]. We were replacing transmissions where you have to crawl under the car and the transmission sits on your chest. This is no way to live. So I decided there's only one way to make a living without working. Be a college professor. I mean, come on, do these guys look like they're working?
So, I continued to work at the garage, but at the same time I was enrolled in the PhD program at Boston University.
For the next nine years, I was doing various things. [And] because I was hanging around in Harvard Square in my free time, someone called me one day and said, "I know a company that is looking for someone to teach finance in Saudi Arabia."
I said, "Great, what's it pay?" It pays something like first-class airfare and a fair amount of money. And everyone else was busy in colleges teaching students like you, making 50 bucks a week. So I bought a couple of finance books and went to Saudi Arabia for a month.
Although I had started out so perfectly - a degree in chemical engineering and a master's degree in business, and I was working at a company doing exactly what I was trained to do - I quit. I always felt that when I was a bum, something would happen.
You never know what will happen, but something will happen. And sometimes it's good.
Founder, Children's Defense Fund
Colgate University, Hamilton, N.Y.
Never give up. I don't care how hard it gets - and it's going to get very hard sometimes.
An old proverb says that when you get to your wits' end, that is where God lives.
So many people keep talking about what can't be done.
But Shel Silverstein said: "Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never-haves. Then, listen close to me. Anything can happen, child. Anything can be."
If we believe in it, if we have faith in it, if we dream it, if we struggle for it, and if we refuse to give up, we can make America a place where truly no child is left behind.