Commencement 2011: what 10 eminent speakers told graduates

"Follow your bliss." "You can be whatever you want to be." "Never give up." Google reveals those three platitudes to be the ones most often spoken at commencements, according to Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time magazine. Many speakers, however – including Mr. Stengel – offered more insightful advice to college graduates this spring. Here are the Monitor's hand-picked highlights from the 2011 season.

1. Michelle Obama, first lady, Spelman College

Erik S. Lesser/AP Photo
First lady Michelle Obama thanks the graduates after she delivered the commencement address during the Spelman College graduation on May 15 at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, Ga.

That is the story of Spelman College: that unyielding presumption of promise, that presumption of brilliance, that presumption that every woman who enrolls at this school has something infinitely valuable to offer this world…. That legacy is now your inheritance. And I've chosen that word – inheritance – very carefully, because it's not an entitlement that you can take for granted. It's not a gift with which you can do whatever you please. It is a commitment that comes with a certain set of obligations, obligations that don't end when you march through that arch today….

I want you to think about women like [Spelman graduates] Marian Wright Edelman and Janet Bragg.... Instead of focusing on what they didn't have, they focused on what they did have: their intellect, their courage, their determination, their passion. And with few advantages and long odds, with doors closed to them and laws stacked against them, still they achieved, still they triumphed, still they carved a glorious path for themselves in this world. And graduates, every single one of you has an obligation to do the same.

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