20 Best Talks You Should Watch to Get You Pumped For Next Semester

Posted December 6, 2012


With the tantalizing promise of a holiday break hovering over students everywhere, hopping back into the routine come January will more than likely prove something of a chore. Thankfully, the Internet exists. And it hosts some great speeches and lectures from across time and (terrestrial, obviously) space to help jumpstart that enthusiasm. Start 2013 off solidly by turning toward these videos of some famous folks hoping to inspire thoughts of character and success.

  1. “You’re Not Special”:

    David McCullough at Wellesley High School delivered a commencement speech that managed to hit viral status because of the sharp truth behind his words. In a society that celebrates narcissism and ego as desirable traits, it’s refreshing – and wholly necessary – to hear someone use a platform normally reserved for stoking unwarranted entitlement issues in the service of dismantling them.

  2. Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf: Lose your ego, find your compassion:

    Let next semester be the one where you work hard, (hopefully) do well, and — more than anything — show a little love to your fellow students and teachers. Keep the confidence, ditch the narcissism, and sign up for projects meant to promote empathy and compassion in a so often cold and unfeeling world. Or, at least, campus.

  3. “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling”:

    It might seem unusual to include a concession speech in an article meant to pump you up, but let us explain (and let us also declare our decision entirely nonpartisan). When Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic Party’s nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, she devoted her time at the podium to declaring her progress a groundbreaking victory for women in politics. Her speech stands as an example of how to step down graciously and wring positives out of negatives.

  4. Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams:

    Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch famously dedicated his last lecture before passing of pancreatic cancer to the importance of not completely letting go of the imagination and drive coloring childhood. Be realistic, of course, but he dishes out stellar advice about staying focused and achieving goals without retreating into tired old generic platitudes.

  5. Stephen Colbert at Northwestern University:

    Without compromising on inspiration, the actor and comedian encourages the 2011 graduating class at Northwestern to try and succeed, but stay humble and — for god’s sake — gain some perspective. As he points out so eloquently, and hilariously, good people fail and terrible people succeed; their worth does not rely on how well or how poor they proved at achieving their dreams.

  6. Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability:

    By all means, power on headfirst into next semester like a rhino with a rocket strapped to its butt, because that’s an absolutely amazing image and we hope you love it too. Do keep in mind, however, that absolutely no shame exists in admitting weakness and vulnerability when life grows too overwhelming.

  7. Denzel Washington’s AFI Tribute to Sidney Poitier:

    The luckiest (not to mention probably the wisest) students find inspiration in mentors and other educators and professionals who broke ground, paved the way before them, and other familiar metaphors. At the 20th Annual AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards, actor Denzel Washington illustrates how to properly pay homage to the men and women we look up to for advice and guidance.

  8. In the Name of God the Compassionate the Merciful:

    Tawakkol Karman’s 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture might involve geopolitics outside most students’ influence (what we’re trying to say here is, next semester you probably won’t contribute to nuclear disarmament. Sorry, but it’s true), but it remains an inspiring watch imploring humanity to gravitate toward a more harmonious, tolerant outlook. Apply her worldwide perspective to more localized issues and conflicts to try and contribute just that much more to what she hopes for the future.

  9. Speech to Canadian Authors:

    In this incredibly rare (and brief) footage of Rudyard Kipling from 1933, the celebrated British author may wax hyperbolic, but he discusses why veracity and truth remain paramount priorities to writers of all types. This beautiful, eloquent little work, darlings, should also be a paramount priority in academia.

  10. Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address:

    “Stay hungry,” the late tech guru advised Cardinals launching their post-graduation journeys and vulnerable to the stings of cynicism. Just don’t emulate his treatment of those Foxconn employees, OK?

  11. Philip Zimbardo: The psychology of time:

    If there’s one thing students universally complain about, it’s definitely time, but the legendary psychologist (yes, that is a thing people can be) behind the Stanford Prison Experiment believes a shift in perceiving it could help life flow a little slower. Hear what he has to say about the relationship between understanding how we nestle into chronology and our overarching sense of happiness.

  12. “I Have a Dream”:

    Civil Rights figurehead Martin Luther King Jr.’s world famous speech on equality between races still resonates into today, where many individuals and demographics still wind up squashed beneath institutional oppression and marginalization. Although the full video cannot be made legally available, his words still inspire more than just students looking to forge a more whole, more just society.

  13. Harvard University 2011 Class Day Speech by Amy Poehler:

    With warmth and humor, the adorable Parks & Recreation star explains how nobody’s life passes in a vacuum — everyone needs some degree of interaction with others in order to survive and grow. Spend next semester connecting more with loved ones and reaching out toward others who might need your love and support when things get difficult.

  14. John F. Kennedy’s Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Program:

    JFK is lauded for launching America’s space program, and this speech is just plain inspiring. The United States literally reached for the sky on this one, folks, and managed to succeed; you can, too, but you’re probably going to have to invest hefty amounts of time and probably money, as well as fail, before finally discovering exactly what you need.

  15. Tony Porter: A call to men:

    All reasonable individuals these days believe that gendered violence remains one of the nastiest stains left on the human race, and this activist used his TED platform to discuss the social factors that keep allowing it to happen. Specifically, rigid adherence to expectations that men must act a certain way, women must act a certain way, and never the twain shall meet; try to make this coming semester one that busts up stereotypes and promotes safety.

  16. Viktor Frankl: Why to believe in others:

    One of the foremost neurosurgeons and postmodern psychologists survived the Holocaust and emerged with some deep insight into the nature of human resilience — and even kindness. His remarkable lecture on discovering meaning and tilling a sense of compassion and empathy illustrates why we need two of the most important personality qualities in life.

  17. “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”:

    Even viewers who don’t know the difference between a Muggle and a Mugwump can still soak up some life lessons from author J.K. Rowling’s speech to the Harvard University Alumni Association. Rather than approaching failure (not, as we should probably add, genuine trauma) as solid evidence of inferiority, get creative and find ways to maneuver not-so-goodness into a more encouraging opportunity.

  18. Art, Truth & Politics:

    Students don’t have to strive toward work in a creative industry to understand the relationship between art, innovation, and attempting to reflect something honest and insightful back onto humanity. In his Nobel Prize in Literature lecture, renowned playwright and screenwriter Harold Pinter explores both the subjectivity and the reality of this perspective, providing some provocative points to consider between semesters.

  19. Ellen at Tulane Commencement 2009:

    Despite surviving some major traumas, setbacks, and aimlessness, affable comedienne, actress, and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres illustrates that pluck and humor work wonders when pushing through life. Character, she touts, stands above all else when it comes to yanking goals out of the mind and into reality.

  20. Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross:

    Because some people really, really want (need?) a verbal evisceration to get themselves going, and who are we to deny them that opportunity? Also, the language here is definitely not for sensitive audiences.

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