Commencement advice from the world’s ‘most powerful women’

First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the commencement ceremony for Bowie State University at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., Friday, May 17,...
First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the commencement ceremony for Bowie State University at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., Friday, May 17,...
AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Some of the world’s most powerful female leaders are showing college graduates across the country how girls really can run the world.

From political leaders to business moguls, writers to trailblazers in the nonprofit world, many of the women inducted into Forbes magazine’s new class of 100 Most Powerful Women list are sharing their advice and wisdom to students at colleges and universities this graduation season. Here are a few of our favorites:

Michelle Obama

The first lady delivered the commencement address this year at Bowie State University where she urged the graduates to pass their passion for education onto future generations.

“Today, I am thinking about all the mothers and fathers just like my parents, all the folks who dug into their pockets for that last dime, the folks who built those schools brick by brick, who faced down angry mobs just to reach those schoolhouse doors…And now it is up to all of you to carry that legacy forward, to be that flame of fate, that torch of truth to guide our young people toward a better future for themselves and for this country. And if you do that, and I know that you will, if you uphold that obligation, then I am confident we will build an even better future for the next generation of graduates from this fine school and for all of the children in this country because our lives depend on it.”

Nancy Pelosi

The House minority leader spoke at the commencement of the UC Davis School of Law on May 17, 2013.

“The challenge for you today – for all of us, but for you – the future is yours, you have to take responsibility for it.  The challenge is to make that legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and all that we talked about your own. To know that you as lawyers, as public servants, as graduates of King Hall have the legal education, as I said before, and the moral wherewithal, and the confidence, and the courage to pursue the work of justice.”

Melinda Gates

Philanthropist Melinda Gates spoke at her alma mater, Duke University, on May 12, 2013 and encouraged the graduates to embrace how connected the millennial generation is and to use those connections for good.

I want to encourage you to reject the cynics who say technology is flattening your experience of the world. Please don’t let anyone make you believe you are somehow shallow because you like to update your status on a regular basis. The people who say technology has disconnected you from others are wrong. So are the people who say technology automatically connects you to others. Technology is just a tool. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s just a tool. Deep human connection is very different. It’s not a tool. It’s not a means to an end. It is the end – the purpose and the result of a meaningful life – and it will inspire the most amazing acts of love, generosity, and humanity.”

Arianna Huffington

The president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post spoke to the graduating class at Smith University where she dared the graduates to change how they define success.

“I beg you: don’t buy society’s definition of success. Because it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it’s not working for men, it’s not working for polar bears, it’s not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It’s only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness and high blood pressure.”

Anne Sweeney

The co-chair of Disney Media Network and president of the Disney/ABC Television group spoke to The College of New Rochelle (CNR) class of 2013 about her days at CNR and how she was inspired by a professor at the school for introducing her to a lifelong love of storytelling.

“If there is one thing that I’ve learned throughout my life, it’s that inspiration happens when you least expect it…I think CNR students understand better than most the value of using inspiration to pursue their life stories. You’ve pushed beyond the boundaries that could have defined you or the obstacles that could have stopped you. You are each the hero in your own epic tale.”

Sheri McCoy

The CEO of Avon Products spoke at UMass Dartmath, what used to be Southeastern Massachusetts University her alma mater, on May 12, 2013. She shared the lessons she learned while at the campus and the knowledge she has acquired over her career.

“UMass Dartmouth has given you a wonderful foundation. Now it’s up to you to build a great life.”


Commencement advice from the world's 'most powerful women'