If you’re looking for inspiration or a good pep talk before an exam, job interview or any big event in your life, just look up “best commencement speeches” on Youtube. While in Ireland, you go to your graduation to hear the college president or school principal recite the same “good luck, now off you go, don’t get in trouble” speech they’ve been rehashing since 1993, in America, they go big, or go home. In fairness, the graduates in the US are about start a probably unpaid internship whilst working at night in Taco Belle to clear hundreds of thousands of student debt, so y’know, they need some cheering up.
In 2009, Ellen DeGeneres returned to her hometown of New Orleans to deliver a moving speech to the Hurricane Katrina class at their graduation. She shared a story of how the death of her girlfriend at 19 led to her show business career, when she wrote a letter to God following the incident, something she set a goal for herself to read on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.
In the 1990’s, Ellen had a very successful sitcom, but when she came out as gay, she lost everything. But she picked herself up and started again, and now she is on everyone’s “5 people I’d have over for dinner list”.
“I had no offers, nobody wanted to touch me at all, yet I was getting letters from kids that almost committed suicide, but didn’t because of what I did, and I realized that I had a purpose, and it wasn’t just about me and it wasn’t about celebrity,” Ellen told the graduates. “But I felt like I was being punished. It was a bad time, I was angry and I was sad and then I was offered a talk show and the people that offered me the talk show tried to sell it and most stations didn’t want to pick it up… because they thought nobody would watch me. And really, when I look back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was so important for me to lose everything, because I found what the most important thing is — to be true to yourself, and ultimately that’s what’s got me to this place… No matter what, I know what I am.”
Watch a snippet of the speech below, or watch the whole thing here.