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8 Inspiring Women Leaders Share Their Best Advice For 2016 Grads

May 25, 2016, 3:39 PM UTC
Sheryl Sandberg Addresses Harvard Graduates
CAMBRIDGE, MA - MAY 28: Successful businesswoman, best-selling author, and Harvard alumna Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.org, addresses seniors as the Featured Guest Speaker at Class Day Exercises at Harvard's Tercentenary Theatre. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Boston Globe Boston Globe via Getty Images

Givens the thousands of commencement speeches that are given each year, it doesn’t seem possible that there can be anything left to say to the Class of 2016.

Yet somehow this year’s graduation speeches have been among the most inspired—and inspiring—in recent memory. And some of the most stirring advice has come from women leaders. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s deeply personal testament to the power of resilience, to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) rallying cry to fight for what you believe in, you couldn’t ask for better words to launch grads into the next stage of their lives.

Below, eight of our favorite speeches of the 2016 graduation season:

Speaker: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Lean In Author

Institution/date: University of California Berkeley/May 14, 2016

Theme: The value of perseverance and resilience.

Quote: “Dave’s death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss, but I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface and breathe again.”



Speaker: Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Democratic Senator for Massachusetts

Institution/Date: Suffolk University/May 22, 2016

Theme: The importance of knowing yourself

Best quote: “Knowing who you are will help you when it’s time to fight. Fight for the job you want, fight for the people who mean the most to you and fight for the kind of world you want to live in. It will help when people say that’s impossible or you can’t do that. Look, if you take the unexpected opportunities when they come up, if you know yourself, and if you fight for what you believe in, I can promise that you will live a life that is rich with meaning.”




Speaker: Dr. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State to President Bill Clinton

Institution/Date: Scripps College/May 14, 2016

Theme: The importance of searching for truth and honesty

Quote: “Truth can be a blunt instrument and at times a dangerous one… truth is a complex topic, but for an educated person it’s an inescapable quest.”



Speaker: Samantha Power, the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations

Institution/Date: Yale University/May 22, 2016

Theme: The value of hard work and a positive attitude

Quote: “Everyone has voices in their heads that tell them that everyone else is more capable. I even have a name for the place where those voices live—I call it my Bat Cave. Call it what you want, everyone’s got one. A healthy dose of self-doubt is a good thing—it is the sister of humility. The trick is not letting the voices that live in your Bat Cave hold you back from pursuing your path.”

Video: (starting at 34:45)


Speaker: Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Institution/Date: University of Rhode Island/May 22, 2016

Theme: Finding strength through embracing failure and embarrassment

Quote: “The ‘uh-oh’ moments are worth cherishing just as much as ‘ah-ha’ moments: Mistakes, failures, embarrassments and disappointments are a necessary component of growing wise.”



Speaker: Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General

Institution/Date: American University Washington College of Law/May 22, 2016

Theme: Service and acting as a champion for others

Quote: “Often, we do not know where our choices will take us. This is why the best choices are often made based not on what they can bring to us, but what they will allow us to bring to others.”



Speaker: Arianna Huffington, entrepreneur and Huffington Post cofounder

Institution/Date: Colby College/ May 22, 2016

Theme: The value of sleep

Quote: “Mood swings, fogged memories, regurgitation of incomprehensible pablum and the occasional re-tweeting of Mussolini, these are all symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation, according to the American Academy of Sleep, except the re-tweeting Mussolini part—that’s just pure Donald Trump.”



Speaker: Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State to President George W. Bush

Institution/Date: High Point University/May 7, 2016

Theme: Unwavering optimism, finding your passion and the value of education

Best quote: “Education, more than any other force, can help to erase arbitrary divisions or race and class, arbitrary divisions of culture, and to unlock every person’s God-given potential.