The Ultimate Inspirational Movie Speech

Robin Williams, Dead Poets SocietyBuena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection

It’s that time of year again when young men and women sit in cap and gown waiting for the speeches to be over so that they can get their diploma and move on with their lives. Everyone at some point in time has sat and listened to a speaker try to impart words of wisdom on high school or college graduates — many celebrities have taken a turn delivering such an address — and movies have frequently used a commencement speech as a plot device.

There is a lot more life lessons to be gained from high school and college movies, however, than just when a character stands up at a podium and speaks to the gathered masses. What if you could build an inspirational speech from those movies to serve as a killer send off to graduates? Let’s give it a shot.

You Don’t Have to Know Everything Now

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), the hero of Say Anything, took a unique tact in trying to figure out what to do with his life. Instead of focusing on what he wanted to do, he first eliminated all of the things that he didn’t want to do.  There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone comes up with a workable life plan in high school or college… some people need more time to find their niche. That’s perfectly fine, just as long as you’re out of your parents’ basement by 28.

Take a Stand

Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) delivered a whole bunch of lessons to Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) in The Karate Kid… but “Wax on, Wax off” doesn’t translate that well to a speech. So, we’re going with his example of what happens when someone tries to go at things half-heartedly. As Miyagi so eloquently put it, “Squashed like grape.”

Don’t Make Excuses

Jaime Escalante, the teacher portrayed by Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, was a real-life inspirational figure, devoting his entire life to teaching impoverished youths. When Escalante first meets his class in the movie, he tells them that he doesn’t want to hear excuses because their future bosses aren’t going to want to hear them. True that.

Seize the Day

Robin Williams’s professor in Dead Poets Society was basically a walking speech. Hell he was a bona fide encyclopedia of lessons. But when he reminds his young charges that the pictures on the wall were once in the same position with their entire lives in front of them, audiences everywhere heard what they were whispering. Carpe diem indeed.

Don’t Let the Moment Be Too Big

When the Hickory High basketball team arrives for the state finals in Hoosiers, Gene Hackman gives a demonstration to show that the court in the bigger building isn’t really any larger than the one in their home gym… that just because it seems bigger doesn’t mean that it is. Keeping things in perspective is always a good idea.

We Really Are All the Same

When Anna Kendrick cries at the end of a viewing of The Breakfast Club in Pitch Perfect it’s a seminal moment for her character and we understand why. The realization that we are all a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal is still mighty darn powerful.

Always Remember to Have Passion

We’ll let Williams’ John Keating have the last word, especially since he really did do a lot of speechifying during Dead Poets Society. Life without passion is an empty vessel. Whether or not you believe, like Keating, that poetry is a necessary part of that passion is irrelevant. Having passion about something is what makes life worth living.