It’s commencement season across college and university campuses, which can mean only one thing: celebrities, politicians, business executives, famous graduates, and other notable citizens invited to address the current crop of graduates have wrestled with the best way to share their experience, advice, and encouragement while avoiding the clichés and truisms that often are the trappings of commencement addresses. While giving a standout address is a tall task for anyone, I submit that few people are more qualified to offer words of wisdom couched in memorable language than our current and former U.S. Poets Laureate.
Many U.S. Poets Laureate, in fact, have given commencement addresses in recent years. This season alone, current Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera delivered the commencement address at Oregon State University, and was also the keynote speaker for Fresno State’s Chicano/Latino Commencement Celebration; Rita Dove gave the commencement address to University of Virginia Arts & Sciences graduates; and Robert Pinsky served as commencement speaker for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s College of Arts & Sciences.
In honor of commencement season, below I’ve compiled links to videos of commencement addresses given by U.S. Poets Laureate during the past several years.
Juan Felipe Herrera (Poet Laureate, 2015-)
Natasha Trethewey (Poet Laureate, 2012-2014)
- Commencement address given as Knox College on June 7, 2014
- Commencement address given at Hollins University, May 23, 2010
Philip Levine (Poet Laureate, 2011-2012)
Robert Pinsky (Poet Laureate, 1997-2000)
- Commencement address given at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s College of Arts & Sciences, May 16, 2016
Rita Dove (Poet Laureate, 1993-1995)
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention that one of the most viewed graduation speeches of the season has been a spoken word poem, titled “Lift Off,” by Donovan Livingston (Ed.M.’16). His spoken word performance has been viewed more than 11 million times since it was posted online May 25 by Harvard, which describes it as “one of the most powerful, heartfelt student speeches you will ever hear.”
If you’ve heard or seen any other powerful commencement addresses given by poets or that include poetry, let us know in the comments below!