Words of Financial Wisdom from 21 Celebrity Graduation Speakers

College seniors have spent the last several years in extremely close proximity with classmates, roommates, professors, advisors, and other token friends and family. Still, the final scholarly words they’ll likely hear will often come from a celebrity (or, at least, the most famous person their school can get) at their graduation ceremony.

Now that graduation season is in full swing, we rounded up our all-time favorite advice from some of the best commencement speeches ever. From Steve Jobs to Oprah, read on to find out what these millionaires told new college graduates to do with their lives — and how much they’ve made since they were once recent grads themselves. (Unless otherwise noted, net worth information was contributed by

1. Steve Jobs (Net Worth: $10.2 Billion)


Photo Credit: Featureflash | Shutterstock

1. Steve Jobs (Net Worth: $10.2 Billion)

Net worth: $10.2 billion (at time of death)

“I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition,” Steve Jobs said in his speech at Stanford University’s 2005 commencement ceremony. “After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was, spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out, I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.”


Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Photo Credit: Paolo Bona | Shutterstock

2. Bill Gates (Net Worth: $86 Billion)

Net worth: $86 billion

“I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent and your energy,” Bill Gates told graduates at Harvard University’s 2007 commencement ceremony. “I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities … on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.”

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

Photo Credit: Joe Seer

3. Oprah Winfrey (Net Worth: $2.9 Billion)

Net worth: $2.9 billion

“Theologian Howard Thurman said it best,” Oprah Winfrey told graduates at Howard University’s 2007 commencement ceremony. “He said, ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.'”

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton

Photo Credit: DFree | Shutterstock

4. Dolly Parton (Net Worth: $500 Million)

Net worth: $500 million

“Did you ever notice that there are a whole lot of people that do things just well enough to get by?” Dolly Parton asked University of Tennessee graduates in 2009. “But, caring is about striving for perfection. It’s about how you look. It’s about how you prepare … and how you keep your commitments.”

Photo Credit: LaMarr McDaniel | Shutterstock


5.Bill Cosby (Net Worth: $400 Million)

Net worth: $400 million

“I’m going to help you change the world just by telling you: Pay off your student loan,” Bill Cosby told Temple University graduates in 2007. “Even if you don’t have a job, pay it off. Why? Because when you finally get a job, you’re going to be one of us. You’re going to be one of your mother, one of your father, your uncle, your aunt or anybody else you borrowed money from!”

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks

6. Tom Hanks (Net Worth: $350 Million)

Net worth: $350 million

“Your work begins, work that will not be always joyful to you, labor that may not always fulfill you, and days that will seem like one damn thing after the other,” Tom Hanks told Yale graduates at the university’s 2011 commencement ceremony. “It’s true you will now work every day for the rest of your lives — that full-time job, your career as human beings and as Americans and as graduates of Yale, is to stand on the fulcrum between fear and faith, fear at your back, faith in front of you. Which way will you lean? Which way will you move? Move forward, ever forward and tweet out a picture of the results. It may make you famous.”

Photo Credit: Joe Seer


7.Arnold Schwarzenegger (Net Worth: $300 Million)

Net worth: $300 million

“Now, think about it. The things that the agents said would be totally a detriment and would make it impossible for me to get a job, all of a sudden became an asset for me,” Arnold Schwarzenegger said at the University of Southern California’s 2009 graduation ceremony. “All of those things — my accent, my body and everything.”

Photo Credit: Featureflash


8. Ellen DeGeneres (Net Worth: $285 Million)

Net worth: $285 million

“Don’t give advice,” Ellen Degeneres told new graduates at Tulane University’s 2009 commencement ceremony. “It will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.”


Photo Credit: Photo Works

9. Denzel Washington (Net Worth: $190 Million)

Net worth: $190 million

“Fall forward. This is what I mean: Reggie Jackson struck out 2,600 times in his career, the most in the history of baseball. But you don’t hear about the strikeouts,” Denzel Washington said at the 2011 University of Pennsylvania graduation ceremony. “People remember the home runs. Fall forward. Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments. Did you know that? I didn’t know that because the 1,001st was the light bulb. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. You’ve got to take risks.”

Photo Credit: Featureflash


10. Seth MacFarlane (Net Worth: $150 Million)

Net Worth: $150 million

“If there’s one message I can leave you with this afternoon, it is this: Although you are graduating and moving on to those uncharted new frontiers of adult life, never leave behind that sense of experimentation, that bareback sense of adventure and openness,” Seth MacFarlane told Harvard University graduates in 2004. “Stay young, and keep looking at the world with a sense of wide-legged wonder.”

Photo Credit: Helga Esteb


Photo Credit: Helga Esteb

11. Jon Stewart (Net Worth: $80 Million)

Net worth: $80 million

“Love what you do. Get good at it,” Jon Stewart said at the 2004 College of William and Mary graduation. “Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.”

Photo Credit: s_bukley


12. Will Ferrell (Net Worth: $80 Million)

Net worth: $80 million

“You know, I sincerely hope you enjoy this next chapter of your life, because it’s really going to be great, as long as you pay your taxes,” Will Ferrell told new Harvard graduates in 2003. “And don’t just take a year off because you think Uncle Sam is snoozing at the wheel. because he will descend upon you like a hawk from hell. Let’s just put it this way: After some past indiscretions with the IRS, my take-home pay last year was $9,000.”


13. Chuck Norris (Net Worth: $70 Million)

Net worth: $70 million

“My philosophy of life, then and now, is: Anything I take on, I’m going to finish it,” Chuck Norris told Liberty University graduates in 2008. “So I decided I would pursue an acting career. I had no money and I had to take acting classes, so I went to acting school on my G.I. Bill.”

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep

Photo Credit: cinemafestival

14. Meryl Streep (Net Worth $65 Million)

Net worth: $65 million

“What I do know about success, fame, celebrity — that would fill another speech. How it separates you from your friends, from reality, from proportion. Your own sweet anonymity, a treasure you don’t even know you have until it’s gone,” Meryl Streep told graduates at Barnard College’s 2010 commencement ceremony. “How it makes things tough for your family and whether being famous matters one bit, in the end, in the whole flux of time. … I can assure that awards have very little bearing on my own personal happiness, my own sense of well-being and purpose in the world. That comes from studying the world feelingly, with empathy in my work. It comes from staying alert, and alive, and involved in the lives of the people that I love, and the people in the wider world who need my help. No matter what you see me or hear me saying when I’m on your TV, holding a statuette, spewing — that’s acting.”

Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert

Photo Credit: Helga Esteb

15. Stephen Colbert (Net Worth: $45 Million)

Net worth: $45 million

“If we should serve others, and together serve some common goal or idea for any one of you, what is that idea, and who are those people?” Stephen Colbert said at Northwestern University’s 2011 graduation. “In my experience, you will truly serve only what you love because service is love made visible. If you love your friends, you will serve your friends. If you love community, you will serve your community. If you love money, you will serve your money. And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself — and you will have only yourself. So, no winning. Instead, try to love others, and serve others, and hopefully, find others that love and serve you in return.”

Photo Credit: Sean Nel


16. John Legend (Net Worth: $20 Million)

Net worth: $20 million

“No matter what profession you choose, you all can make a choice to be aware of what is going on in your community,” John Legend told Kean University graduates in 2011. “Choose to pay attention to issues of social justice, and choose to make a real difference. Be the inspiration that fills the gap. You have so much power, so much opportunity; make sure this education, this amazing gift, doesn’t go to waste.”

Photo Credit: Featureflash

Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler

17. Amy Poehler (Net Worth: $18 Million)

Net worth: $18 million

“All I can tell you today is what I have learned — what I have discovered as a person in this world — and that is this: You can’t do it alone,” Amy Poehler told Harvard graduates in 2011. “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own.”


Photo Credit: DFree

18. Jessica Lange (Net Worth: $15 Million)

Net worth: $15 million

“If, from my vantage point now, I could tell my 22-year-old self what I now believe is the most important thing in life (and one I didn’t embrace fully at the time, because I was young and willful and reckless), it would be to be present,” Jessica Lange said at the 2008 Sarah Lawrence College graduation. “I would encourage you, with all my heart, just to be present. Be present and open to the moment that is unfolding before you. Because, ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future. Don’t be absent from your own life.”


Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm

19. Barack Obama (Net Worth: $12.2 Million)

Net Worth: $12.2 million

“And don’t get me wrong — with all those student loans you’ve had to take out, I know you’ve got to earn some money,” President Barack Obama told graduates of Morehouse College in 2013. “With doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could not even imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty. But I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy, instead of what good you can do.”


Photo Credit: Featureflash

20. Peter Dinklage (Net Worth: $10 Million)

Net worth: $10 million

“I’m sorry, it sucks after graduation. It really does. You just get a bit derailed. But soon something starts to happen. Trust me,” Peter Dinklage told Bennington College graduates in 2012. “A rhythm sets in, just like it did after your first few days here. Just try not to wait until, like me, you’re 29, before you find it.”


Photo Credit: Helga Esteb

21. Neil deGrasse Tyson (Net Worth: $1 Million)

Net worth: $1 million

“So many people can’t wait ’til school ends, can’t wait until the summer holidays. What are you in a hurry to do, to stop learning?” Neil deGrasse Tyson told graduates at Western New England University’s 2012 commencement ceremony. “This is the only time in your life when your job was to learn. That was your job. That’s what was expected of you. Now you’re being cast forth and I’m hoping, I’m expecting, that you’re not saying to yourself, ‘I’m done learning,’ because if that’s how you think and feel, you will slide back to the cave, because everyone else who keeps learning will pass you by, and that’s where you’ll end up — even if you didn’t think you are headed there.

This article appeared on:

This article was syndicated the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Leave a Reply