Savannah Guthrie (L'02), co-anchor of NBC News' Today and the network's chief legal correspondent, speaks at Georgetown Law's commencement.
Category: University News

Title: 14 Best Pieces of Advice From Georgetown’s Graduation Speeches

This May, TV news anchors, CEOs, professors, nonprofit leaders, alumni and a rear admiral visited Georgetown to share their words of wisdom with the Class of 2023. 

Commencement speakers and alumni such as Igor Smelyansky (MBA’05), CEO of Ukraine’s postal service, told graduate students about the responsibility he bears in deciding whether to send 50,000 postal workers into warzones every day to do their jobs. Dan Helfreich (SFS’98, MBA’99), chair and CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP, told undergraduates in the McDonough School of Business about how he leads with humanity — and takes time after work to call and broadcast Georgetown soccer games. And Savannah Guthrie (L’02), co-anchor of NBC News’ Today and the network’s chief legal correspondent, returned to her alma mater to inspire Georgetown Law students to take risks. 

“I’m proud of you, graduates,” Guthrie said. “I’m honored to be with you. Because I was here once, I know exactly what it took for you to get to this moment. I’m looking at every one of you, marveling — and cheering you on into your brave, wild and wonderful future.”

As commencement season wraps up, we bottled up the best advice from this year’s commencement speaker speeches. 

Jason Kander (L'05), president of National Expansion at the Veterans Community Project, speaks at the School of Continuing Studies' commencement ceremony.

Jason Kander (L’05)

President of National Expansion, Veterans Community Project

“I am not here today to inspire you to think of others. I’m actually here today to inspire you to think of yourself.

My message to you today is one that I learned the hard way: that there is nothing selfish about self-care, because if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t change the world. But if you do, you just might.”

Watch Kander’s speech at the School of Continuing Studies commencement ceremony on May 19.

Dan Helfrich (SFS'98, MBA'99), the chair and CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP, spoke at the School of Business' undergraduate commencement at Georgetown.

Dan Helfrich (SFS’98, MBA’99)

Chair and CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP

“Data would tell us there are future CEOs, startup founders, cabinet secretaries, nonprofit leaders in this audience. Please promise me you will be human when you get there.

Now for me in my role that means … showing up on every big company Zoom in a baseball hat and not the corporate CEO uniform. It means making sure people know that I leave work and skip important meetings to broadcast soccer games. And it means being willing to say I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about that, but perhaps most importantly, I think I made the wrong decision, and we need to change our course. That’s human.”

Watch Helfrich’s speech at the McDonough School of Business undergraduate ceremony on May 20.

Yamiche Léone Alcindor (C'09), NBC News Washington Correspondent, speaks at the College of Arts & Science's commencement ceremony at Georgetown.

Yamiche Léone Alcindor (C’09)

NBC News Washington Correspondent

“Don’t be afraid of the journey. Some of you—a lot of you, because you’re Hoyas—will rocket to the top, and you’ll stay right there for the rest of your life. Some of you will start out strong and then bounce back and have to start all over again. Many of you, like me and my Georgetown classmates, will hit speedbumps and potholes, roadblocks and detour signs that will force you into a winding journey. Be encouraged to stay the course.

I deeply understand what it means to need to make a living. So also be patient with yourself. Take the job that pays the bills if you need to. Move to the city where you can get employment. Don’t ignore or give up your dreams though. Claw your way back to them.

Michelle Obama said, ‘Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility…’ Expect amazing things to happen to you. Take leaps based on hope that you will land on your feet. Believe the universe is always, always working in your favor.”

Watch Alcindor’s speech at the College of Arts & Sciences’ commencement ceremony on May 20.

Frank H. McCourt, Jr. (C'75), founder of Project Liberty, executive chairman of McCourt Global and member of Georgetown's Board of Directors, speaks at the McCourt School's commencement ceremony at Georgetown.

Frank H. McCourt, Jr. (C’75)

Founder of Project Liberty, Executive Chairman of McCourt Global and Member of Georgetown’s Board of Directors

“More than your intellect or your acquired skills, I have faith in the size of your heart. In your capacity to meet our moment not only with your proficiency but with your magnanimity.

You have the chance to navigate a new path that is not determined by the power of technology but rather is guided by the aspirations of your soul.”

Watch Frank H. McCourt, Jr.’s speech at the McCourt School of Public Policy’s commencement ceremony on May 18.

Savannah Guthrie (L'02), co-anchor of NBC News' Today and the network's chief legal correspondent, speaks at Georgetown Law's commencement.

Savannah Guthrie (L’02)

Co-anchor of NBC News’ Today and the network’s chief legal correspondent

“What a surpassing joy it is to stand here with you and root for you, beckoning you into your great future. If you do see my old self walking around somewhere today, this was what I was thinking you could tell her: Don’t worry so much. Don’t sweat every tiny thing like it’s the ultimate end-all, be-all thing. 

Tell her: It’s good to have a plan but it’s also good to take it, rip it up and do something wild and daring — even if it feels like you’re taking everything you’ve worked so hard for and lighting it on fire. … 

You’re going to get where you’re meant to go one way or the other. You can’t write yourself out of your own destiny.”

Watch the full video from Guthrie’s speech at Georgetown Law on May 21.

Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones Leverhulme, visiting professor in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King's College London, spoke at the School of Health's commencement ceremony.

Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones

Senior Fellow in the Satcher Health Leadership Institute and Cardiovascular Research Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine

For all of us in the room, we need more of us to shift from valuing comfort to valuing social justice — even as we recognize that valuing social justice will not always or maybe ever be comfortable. …

“My challenge to you are what I describe as my four ‘B Cs,’ which are habits of mind for social justice warriors. They are ‘be courageous, be curious, be collective and build community.’”

Watch Jones’ speech at the School of Health’s commencement ceremony on May 20.

School of Foreign Service Commencement Ceremony

This year, in place of a traditional honorary degree, the School of Foreign Service’s (SFS) commencement honored the thousands of political prisoners around the world who have chosen to stand up for human rights at the sacrifice of their personal liberty. Hear from the ceremony’s three commencement speakers, Dasha Navalnaya, Evan Mawarire and Debra Tice and watch the full SFS ceremony from May 20.

Dr. Joan Reede, dean for Diversity and Community Partnership at Harvard University, speaks at the School of Medicine's commencement ceremony.

Dr. Joan Reede

Dean for Diversity and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School

“This journey has not been about how you stand taller or jump higher and run faster than the person next to you … but rather how you — in fact, each of us — is taller because we stand on the shoulders of others.

We begin at a higher elevation and thus seem to jump higher because of the climb that others have already made. And we appear to run faster because others have provided starting fuel and left a map showing how we arrived at our present place. A map containing our history. A map where we can begin to acknowledge, understand and question what we in the past got right and what we got wrong. What we did well and where we failed and continued to fail to live up to our principles.”

Watch Dr. Reede’s speech at the School of Medicine’s commencement ceremony on May 21.

Igor Smelyansky (MBA'05), CEO of Ukrainian Postal Service, spoke at the School of Business' graduate school commencement ceremony.

Igor Smelyansky (MBA’05)

CEO and Director General of the Ukrainian National Post

“What Ukrposhta is entrusted with [is] millions of parcels of boxes each day. So you can guess I’ve seen my share of boxes. As you carry this graduate degree into the next phase of your career, you [will] often feel pressure to take conventional paths. To put yourself in the box. 

Boxes are incredible places to grow and train, and even I’m not immune to the appeal of a safe box. … But such boxes are pre-packaged with standardized formulas, benchmarks and results, and they often do not contain the tools one needs to rise for unprecedented challenges. …

It’s up to you to accept the terror and thrill of emerging into [an] undefined space in which you will discover your full potential as a leader. If you work hard and be the best at what you do, you will never be replaced or boxed in.”

Watch Smelyansky’s speech at the McDonough School of Business’ graduate commencement ceremony on May 19.

Susan Orsega, senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Health and the U.S. Surgeon General, spoke at the School of Nursing's commencement ceremony.

Susan Orsega

Rear Admiral, United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corp

In this excerpt, Orsega reflects on the moment she was deployed to Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I stepped foot onto the rubble with smoke that was billowing in the air, and I was scared. I was scared of the uncertainty about what I would see or how would I perform. I had a mental Rolodex in my mind of how I would treat someone who was either pulled out alive or how I was going to perform a suture on a patient.

But what I didn’t know was what I packed in my backpack that I needed more that day were core leadership skills. It wasn’t the stethoscope or the books. I realized at that moment that my growth and development through my life doesn’t move in a straight line, but rather it’s built upon the experiences and the opportunities that are either afforded to us or presented to us. It’s how we overcome them that will shape us uniquely as leaders and professionals.

So when you graduate, it’s not the end of your education but really the beginning. The beginning of this new defining moment. And all of you will have a moment. All of you will have a moment that will amplify your skills as a leader.”

Watch Orsega’s speech at the School of Nursing’s Commencement ceremony on May 18

Brian Greene, professor of Physics and Mathematics and Director of the Center for Theoretical Physics at Columbia University, spoke at the Graduate School of Arts & Science's commencement ceremony.

Brian Greene

Professor of Physics and Mathematics and Director of the Center for Theoretical Physics at Columbia University

“Our particular particulate arrangement has endowed us with enviable powers. We can think about the past. We can imagine the future. We can take in the universe and explore it … with reason and emotion as you all have done across your graduate school careers, carrying forth a journey of exploration and discovery that our species has been on for thousands of years yielding stunning insights. …

The fact that bags of particles — the very same fundamental particles that make up salt and Saturn — the fact that when those particles are configured correctly, they can do all this. Well, this should fill us all with a sense of connection and cosmic communion and … gratitude.

Gratitude for being a small, if transient part of this cosmological unfolding. Gratitude that each of us should feel and must feel and should cultivate and must cultivate. And I implore each and every one of you that we must spread widely throughout the course of our lives gratitude for human existence.”

Watch Dr. Greene’s speech at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ commencement ceremony on May 21.

Ayman Mohyeldin, MSNBC host of AYMAN, speaks at Georgetown in Qatar's commencement ceremony in May.

Ayman Mohyeldin


“You see the difference between what you do and what your purpose is is profound. What you do is a job. It’s a way of making a living … But your purpose, well, that is something higher. That is your calling. 

You have a purpose in this world. Even if you don’t know what it is today, that is OK. But make the driving force of your life your purpose. Not your job. And definitely don’t make it money. 

You will know what that purpose is, that calling, because it will be when you must apply yourself, when you must try, when you must take a leap towards something that makes you come alive for a greater good.”

Learn more about Mohyeldin’s speech at Georgetown in Qatar’s commencement ceremony on May 11.