The Wednesday Five

Soon it will be the season of graduations and the coveted commencement address. Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings (whose 2016 commencement address is featured below) writes about the love she has for the cultural staple:

“I have long relished the commencement address as one of our few cultural forms that render us receptive to sincerity — receptive to messages we might dismiss as trite in any other context, but which we recognize here as the life-earned truth of the human being at the podium, shared in a spirit of goodwill with a group of young humans just starting out on the truth-earning gauntlet called life.”

In this week’s Wednesday Five, we’ve curated a selection of five commencement addresses from the 2016 graduation season by women of note — Maria Popova, Carrie Mae Weems, Sheryl Sandberg, Anne Marie Slaughter, and Hoda Kotb — that are sure to inspire and gear us up for the 2017 Commencement Season.



Maria Popova

In her address to the 2016 graduating class at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, Maria Popova talked about the sacred role of the writer:

“You are about to enter the ecosystem of cultural production. Most of you will go into journalism, media, policy, or some blurry blob of the increasingly amorphous Venn diagram of these forces that shape culture and public opinion. Whatever your specific vocation, your role as a creator of culture will be to help people discern what matters in the world and why by steering them away from the meaningless and toward the meaningful. E.B. White said that the role of the writer is to lift people up, not to lower them down, and I believe that’s the role of every journalist and artist and creator of culture.”

Read the full speech on



Carrie Mae Weems

Artist and MacArthur fellow Carrie Mae Weems delivered the commencement address to 1,100 graduates of the School of Visual Arts. She asked her audience, and us all, “How do we measure our lives?”

“How do you measure a life? Do we measure it inch by inch, step by step, crawl by crawl? How you measure your lives is the most important thing not only for you students, but for all of us. I am asking myself this constantly. How do you measure a life? Success, failure –– what is it? . . . You know, I think of myself as dust in the wind. And I’m gonna be here just for [snaps fingers] a hot second. And when you think about the vastness of the universe in which we dwell, we are dust in the wind. And yet, we are here. To mark this moment . . . This way you will spend your time, measure your lives, is all up to you.”

Watch the full speech at SVA on YouTube.



Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, spoke to the graduating class at UC Berkeley about finding ways to grow in times of deep loss and tragedy. Sandberg lost her husband unexpectedly in 2015. She talked about how one develops resilience.

“You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are – and you just might become the very best version of yourself.”

RELATED: Sheryl Sandberg, Single-Mom, Leans Into Single Motherhood

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  • AA April 26, 2017 at 7:48 am

    What an amazing group of inspirational women. SHeryl Sandburg truly defines grace, intelligence and class