‘Tis the graduation season! In this week’s Wednesday 5, we share with you five incredible and inspiring commencement speeches by equally incredible and inspiring women. These women—Sandra Bullock, Elin Nordegren, Jill Abramson, Toni Morrison, and Kerry Washington—are not inspiring only because of their professional accomplishments. What they all have in common is that they have  come through, or are still in the midst of, various combinations of media scrutiny, trials and tribulations, unfaithful spouses, messy divorces, public firings, you name it! And yet, what we see are women engaging life’s storms with grace, dignity, and humor. And coming out on the other side as much better versions of themselves. We’re also happy to say, we know lots of women who do all of the above every day! 



Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock was the surprise speaker at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans, which she adopted after Hurricane Katrina. Her words of wisdom were based on advice she wished people had told her when she was younger—advice she now gives her 4-year-old son, who was born in New Orleans.





Elin Nordegren

Elin Nordegren, recipient of a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a 3.96 GPA, and named as Rollins College’s 2014 outstanding senior, delivered a poignant and triumphant commencement speech after taking nine years to finish her degree. Nordegren is, of course, the extremely private ex-wife of Tiger Woods, whose highly publicized scandal revealed his years of infidelity and sex addiction. In her speech, the mom of two said that it was school that kept her grounded and sane: 

“Education has been the only consistent part of my life the last nine years,” she said. “And it has offered me comfort. Education is one thing that no one can take away from you.”



Jill Abramson

The facts are still coming out about the nature of Jill Abramson’s firing from The New York Times.  With the paint still drying on the ouster, Abramson grounded her commencement speech at Wake Forest University with lessons on how to navigate rejection:

“Sure, losing a job you love hurts, but the work I revere—journalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountable—is what makes our democracy so resilient. This is the work I will remain very much a part of.”



Toni Morrison

Notable author Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, delivered the commencement address to Rutgers University in 2011. And,  speaking of media scrutiny—something Bullock, Nordegren, and Abramson are too familiar with—Morrison urged the graduates to resist being defined by others:

You don’t have to accept media or even scholarly labels for yourself: Generation A, B, C, X, Y, [majority], minority, red state, blue state; this social past or that one. Every true heroine breaks free from his or her class—upper, middle, and lower—in order to serve a wider world.”




Kerry Washington

Although she stars in a show called Scandal, actress Kerry Washington treats her personal life as anything but fodder for gossip.  We’ve all been impressed with how she’s managed to guard her private family life—marriage and baby— from the media’s prying eyes. In her 2013 commencement speech at George Washington University, Washington shared the beauty in writing your own story.

“When you leave here today and commence the next stage of your life, you can follow someone else’s script, try to make choices that will make other people happy, avoid discomfort, do what is expected, and copy the status quo. Or you can look at all that you have accomplished today and use it as fuel to venture forth and write your own story. If you do, amazing things will take shape.”





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