As eager high school and college seniors don mortarboard caps and glossy gowns for their parades across commencement podiums, families and friends seek memorable comments to enclose with graduation greetings, gifts, gift cards, and other mementos. What funny graduation quotes might be cited on such a celebratory occasion?
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Here are some favorite commencement quips, arranged alphabetically by speaker (or writer).
“A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep.”
W.H.Auden (1907 – 1973)
W.H. Auden, the prolific British poet with the Saharan wit, aimed this graduation quote at college and university faculty. Still, his statement might ring true among high school graduates as well. As students reflect on their academic careers, this statement would surely bring both fond and soporific memories. After all, what graduating senior hasn’t dozed off in Medieval Literature, Neoclassical Philosophy or Advanced Calculus class?
"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."
Milton Berle (1908 – 2002)
Milton Berle, fondly known as “Mister Television” and “Uncle Miltie,” was a mainstay of early television, particularly in the 1950s. Berle somewhat sardonically stated a solid truth of self-made success. Opportunity does not always arrive unprompted. Instead, as his graduation quotation points out, young adults may have to carve out their own paths after commencement.
“Graduation day is tough for adults. They go to the ceremony as parents. They come home as contemporaries. After twenty-two years of child-raising, they are unemployed.”
Erma Bombeck (1927 – 1996)
A beloved American humorist, Erma Bombeck faithfully offered comic relief on practical topics, particularly parenting. In this graduation quote, Bombeck points to mothers and fathers of graduates. As young adults embark upon life after schooling, parents may find their own roles changing dramatically. Hopefully, their graduating offspring will soon be transformed from dependents to independent adults. If this occurs, these young adults will become employed, thus working their parents out of a job (as parents).
“To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the ‘C’ students, I say you too may one day be President of the United States.”
George W. Bush (1946 - )
As the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush clearly knows firsthand what it takes to aspire to the highest political office in America. Bush, known to many as “Dubya,” has always enjoyed poking fun at himself. This graduation quotation, uttered during a 2001 commencement address at Yale University (his own alma mater), satirizes the oft-told American dream promise that any child in American has the potential to grow up to become President.
Johnny Carson, the former late-night talk show host, put his own spin on this. “Democracy means that anyone can grow up to be President, and anyone who doesn't grow up can be Vice President," he said.
President Bush humorously affirmed Yale graduates with his congratulations for the highest achievers and his encouragement of the more average students. Still, at a highly competitive school like Yale, is anyone really an average student?
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Sir Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)
Sir Winston Churchill was a British statesman and prime minister, who led Great Britain and the globe through World War II. Churchill’s statement on success is an ideal graduation quotation, while also somewhat comical. Graduating students often seem to sense their own unlimited potential, as they embark on professional life after completing their schooling. Still, failures and setbacks are inevitable, eventually Churchill makes light of failures, in a sense, while pointing out how true achievement comes through maintaining personal motivation through such times.
“Education is what remains when one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Albert Einstein, the renowned 20th Century German physicist, is credited with developing the theory of relativity. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. This Einstein quote is humorous, but also appropriate for graduates, as it brings the lofty ideals of education down to earth.
A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919)
Teddy Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States. The Nobel Peace Prize winner, known for “speaking softly and carrying a big stick,” was widely respected worldwide for diplomacy, leadership and conservationism. In this graduation quote, Roosevelt satirically highlighted the power of an education. According to Roosevelt, an individual with training and schooling may carve out a more powerful professional position than one without. Still, the quipping President tinged this truth with the possibility that even a quality education may not dictate true human values and integrity.
Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.
Garry Trudeau (1948 - )
This American cartoonist and playwright, best known for his Doonesbury comic strip, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for editorial cartooning. Trudeau’s humorous commencement comment implies that commencement speakers generally bore audiences with platitudes and philosophizing. By doing so, New Yorker Trudeau insists (in his graduation quote), such orators basically anesthetize their listeners. Trudeau graduated from Yale University with a bachelor of arts (BA) and a master of fine arts (MFA), so he has had personal experience in lengthy commencement speeches.
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
Mark Twain (actually Samuel L. Clemens) once shocked academics with his fictional work and his slang vocabulary, in particular. Twain’s declaration contrasts schooling and education. This graduation quote is both pithy and humorous, as it contains an important truth about lifelong learning. For a true student, education does not end with graduation. Inquisitive minds seek learning constantly, both in and out of school.
The tassel's worth the hassle!
This graduation quote, which appears on everything from tee shirts to bumper stickers to commencement party invitations, comes from an unknown author. Still, it merits mention, even for its memorability.
Ask any graduating senior, from kindergarten to college, what it took to get to the commencement ceremony. Such a question may unleash a lengthy monologue about academic assignments, class participation, and extra effort. The tassel (a graduate’s keepsake from the mortarboard commencement cap), is well worth the hard work and headaches that preceded the momentous occasion of graduation. At the same time, these festivities may merit a healthy dose of good humor as well.
Title graphic adapted from public domain image.
Quiz results artwork – from online quiz (fair use)