Here Are 7 Commencement Speeches You May Have Missed

Quinta Brunson, Kendrick Lamar, President Joe Biden, and others share their messages of determination and encouragement.

by Aziah Siid

To a college graduate, a commencement speech might feel surreal. Hearing living legends deliver life lessons, sometimes with quirky comedic undertones and memorable lines can be inspiring, leaving them  feeling fearless, confident, and excited for their new journey. This spring, members of the  Class of 2024 heard from an eclectic mix of notable speakers, including President Joe Biden, rapper Kendrick Lamar, scholar Imani Perry, and “the real MVP”: Wanda Durant, mother of NBA legend Kevin Durant. Here’s what some of those speakers had to say.  

1. President Joe Biden – Morehouse College 

Given his support of Israel in the Gaza war, Biden has been the target of campus protests nationwide, and Morehouse was no exception. The graduates greeted him with mild applause, but several turned their backs on him as he spoke. But his speech touched on faith, optimism, resilience and what it means to be a Morehouse man.  

“Class of 2024, four years ago, it probably felt like Saturday.  Four years later, you made it to Sunday, to commencement, to the beginning,” Biden said. “And with faith and determination, you can push the sun above the horizon once more.  You can reveal a light — hope for yourself and for your nation. 

2. Quinta Brunson – Temple University

Selecting Brunson, an  Emmy and Golden Globe winner, to talk to Temple graduates seemed an inspired choice. The Philadelphia native dropped out of Temple to pursue an acting career, a choice she joked about while receiving an honorary doctorate from the university. 

“Mom, it only took me 11 years, two Emmys, and one Golden Globe to finally get a degree,” she joked. 

3. John Legend – Loyola Marymount University

Legend, an award-winning actor, and multi-platinum singer-songwriter, told Loyola Marymount’s class of 2024 that the history through which they’ve lived — a once-in-a-century pandemic, global conflict and an attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2020 — has “forged strength of mind and character with deeper empathy, perhaps, than any generation before.”

4. Kendrick Lamar – Compton College

The songwriter and rapper was the unannounced commencement speaker for Compton College, sending the audience  into pandemonium. With faculty standing behind him with big smiles and cameras out, Lamar — affectionately known as K-Dot — encouraged  graduates of his hometown college, urging them to stay in touch with their inner selves. 

He also talked about his unwavering beliefs in his Compton, the power of individuality, the importance of giving yourself grace, and more. 

“I wanted to come out here just to tell y’all how much I appreciate y’all,” Lamar, the first rapper to win a Pulitzer prize,  told the crowd. “I’m proud of the city of Compton, I’m proud of Compton College, most importantly I’m proud of the graduates out here.” 

5. Angela Bassett – Spelman College

Presented with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree, the legendary actress and star of the “Black Panther” franchise, raved about Spelman as the mecca of Black excellence and Black womanhood. 

Bassett took the woman through the uncertainties and confusion she faced as a growing Black artist, but also as a Yale University graduate herself, taking a path that worried people around her, including her mother. 

6. Wanda Durant – Bowie State University 

Durant, a philanthropist and mother of NBA basketball star Kevin Durant,  has dedicated her work to enriching the lives of youth from low-income backgrounds through educational, athletic and social programs. In her speech to graduates of Bowie State, a historically Black college in Maryland, Durant delivered a message of hope and resilience.  

Back in 2022, the Durant Family Charitable Foundation donated $500,000 to Bowie for upgrades to its basketball arena. 

7. Imani Perry – Georgetown University

An award-winning scholar and professor at Harvard University, Perry told graduates that their education can help change the world.

“The thing about education: when you have it, you can touch everyone in your midst with it because education is a seed as well as a blooming,” she said. “It is the product of an individual receiving instruction, of course, but if you choose to put it to purpose in every facet of your life, it also makes you a teacher not just as a job but also as a vocation.”