Colby College President David Greene, left, and actor/filmmaker Robert Redford march out with the graduating seniors at the school's commencement on Sunday, May, 24, 2015. Credit: Photo by Jim Evans

Each May, all around the country, college graduates are given words of encouragement from accomplished speakers hoping to motivate the next generation.

Some of the biggest names in politics, Hollywood, literature and music have taken part in those springtime rites of passage here in Maine to inspire the leaders of tomorrow.

With those ceremonies largely completed for the year, it’s a good time for reflection. And some of the sentiments expressed to Maine graduates over the years make a good guidebook for how to live. Some reach their point through a longer lead-in, and some are short and self-explanatory.

Here are 17 rules to live by, as delivered by celebrities and politicians to Maine graduates over the last 12 years.

17. Tess Gerritsen, bestselling thriller writer and creator of the characters behind the TNT television drama “Rizzoli & Isles,” speaking to University of Maine graduates in 2014:

“Be like that scientist walking on the beach, who stops to study the seashell. Or the builder who studies anthills. You may think you’ll never need the information. You may think it has no possible use in your life or in your job. But someday, that useless information may turn out to be Part Q, the vital piece of the puzzle. And it will already be there in your head, just waiting to be used.”

16. Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic gold medal marathon runner, to University of New England graduates in 2006:

“Nurture your passions and don’t be afraid to build a new road. In the long run, you’ll be the most successful if you follow your heart.”

15. Phillip Hoose, author of the National Book Award-winner “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” to University of Southern Maine graduates in 2010:

“At the beginning, I let rejection get me down too much. After a while, I made a rule. I gave myself one day to take it personally. To pout and fume and storm and stomp around. Then I re-read the letter [of rejection] with a colder eye — to see if there was anything in the message that could benefit the proposal. … Learn what you can from rejection and move on. It happens to everyone.”

14. Gov. Paul LePage, to Thomas College graduates in 2012:

“You can, you can, yes, you can.”

13. Gwen Ifill, political journalist and author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” to Bates College graduates in 2012:

“We’re all looking down. We’re all looking down as we walk, as we talk, as we text. How many of you are Tweeting this right now? Look up. Pay attention up here. While I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, I was late for a meeting at the White House and I was looking down, texting the words, ‘I’m on my way.’ I misjudged the curb and I fell flat on my face in the street. I would have been fine if I had only looked up. It’s easier to look down. It takes effort to look up. If you look up, you’ll realize you have a responsibility to build a set of steps for those following behind you to walk up.”

12. Yoko Ono, artist, singer and widow of former Beatle John Lennon, to Maine College of Art graduates in 2003:

“You can’t dance if you’ve got too much muck in your head.”

11. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, to University of New England graduates in 2012:

“Do your best to never leave conflicts unresolved. … In our town we govern through our annual town meeting. … We vote on every item that will be included in our annual budget and elect the politicians that will govern us for the coming year — from the board of selectmen to the recreation council. It can get heated, downright ‘ugly’ as we say in Maine, when people disagree on anything from how well the road commissioner did plowing the snow and ice the past winter to whether the taxes should be raised to replace a wing of the school. When people have a say over their own governing the debates can be fierce — but in the end there is a vote, we make a decision and move on to the next item. There have been a few big fights and the divide lasted more than a month or two, but in the end, we are all reminded that you can’t fight too long with the plumber if you need him to fix your frozen water pipes, or stay angry at the parents of your daughter’s best friends, if she wants to have a play date. In the end every conflict has to come to an end if we’re all going to see each other every day.”

10. Stephen King, bestselling author, to University of Maine graduates in 2005:

“Give away a dime for every dollar you earn. … You go out broke. You’re not an owner, you’re just a steward. So pass something on.”

9. Robert Krulwich, broadcast journalist and co-host of WNYC’s “Radiolab,” to College of the Atlantic graduates in 2012:

“You aren’t stuck with the world you’re handed. You can change this world. You can imagine a different one. You can dream.”

8. Former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to Maine Maritime Academy graduates in 2005:

(Recalling his torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam) “‘Just [give us the information] and we will spare you any more pain,’ they promised. ‘Just say it and no one will know of your dishonor.’ The men I had the honor of serving with always had the same response: ‘I will know.’ That’s the sense of responsibility that makes you a good leader.”

7. U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine (then-governor), to University of Maine graduates in 2002:

“Treat every job as if it’s the most important job you’ve ever had.”

6. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Colby College graduates in 2012:

“Be a leader, not a follower. Above all else, be a doer and not a critic. Human experience has never been shaped by commenters, critics or cynics.”

5. Lawrence Bender, producer of Hollywood blockbusters such as “Good Will Hunting” and “Pulp Fiction,” to University of Maine graduates in 2013:

“How can you achieve greatness? I think there are three basic ingredients. One, you must find your passion. Two, failure must be a possibility. And three, never give up, especially when you feel like you’re failing. … the ability to allow yourself to fail is the ability to allow yourself to go full-on and break boundaries. Many times it’s only by failing that you find the real truth.”

4. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to University of Southern Maine graduates in 2013:

“A combination of joy, gratitude, hard work and resilience is more than a formula for personal success. It also is the best antidote I know to the rampant incivility that invades and poisons our society. As we develop these positive qualities in ourselves, let us recognize and encourage them in others, including those with whom we disagree. We all must do our part to elevate the tone and respect one another as part of our greater community.”

3. Astronaut Christopher Cassidy to Husson University graduates this year:

“Go forth, be leaders, make your decisions, live for the moment that’s right now and hug your mom.”

2. Academy and Golden Globe award-winner Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Film Festival, to Colby College graduates this year:

“Don’t fear failure, because a lot of people think failure’s the end of the road, but for me, it’s not. It’s a step along the road. Don’t be afraid to take risks, because that’s what moves you forward. You may have some heartaches. Things may not go right, but you have to be using methods to keep moving you forward. I think taking a risk is one. I think not taking a risk, in fact, is a risk. So don’t be afraid to take a risk. Don’t be afraid of failure. Be bold.”

1. Academy and Golden Glove award-winner Robert De Niro, founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, to Bates College graduates in 2012:

“Trying to improve society isn’t a cliche — it’s a worthy goal. Thinking about and doing the right thing is a cliche — but so what? It’s also the worthiest of goals.”


Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.