In May, the annual ritual begins. At U.S. colleges and universities, newly minted graduates gather one last time for a formal ceremony before they scatter to seek their fortunes.

Wearing caps and gowns, before they can collect their diplomas, the graduates sit politely and listen to commencement speeches by prominent people who share their stories and observations on life.

President Obama, at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, told graduates on May 15 that tough problems can’t be solved in isolation. He also criticized what he described as an anti-science, anti-intellectual mindset that too often permeates politics.

“In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue,” said Obama. “It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not keeping it real or telling it like it is. That’s not challenging political correctness. That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg (© AP Images)
Sheryl Sandberg (© AP Images)

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, speaking May 14 to new grads at the University of California, Berkeley, cited her husband’s sudden death in 2015 as a turning point that taught her about resilience.

“I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss,” she said. “But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void, or in the face of any challenge, you can choose joy and meaning.”

Former TV talk-show host Oprah Winfrey addressed the Class of 2016 at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 15.

Oprah Winfrey standing on a stage (© AP Images)
Oprah Winfrey (© AP Images)

She urged the grads to strive for excellence, but not to lose heart when they stumble, because “failure is God’s way of moving you in another direction.”

Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks football team, returned to his alma mater — the University of Wisconsin, in Madison — to deliver a May 15 commencement speech.

Russell Wilson throwing a football (© AP Images)
Russell Wilson prepares to pass the football during a college game. (© AP Images)

Wilson, who led his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2014, recalled that a former coach at another school had told him it wasn’t realistic to hope for a National Football League career. He rejected the coach’s advice and became even more determined to fulfill his athletic potential, he told the Wisconsin grads.

“The moments when life tells you ‘yes’ aren’t the ones that define you. The moments that really matter are the moments when life tells you ‘no,'” said Wilson.

“When life tells you ‘no,’ ask yourself honestly: ‘What am I capable of?’ Once you know the answer, don’t be afraid to let everyone else know it too.”

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