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2016 commencement speeches: Wisdom and wit

In the business of annual commencement speeches — in which the very accomplished are tasked with imparting their wisdom to young, fresh-faced upstarts — it doesn't get more simple than this:

"Life is like the 'Star Wars' movies. Some of it is great. Some of it sucks, but you have no choice but to sit through all of it, very similar to the commencement speech you are listening to right now." So goes the wisdom of actor Hank Azaria, the voice of the Comic Book Guy on "The Simpsons."

Azaria, giving the commencement speech at Tufts University in May, was among a long string of achievers who shared their life lessons with 2016 graduates using humor, wit, nostalgia, bravado and even a little sadness. The Tribune listened to a bunch of speeches and culled some of the most memorable quotes — so you don't have to.

Comic duo Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan at the Catholic University of America: Jim Gaffigan: "Remember happiness is not found in accomplishments, income or the number of Twitter followers you have. True happiness is found in family. Living for each other, sacrificing together and enjoying the blessings of fresh guacamole delivered promptly to your door." Jeannie Gaffigan: "Love what you do, love who you are and love those around you."

Humorist and actor Mo Rocca at Sarah Lawrence College: "Many people will warn you that in an ever-more competitive economy, the clock is ticking. Well, many people are wrong. You've got time."

Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland at Niles West High School in Skokie: "When you are facing the unanticipated twists and turns that life shall surely take, when the bad things happen, it should be of tremendous solace to get outside yourself and focus on someone else."

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg at the University of California at Berkeley: "I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface and breathe again."

Steven Spielberg at Harvard University: "My worldview was limited to what I could dream up in my head, not what the world could teach me. But then I directed 'The Color Purple,' and this one film opened my eyes to experiences that I never could have imagined, and yet were all too real. This story was filled with deep pain and deeper truths, like when Shug Avery says, 'Everything wants to be loved.' My gut, which was my intuition, told me more people needed to meet these characters and experience these truths. While making that film, I realized a movie could also be a mission. I hope all of you find that sense of mission."

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson at the University of Wisconsin at Madison: "When life tells you no, ask yourself honestly: What am I capable of? And once you know the answer, don't be afraid to let everyone else know it too."

Actor J.K. Simmons at the University of Montana: "Dear God, please only use that word 'literally' when it actually makes sense. Seriously, if you take nothing else from my remarks today only use that word correctly."

President Barack Obama at Rutgers University, "So, Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be. In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. 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. And yet, we've become confused about this."

Vice President Joseph Biden at the University of Notre Dame: "Engage in the tireless pursuit of finding common ground. Because not only will you be happier, you will be incredibly more successful. That's where you'll find your reward."

NBC's Today Show host Hoda Kotb at Tulane University: "If you survive anything in your life, who cares what it is, if you're still standing, you get four words: 'You can't scare me.'"

Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington at Colby College: "Mood swings, fogged memories, incomprehension of a comprehensible problem and the occasional re-tweeting of Mussolini, these are all symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation, according to the American Academy of Sleep, except the re-tweeting Mussolini part — that's just pure Donald Trump."

"Hamilton" playwright and star Lin-Manuel Miranda at the University of Pennsylvania: "My dear, terrified graduates, you are about to enter the most uncertain and thrilling period of your lives. The stories you are about to live are the ones you will be telling your children and grandchildren and therapists."

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at American University's Washington College of Law: "Often, we do not know where our choices will take us. This is why the best choices are often made based not on what they can bring to us, but what they will allow us to bring to others."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at Suffolk University: "Look, if you take the unexpected opportunities when they come up, if you know yourself, and if you fight for what you believe in, I can promise that you will live a life that is rich with meaning."

Twitter @corilyns

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