Artists' Best College Commencement Speeches: Kanye West, Bon Jovi, John Legend & More

jon bon jovi rutgers graduation 2015
Bill McCay/Getty Images

Jon Bon Jovi receives a Honorary Doctor of Letters from Rutgers University-Camden and preforms a new song that he wrote for the students as a gift at the Susquehanna Bank Center May 21, 2015 in Camden, New Jersey.

Whether they're former college dropouts or college graduates, these musicians all have one thing in common: they're now doctors. Check out some of the most inspiring commencement speeches artists have shared after being honored with a doctorate degree below:

Back to College 2015

Kanye West

Rapper Kanye West was a well-known college dropout -- he even named his first album The College Dropout -- but he received an honorary doctorate from the Art Institute of Chicago in May. In his less than five-minute speech he talked about how George W. Bush has cool self-portraits and how his life would have been easier with a degree from the Art Institute. He was also shared his nerves about his speech with the graduates. "I felt my nerves a bit, and I don't feel that feeling a lot -- the nerves of humility and honesty when being honored," he said.

John Legend

R&B crooner John Legend spoke at his alma mater in 2014, which gave him the opportunity to sing a verse and "humblebrag" about having one of the biggest hits in the U.S. at the time, "All of Me." Legend shared his family history and emphasized the importance of love in life, saying the quality of relationships are important to him, not quantity. He also referred to his unique friendship with Kanye West, which stemmed from a relationship with a college friend. "We think about making something beautiful -- something we can be proud of," he said about the duo making music. "Half doing it is not doing it right. You have to go all in."

Head of the Class: Kanye, Jon Bon Jovi & More Music Stars Who've Gotten Honorary Degrees

Bon Jovi

"Class is over, but learning isn't," Jon Bon Jovi said to the graduating class of Rutgers University-Camden in May. Bon Jovi spoke about the power of "we" instead of "me," but really got the crowd interested in his speech when he pulled out his guitar. The "Livin' On A Prayer" singer wrote the class of 2015 a song about moving on and starting fresh, and received a standing ovation at the end.

Sean Combs

From Sean Combs to Puff Daddy to P. Diddy to King Combs and Swag, the rap mogul finally found a name that suits him: Dr. Sean Combs. Combs spoke at the Howard University graduation in 2014 and poked fun at his many name changes. He also called Howard University "home," despite dropping out after his second year attending. “Howard University didn’t just change my life -- it entered my soul, my heart, my being and my spirit,” said Combs, a former business major. “Nobody is going to invite you to the front of the line; you got to push your way to the front of the line.”

Annie Lennox

Annie Lennox dropped out of university the very last month of the term before her graduation. From the moment when her first professor told her to forget everything she learned about playing the flute, she hated school. She told the 2013 grads of Berklee College of Music to "unlearn everything" and do everything in their own way, just as she did when dropping out of school. Lennox also sang a few lines from her favorite artists for the crowd of professors and students, such as Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.


Although U2's Bono didn't go to college, he said he studied rock n' roll at the University of Pennsylvania commencement ceremony. He encouraged everyone to make a difference in their generation, and said their degrees were their instruments of change. "What's the big idea? What's your big idea?" Bono asked the students. "Go, sing the melody line that's in your head. You don't owe anybody any explanations."

Billy Joel

The piano man emphasized the importance of love in his speech at Syracuse University in 2006. "Money may come, money may go, but you can always fall back on love," Billy Joel said. "It's something you can always depend on." He even wrote a song on his way up to the university to the tune of "Down in New Orleans." He had the audience clap along and sing with him, ending with a standing ovation.

David Bowie

Unbeknownst to many, David Bowie and John Lennon were very good friends. Bowie spoke about their history and many fond memories during his 1999 Berklee College of Music commencement speech. "Music has given me over 40 years of extraordinary experiences," he said. "I can't say that life's pains or more tragic episodes have been diminished because of it, but it's allowed me so many moments of companionship when I've been lonely and sublime means of communication when I've wanted to touch people. I only hope that it embraces you with the same lusty life-force that it graciously offered me. Remember if it itches, play it."

Jimmy Buffett

Wearing sunglasses and flip-flops, Jimmy Buffett spoke about his past when giving the University of Miami commencement speech in May of 2015. He outright told the graduates that it is not in his nature to speak about the past, because he is always looking for what lies ahead. But he gave them some advice by sharing a few bumps in his road as a musician: He said he got drunk during a show one night and barely got through the entire set. The next day he was extremely disappointed in himself. "It's not a pretty thing to see talent wasted, but it's an even sadder thing to waste it yourself," Buffett said.

Jimmy Page

A humble Jimmy Page scrapped his entire speech at the 2014 Berklee College of Music graduation ceremony because he was inspired by the students' concert the night before. He talked about how he made it into the music industry, and how important it was to learn to read music. He said the graduates would learn to use their skills in the real world, just as he did.


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.