In Balanced Achievement’s ‘The Weekly 5’ series, we aim to present you with five ideas, products, or tools that you can utilize to enhance the quality of your life. We examine a wide variety of topics with information that can assist you on the road toward happiness, success, and ultimately fulfillment. This week, we look at five iconic inspirational speeches given in the past 25 years.
Some 2,500 years ago in the Ancient Greece capital of Athens, impassioned scholars and philosophers began using the power of the spoken word to persuade citizens to their way of thinking and move them towards collective action. The likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were among the first great Greek orators to pioneer the craft of public speaking, and it is these men’s measured approach to inspiring their fellow citizens that gave way to a new age of oratory excellence and iconic speakers such Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and John F. Kennedy. Although history has shown that times of uncertainty, war, and civil unrest naturally give rise to iconic leaders such as these three men, the power of inspirational speeches stretches far beyond the scope of tense political situations.
Instead of solely focusing on history’s most notarized inspirational speeches, given by the likes of King Jr., Mandela, and Kennedy, our aim for this article was to illuminate oratory greatness by blending a number of legendary addresses with lesser-known works of inspirational perfection. As you will soon discover, there is a diverse set of individuals with dissimilar life stories and messages of inspiration who’ve energized the masses in truly historic ways. Before we begin reliving some of history’s greatest oratory moments, however, it should be pointed out that while we limited the scope in the foremost section of the article to five iconic inspirational speeches, given within the past 25 years, we have included a secondary list of ten additional inspirational addresses, given at various times in the past century, that you can find below.
5 Iconic Inspirational Speeches from the Past 25 Years:
Thanks to the advent of the internet, new public speaking platforms like Ted Talks, and an ever-growing demand for inspirational wisdom, we are now blessed with an expansive library of iconic inspirational speeches that we can use to motivate ourselves into action. Even by limiting our selection of inspirational speeches to the time period of 1992-2017, a case could still be made for hundreds of iconic addresses worthy of recognition and it isn’t our intention to take anything away from them. We do believe, however, that the following five iconic inspirational speeches offer a diverse variety of viewpoints that can motivate us in different ways. With that being said, let’s now explore Balanced Achievement’s list of five iconic inspirational speeches given in the past 25 years:
1.) Jim Valvano – Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up (1993):
On March 4th, 1993, decorated college basketball coach and broadcaster Jim Valvano was honored with the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at that year’s ESPY Awards (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) ceremony. Up until the point of his now infamous speech, Valvano was best known for guiding North Carolina State University to an improbable national title in 1983 and his award-winning commentary as a basketball broadcaster. This, however, was about to change as the 46-year-old Valvano, who was diagnosed with a particularly deadly type of bone cancer less than one year earlier, went to the podium as the inaugural recipient of the newly created award that aims to transcend sports.
During the now-celebrated speech, Valvano passionately stressed the importance of never giving up while also offering his most heartfelt advice for living fully each day. At one point in the address, Valvano emotionally tells the engrossed crowd that while cancer could take away his psychical abilities, it would never be able to touch his mind, heart, or soul. Jim Valvano, whose name will forever live on at The V Foundation for Cancer Research, died less than two months after delving this iconic speech:
2.) David Foster Wallace – This Is Water (2005):
While David Foster Wallace will forever be remembered as one of America’s greatest novelists, his finest piece of literary work may have come in the form of his 2005 graduation commencement speech at Kenyon College, a liberal arts school located in Gambier, Ohio. Assuredly Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest, which was ranked by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language fiction novels from 1923 to 2005, will forever live on in infamy, but his speech on May 21, 2005, was so saturated in real-life wisdom that the world is still clamoring about it, now over ten years after it was given.
In what would be the only public discourse he discussed his own life views, the man who was regularly awarded for his fiction writing passionately touched on a variety of the most important real-world truths. In the nearly 23-minute address, Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, specifically touches on the importance of living beyond our psychological default setting, not subjecting ourselves to the rat race, and becoming conscious of the realities we face. While there is no video for Wallace’s iconic inspirational speech, you can listen to the entire address in audio form:
3.) Barack Obama – DNC Keynote Address (2004):
Five years before he became the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama would go on stage as a little-known State Senator from Illinois at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to deliver perhaps the most iconic keynote address in history. Of course, Obama’s surprising landslide victory in the Illinois Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate was only four months before the landmark speech and had made him a rising star in the Democratic party, but it was his keynote address that cemented the then just 42-years-old as the future face of his party.
During the speech that would introduce America to a future President, Obama seamlessly blended his story of overcoming all odds with a message of national unity and a glowing endorsement for the 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry. Upon delivering one of history’s most truly inspiring political speeches, Obama would go on to win the U.S. Senate seat, write two best-selling books, and become the President of the United States in 2008.
4.) Elizabeth Gilbert – Your Elusive Creative Genius (2009):
In 2006, now-celebrated author Elizabeth Gilbert began receiving national recognition after publishing her memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. While the book’s successes of selling over 10 million copies, staying on the New York Times Best Seller list for 187 weeks, and being made into a featured film were certainly welcomed by the young author, Gilbert would soon be forced to accept the sobering reality that she may have written her greatest literary piece while only in her thirties.
It was during the three years after publishing the book when Gilbert discovered firsthand how the unrealistic expectations put on creative individuals, by society and themselves, often lead to their downfall. In her now beloved 2009 Ted Talks Your Elusive Creative Genius, Gilbert delivers an iconic oratory presentation while discussing how she dealt with her fortunate yet unfortunate reality. In the speech, Gilbert brings to life the multitude of struggles faced by creative individuals and offers a heartfelt solution to the writers, musicians, and artists who struggle with addiction, self-hate, or mental illness. Additionally, Gilbert passionately tells us how each of us can tap into our creative resources within in this iconic inspirational speech:
5.) Randy Pausch – Achieving Your Childhood Dreams (2007):
One month after being told by doctors that he had only three to five months to live, because of his terminal pancreatic cancer, Randy Pausch stepped on stage at Carnegie Mellon University and delivered one of this century’s truly great inspirational speeches. The now immortalized address titled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams took place on September 19th, 2007, at the very university Pausch had been an Associate Professor of Computer Science for the previous ten years.
While most of the lectures he gave at the small research university, founded by Andrew Carnegie, covered the intricacies of computing, his Last Lecture, as it is commonly known, would illuminate more intimate life topics such as respecting one another, persistence, hard work, risk-taking, and living out your childhood dreams. After the now infamous speech went viral on the internet, The Last Lecture was made into a best-selling book that would wind up on the New York Times Best Sellers list for 85 weeks. Before passing away in January of 2008, the seemingly typical university professor would spend the remainder of his life close by his family’s side preaching the messages of this iconic lecture:
10 Additional Inspirational Speeches from the Past Century:
While the five iconic speeches we just examined are sure to supply you with a hefty dose of inspiration, there are just far too many great speeches to mention those five alone. While we will only briefly touch base on the following ten inspirational addresses, which were all given in the past century, we have supplied you with relevant links to information about the speakers and the speeches themselves.
1.) J.K Rowling – The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination: In 2008, the celebrated author of the widely successful Harry Potter book series, J.K. Rowling, delivered what is now considered one of the most inspirational graduation commencement speeches to have ever been given. In her address The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination, which took place at Harvard University, Rowling brings to light the struggle of hardships, the power of imagination, and the importance of finding true happiness.
2.) Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream: During a time of intense racism, hatred and national unrest, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became the beloved voice of African-Americans in the United States seeking equality and nondiscriminatory civil rights. Undeniably, King Jr. has a vast array of inspirational addresses to his name, yet none may match his infamous 1963 I Have a Dream speech.
3.) Steve Jobs – How to Live Before You Die: There are few orators of the 21st century who have garnered the public speaking reputation as that of the late great Apple CEO Steve Jobs. While the majority of his famed speeches illuminated innovative Apple products about to hit the market, Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford University is filled with inspirational advice on connecting the dots, love, loss and death.
4.) Nelson Mandela -I am Prepared to Die: Two years after being imprisoned in 1962, the immortalized South African civil rights activist and future president Nelson Mandela delivered his infamous I Am Prepared to Die speech to open the defense’s case in the historic Rivonia Trial. In his roughly three hour address, Mandela displays the natural conviction and passion that made him a once in a generation orator.
5.) Nick Vujicic – No Arms, No Legs, No Worries: A common characteristic of many of the world’s most inspiring individuals is that they use their own unfortunate circumstances to fuel their motivational ways. Nick Vujicic, being one such individual, has used his rare condition of tetra-amelia syndrome, which is characterized by the absence of arms and legs, to show how happiness isn’t dependent on outer circumstances or appearance. In his now celebrated inspirational speech No Arms, No Legs, No Worries, which he gives regularly, Vujicic talks about important messages of acceptance, determination and contentment.
6.) Oprah Winfrey – Failure is Just Movement: Oprah Winfrey has spent her entire professional career spreading messages of inspiration and hope. While much of her work is dedicated to expunging insights in interviews with a diversified group of experts, she undeniably has an ample amount of wisdom in her own right. In her 2013 Harvard University Commencement Speech, Winfrey illuminates this wisdom while focusing on topics such as failure and the keys to happiness.
7.) Winston Churchill – Never Give In: Two years after the start of World War II, in 1941, the now immortalized British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered one of his most riveting speeches at the school he attended as a child. While many of Churchill’s addresses will forever live on in infamy, his speech Never Give In, which illuminates what true resilience is all about, is considered by many to be his finest moment as an orator.
8.) Matthieu Richard – The Habit of Happiness: Matthieu Ricard is a revered French Buddhist monk and author who gave up a budding scientific career at just the age of 26 to fully dedicated himself to Buddhist spiritual practices. In his 2007 Ted Talks titled The Habit of Happiness, Ricard tells us how each of us can increase our levels of daily joy by transformationally training and programming our minds.
9.) Malala Yousafzai – Worldwide Access To Education: On July 12th, 2013, the United Nations welcomed Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Laureate in history, to speak and honored her by declaring the given day, her birthday, as Malala Day. While Malala was 16 years old at the time of her Worldwide Access to Education speech, she had spent her early life fighting for young girls’ educational rights in the face of Taliban militants who were aggressively trying to keep her quite. In fact, not even being attacked, shot in the head, and almost killed in 2012 could stop the young Pakistani girl from passionately speaking about the right to education for all.
10.) John F. Kennedy – Inauguration Address: John F. Kennedy will forever be remembered for being one of the most polished-speaking United States Presidents at his inaugural address in 1961, when Kennedy became the youngest president in U.S. history, he flashed the oratory brilliance that made him beloved to the American people. During his speech, Kennedy famously challenged citizens to ask not what the country can do for them, but what they can do for the country.
Hopefully, it is now apparent to see how each of us has the opportunity to use the words of history’s great orators to add value to our own lives and give us a boost when we are in need of some inspiration. While we have examined 15 of history’s truly iconic speeches, it is certain that we are missing numerous addresses that are worthy of mention. For that reason, please feel free to supply your fellow readers with information about other iconic inspirational speeches in the comments section below.