JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, reminded students that it is OK to fail sometimes. Image: Andrew Montgomery

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, reminded students that it is OK to fail sometimes.
Image: Andrew Montgomery / Wall to Wall Media Ltd.

Some people learn by stumbling through life, making mistakes here and there and acquiring knowledge along the way. Others live more cautiously, allowing others’ advice, warnings, and experiences to guide them. Most live through a combination of both, absorbing lessons from a variety of sources.

Most new and soon-to-be college graduates will receive an overwhelming amount of advice as they near graduation. Not all of it will be sound, but some of it will—especially if it’s coming from an incredibly successful person.

Steve Jobs' speech told students to "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." Image: TIME

Steve Jobs’ speech told students to “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
Image: Marco Grob / TIME

Graduates of prominent schools like Harvard and Stanford often get to look forward to some of the world’s most successful businesspeople and speakers. Let’s take a look at some of the advice students have gotten from these leaders over the years:

–       Henry Kravis, KKR CEO and co-founder: “Graduation is not a destination. It is a stepping stone in a life-long learning process. This knowledge-based world will always present you with an unexpected stream of new challenges and circumstances. We cannot predict them. We cannot name them. The Black Swan appears and our habits are toppled. Be prepared for change and learn from it. Listen. Broaden your horizons. Try to learn another language. Explore other fields of knowledge, other cultures. Ask questions. There are no stupid questions.”

–       Steve Jobs, Apple CEO: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition… Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Ellen Degeneres Tulane Commencement

Ellen Degeneres urged grads to stay true to themselves.
Image: Tulane Public Relations via Flickr CC

–       Ellen Degeneres, comedian & host of “The Ellen Show”: “The definition of success changes. Success is to live your life with integrity and not give in to peer pressure to be something you’re not. Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path; unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, then by all means, you should follow that.”

–       JK Rowling, author: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.”

–       Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO: “As you lead in this new world, you will not be able to rely on who you are or the degree you hold.  You’ll have to rely on what you know.  Your strength will not come from your place on some org chart, but from building trust and earning respect.  You’re going to need talent, skill, and imagination and vision.  But more than anything else, you’re going to need the ability to communicate authentically, to speak so that you inspire the people around you and to listen so that you continue to learn each and every day on the job.”

Want to know more about the inspiring business leaders above? Check out our full profiles on Henry Kravis and Sheryl Sandberg.