From P. Diddy to Biden to Tiger Woods' ex, celebrities open up to college grads

Jonathan Ernst / Today
Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs received an honorary doctorate in humanities from Howard University, where he delivered the May 10 commencement speech.

Ah, college graduation season: That time of year when famous celebrities and politicians don caps and gowns to dispense pearls of wisdom to thousands of college graduates across the country.

This year’s commencement season has mainly drawn attention for a string of high-profile speakers who backed out of ceremonies under a cloud of controversy. Among the notable cancellations: Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both of whom withdrew in the wake of student protests.

Those headlines have partially deflected attention away from dozens of other speakers whose words have already inspired newly minted grads — and the dozens more who will do so over the next several weeks. Here are some highlights:

Sean 'Puff Daddy' Combs
Howard University gave an honorary doctorate to its former student, Sean “Puff Daddy/Puffy/P. Diddy” Combs, who also was the school's commencement speaker.

Combs left college before getting his degree, a decision he said he questioned many times at board room meetings he attended early in his music career.

“If I didn’t leave school early, I would have been more prepared,” he told Howard's Class of 2014 on May 10.

Combs described a dark period in his life when, as many of his friends graduated from Howard, he got fired from a job just weeks away from becoming a father.

“One day, you’re going to be sitting in the dark like I was, thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ In that moment, I want you to remember the power in you,” he told the crowd.

“Nobody is going to take you to the front of the line — you need to push to the front of the line,” he said.

Elin Nordegren 
Real-life experience helped Elin Nordegren earn the "outstanding graduating senior" award bestowed upon her by Rollins College, where she graduated with a psychology degree and a 3.96 grade point average.  

Handout / Today
Elin Nordegren, the ex-wife of Tiger Woods, poses after receiving the Outstanding Graduating Senior Award for the Class of 2014 during her May 10 graduation from Rollins College.

In a rare public appearance, the ex-wife of Tiger Woods teed off about her former husband during a commencement address without ever mentioning the golf legend's name. Instead, she joked about how far she has come since the fall of 2005, when she first enrolled in the Winter Park, Fla., school.

“I was 25 years old. I had just recently moved to America. I was married without children,” Nordegren told her fellow graduates. “Today, nine years later, I’m a proud American, and I have two beautiful children — but I’m no longer married.”

Nordegren divorced Woods after learning in 2009 about his series of adulterous affairs. She reportedly received more than $100 million in the settlement and, years later, she can laugh about that tumultuous time.

“It was right after I had taken communication and the media. I was unexpectedly thrust into the media limelight,” she said.

“And I probably should have taken more notes in that class.”

Rick Mastracchio
The commencement speech given by NASA spaceman Rick Mastracchio to University of Connecticut graduates was far out. Literally.

The astronaut spoke to the university's School of Engineering grads while floating, at times upside down, inside the International Space Station, 360 miles above Earth.

“I was trying to figure out how to make this speech different than all the other commencement addresses that are given each year,” Mastracchio said. “And then I realized, I’m in a weightless environment. So maybe I should give the speech in a different orientation.”

Mastracchio said he probably has “the best job on, and off, the planet.” But he also spoke about the perseverance he needed to land that job: He sent in applications for nine years before finally getting accepted into the nation’s elite space program.

“I wasn’t just sending in an application and crossing my fingers. I was working on things to improve my chances,” said Matracchio, whose May 10 speech lcame just days before he returned to Earth, ending his six-month mission aboard the Space Station.

At night, he took classes to earn a second master’s degree. On weekends, he worked toward getting his pilot’s license.

“You become an astronaut the same way you accomplish any goal — through hard work and perseverance,” he told the graduates. “Everyone has goals, dreams and wishes, but not everybody wants to do the daily work it takes to reach their goals.”

POOL / Today
U.S. astronaut Rick Mastracchio delivered a speech to University of Connecticut engineering graduates.

Upcoming celebrity speeches
The weeks ahead will include commencement addresses by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, to graduates of Bard College on May 25, and Oprah Winfrey to Harvard University grads on May 30. Bill and Melinda Gates will speak at Stanford's commencement ceremony on June 15.

Coming up this weekend on May 17, fashion designer Tory Burch is scheduled to address Babson College, while Bill Nye the Science Guy is slated to speak to graduates of University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

President Barack Obama also will deliver a commencement address, speaking to Morehouse College's class of 2014 on Saturday. Just a week earlier, both the vice president and first lady gave graduation speeches of their own.

Joe Biden spoke at the University of South Carolina, warning students, “do not listen to the cynics” who doubt their potential.



First lady Michelle Obama, meanwhile, urged graduates of Dillard University to stay hungry for education, even after graduation, because it will inspire the “next generation of geniuses.”

Jonathan Bachman / Today
First lady Michelle Obama delivers the commencement address to graduates of Dillard University in New Orleans on May 10.

"Imagine the impact you will make," she said. "You have no excuses to stand on the sidelines. Education is still the key to real and lasting freedom. It's up to us to cultivate that hunger for education in those coming after us."

Follow writer Eun Kyung Kim on Google+ or on Twitter.