Life-Changing Advice From "Nerds" Who Made It Big

Happy graduation, class of 2015! Here's a little inspirational oomph to guide you on your next journey. Scroll through to watch famous commencement speeches given by influential science, tech, and geek pop culture leaders, including Steve Jobs, Marissa Mayer, and the Neils (Gaiman and deGrasse Tyson). Source: Getty / Justin Sullivan

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Bill and Melinda Gates

Embrace your inner nerd, but do it with empathy. This was the message the Microsoft founder and his wife, Melinda, cofounder of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, had for Stanford's newest graduating class. Bill and Melinda proved that they were the cutest power couple ever when they both donned geek glasses in front of the class of 2014.

But their silly prop had serious meaning: change the world with optimism and empathy (making an app like Snapchat, which has Stanford alum founders, probably doesn't count).

"In the course of your lives, without any plan on your part, you'll come to see suffering that will break your heart. When it happens," Melinda said, "don't turn away from it. Turn toward it. That is the moment when change is born."

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Neil Gaiman

The science-fiction writer tells the 2012 graduating class at the University of the Arts how he stayed true to his goal of writing stories he was interested in while supporting himself with a life in the arts.

"Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do . . . Make good art."

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Randy Pausch

Acclaimed computer science professor and the writer of The Last Lecture spoke to 2008 Carnegie Mellon grads about his battle with terminal cancer and the importance of living life fully:

"We don't beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living well and living fully, for the reaper will come for all of us. The question is: What do we do between the time we're born and the time he shows up?"

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Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook's COO spoke to Barnard College in 2011 about the importance of women feeling empowered in the workforce and gave some foreshadowing to her future book, Lean In:

"I hope that you — yes, you — each and every one of you have the ambition to run the world, because this world needs you to run it. Women all around the world are counting on you. I’m counting on you. I know that's a big challenge and responsibility, a really daunting task, but you can do it. You can do it if you lean in. So go home tonight and ask yourselves, 'What would I do if I weren't afraid?' And then go do it."

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Marissa Mayer

The Yahoo CEO and youngest woman to ever be included on Fortune's list of most powerful women in the world shared her advice on the power of collaboration and information to Illinois Institute of Technology in 2009:

"Be an information fountain . . . Power comes through sharing information. Tell everyone everything. The more valuable the better. Sharing leads to connections, connections lead to collaboration, collaboration leads to creativity and innovation. Creativity and innovation are what change the world."

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Bill Gates

The founder of Microsoft spoke to 2007 Harvard grads about the importance of using education to reduce poverty:

"I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences. But humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity, reducing inequity is the highest human achievement."

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J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter author spoke to Harvard graduates in 2008 about emerging from failure:

"Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. . . . The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned."

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Neil deGrasse Tyson

The astrophysicist spoke to the University of Alabama in Huntsville in Fall of 2010 about NASA's decline and to encourage the future of science in the country:

"NASA shapes the culture in which we live. It shapes the vision statement for the country you want to be. It shaped the vision statement for the country we once were. That's difficult for me to even utter that phrase, 'We once were.' I see that we're fading on the world's stage . . . and I don't know any community that has great power to try to resolve that than what's going on right here."

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Steve Jobs

The Apple legend discussed the importance of following your passion when he spoke to graduates at Stanford University in 2005:

"For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."