From Ryan Gosling to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the most thought-provoking speeches of 2017

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award winner
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award winner
Image: TEDxEuston
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In a year like this one, it’s easy to associate memorable speeches with memorable politics. And it’s true that 2017 included Donald Trump rallying his base in Phoenix, senator Jeff Flake exhorting supporters to put country over political party, and congressman John Lewis telling students to turn society upside down.

But this isn’t that list. What follows are some of the best personal and thought-provoking speeches of the year, which could easily have been lost in all the noise.

Best shoutout to a significant other

Like every actor ever, Ryan Gosling thanked his wife when he won a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy film. But his was much more than the pro-forma “I couldn’t have done it without you” spiel. Not only is Gosling’s speech eloquent and lovely, it reminds us, as Quartz’s Jenni Avins put it, “how hard it is to be a woman—even if you’re married to Ryan Gosling.”

Best speech by a US Supreme Court justice

Speaking at Stanford University, Sonia Sotomayor talked about how books helped her through difficult moments in her life. The Q&A was wide-ranging, and you can watch all of it here. Our favorite part is a compelling argument for the power of education:

Best life advice for graduates

In a speech filled with useful rules to live by, Shikha Sharma, CEO of India’s Axis bank, lectured graduates at her alma mater, the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. This excerpt sets the tone: “Every time you decide to take the harder, but more principled path, you add one more brick to the foundation of your character.”

Here’s the full speech:

Best speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an incredibly engaging speaker, known for her powerful critiques of structural inequality. Adichie’s TedX talk on why we should all be feminists is worth watching for its clear articulation of how patriarchy oppresses us all. She also offers solutions that are relevant for both boys and girls.

Best pre-conference CEO performance

Jack Ma is the billionaire cofounder of Alibaba, the e-commerce giant often called China’s Amazon. It’s hard to imagine him needing to do anything to impress people, and yet Ma kicked off his company’s annual gala with this Michael Jackson-inspired dance performance:

Best Bollywood star on the value of women

Indian megastar Priyanka Chopra made the case that women deserve the same opportunities as men in a heartfelt speech at Variety’s Power of Women. “Feminism is just saying give me opportunities without judging me for the decisions that I make, the same freedom that men have enjoyed for so many centuries.”

Best takedown of social media by a former social media exec

This hourlong interview with Chamath Palihapitiya went viral for the former Facebook exec’s dark assessment of social media. It’s also worth watching for Palihapitiya’s very candid (and delightfully profane) views on venture capital, the corrupting power of wealth, and becoming ultra-rich in order to improve the world.

Most candid answer at a political press conference

It’s rare for a pro-forma press conference by two national leaders to yield a viral video. But that’s what happened when Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, made the case that African countries must be less dependent on foreign aid. He spoke alongside visiting French president Emmanuel Macron.

Best speech on the imagined homes of immigrants 

Kazuo Ishiguro won this year’s Nobel prize in literature. This very personal speech chronicles his creative process, and how his experience as an immigrant shaped his work. As Quartz’s Thu-Huong Ha writes, “Even people whose families have stayed in the same country for generations can find resonance in the idea of an imagined home, the seemingly futile attempt to reconstruct lost childhood, that can sometimes result in deeply ingrained memories that are as vivid as reality—despite their fictions.”