10 Steps For Writing An Unforgettable Graduation Speech

  • Pick A Theme
  • Begin With Gratitude
  • Motivational Quotes
  • Get Personal
  • Add Your Personality
  • Avoid Cliches
  • Create A Call To Action

School is almost out, but for many students, there’s one more major task to complete before summer: graduation. Whether you’re graduating from high school or earning a college degree, a graduation ceremony is a huge milestone. And, if you’ve been asked to speak at graduation, you might be feeling the pressure right now.

Graduation speeches of all kinds date back to at least the 1600s, and though a lot has changed since then, these kinds of speeches still contain similar key elements that help make them effective, inspiring, and something every graduating student and their loved ones look forward to.

Public speaking can be nerve-racking in any setting, particularly when you know the audience is filled with people’s cousins and grandparents who are likely to remember this day forever, but fear not! We’re here to help with these 10 key steps to follow to write and deliver a truly unforgettable graduation speech.

1. Pick a theme.

If you want the audience to feel moved and inspired by your speech (Who doesn’t, right?), then it helps to build your speech around a central theme or message. Think about what’s important to you as the speaker and what you’d like others to take away from your words. Once you have a theme, it will be easier to select the quotes and anecdotes that tie back to that central idea and create a speech that leaves your audience in awe.

🎓 Here are some popular themes to consider:

  • Embracing failure.
  • Overcoming adversity.
  • The importance of having big dreams.
  • Facing change with grace.
  • Taking responsibility for your future.
  • Learning from past mistakes.
  • The importance of friendship.
  • Becoming a lifelong learner.

2. Begin with gratitude.

When you step up to the mic on graduation day, you’ll need to begin with a few formalities. First, thank the previous speakers, as well as everyone in attendance. Then, express your feelings about the privilege of being asked to address the audience on this momentous occasion. Go ahead and write this part down so you don’t forget to do it on the big day. Here are some examples:

Thank you, [name of previous speaker], and thank you, friends, family, faculty, and fellow graduates for being here today. It’s an honor to celebrate this milestone with you as your valedictorian.

Thank you, [name of previous speaker]. Graduates, loved ones, and distinguished faculty members, it is an honor to be here with you today. I’m so grateful to [name of school or university] for the privilege of being your [type of speaker].

3. Use a motivational quote.

The greatest commencement speeches typically include a motivational quote, whether it’s from a famous person, a beloved teacher, or something your grandfather taught you. The right motivational quote will tie into your theme and serve as a thesis statement for the message you hope the audience will take from your words. Consider these celebrity quotes from other powerful commencement speeches:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” — Steve Jobs , Stanford University, 2005

“You must lead. You’re never too young to lead. You’re never too old to lead. We need your leadership now more than ever before.” — John Lewis , Harvard, 2018

“The day you graduate, you do not arrive. This is not the end. This is the beginning for you. To graduate is to change gradually.” — Rita Moreno , Northeastern Illinois University, 2015

“Ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future.” — Jessica Lange , Sarah Lawrence College, 2008

“You are full of complexities and wonders that haven’t even begun to surface. Life’s unpredictability will draw these out and what defines you now will be mere shades and hues of a more vibrant you over the next five, 10, 50 years. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more liberating than that, knowing that life will look differently than you think it will.” — Octavia Spencer , Kent State University, 2017

4. Get personal.

When Conan O’Brien delivered the commencement speech at Dartmouth University in 2011, he talked about being fired from his dream job and what that failure taught him. Some lauded it as one of the best graduation speeches of all time.

Sharing personal anecdotes, even ones that mention failures or humiliations, is a powerful way to connect with your audience and drive your message home in a personal way. When writing your speech, draw on your experiences as a student and be clear about how those experiences shaped and prepared you for what lies ahead.

Learn how to a sensational graduation card here.

5. Infuse your personality.

Graduation speeches may follow a formula, but that doesn’t mean they need to be boring! Use your personal sense of humor, unique story, and life experiences to give the speech character and charm. What does this look like in action?

In 2016, author John Green brought levity to his commencement speech when shared with the graduating class at Kenyon College that the best life advice he ever got was, “You’re a good kid, but you need to learn when to stop talking.”

At the University of Virginia in 2016, late night host Stephen Colbert joked that people should leave their cell phones on because “I wouldn’t want you to miss a text or a tweet while I’m giving my speech.”

You may not be a famous comedian or author, but being uniquely yourself can help your speech shine.

6. Reflect, then look ahead.

You and the rest of your graduating class are sharing a major life milestone, and you’ve all worked hard to get to this point. What has life been like during your years in school? What experiences have you shared, and how have those shaped you as people moving forward into the next phase of your life?

In your speech, include real-life examples of the things you’ve faced in your time as students. Put those events in context in your life, and remind your audience that you have all learned so much more than just what was on the course syllabi.

7. Avoid clichés

The tricky part of writing a graduation speech is being inspiring without resorting to clichés. If you use personal anecdotes and weave personality into your speech, it’s unlikely that you’ll fall back on tired, overused statements. But, sometimes they still sneak in. If that’s the case, try to swap them out with a fresher take.

Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of talking about the “real world” as a future destination, talk about how you already live there and you’re ready for whatever life throws at you.
  • Instead of defining a typical graduation word (like courage or future ), talk about the words that come to mind when you think about school and what they mean to you.
  • Instead of talking about what you’re “leaving behind,” talk about what lessons and people you’re taking with you.

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8. Create a call to action.

Graduation speeches serve two important purposes: celebrating everything that came before graduation day and building excitement for everything that will come after it. The easiest way to leave people inspired is to include a call to action. This doesn’t mean providing strict instructions for some task they must complete. Think of it more as broad instructions for how to meet the challenges ahead.

Your call to action should restate the theme of your speech and give the audience a clear takeaway message to carry with them. Need some examples? We have a few:

“Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is.” — Gloria Steinem , Tufts University, 1987

“Let excellence be your brand.” — Oprah Winfrey , Spelman College, 2012

“Fight for the job you want, fight for the people who mean the most to you and fight for the kind of world you want to live in.” — Elizabeth Warren , Suffolk University, 2016

9. Keep it brief.

While you surely have a lot of great things to say, no one wants to sit through a 12-page speech. Graduation ceremonies are already long, and the audience is usually asked to listen to multiple speeches. Keep this in mind, and say what you’d like to say in the briefest way possible. Aim for a speech that falls between 500 and 750 words, and time yourself to make sure you don’t exceed 10 minutes during delivery.

10. Practice, practice, practice.

The only way to ensure your speech flows, makes sense, and holds people’s attention is to practice reading it out loud. Practice by yourself in front of a mirror, being careful to notice and edit any places where you trip over words or have awkward pauses. Once you’ve perfected the solo read-aloud, ask a parent or friend to serve as an audience. This will help you test out your jokes and polish your anecdotes based on their reactions. By graduation day, you’ll be ready to take to the stage like a pro.

Need more inspiration? These graduation quotes should do the trick.

write a commencement speech

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How to Write a Graduation Speech (Graduation Speech Examples)


Have you been asked to deliver a commencement speech? Or have you worked your butt off to become valedictorian or salutatorian, and now you have to deliver a graduation speech? In this post, we will cover one of the more challenging types of presentation creation: How to Write a Graduation Speech . (By the way, I have also included a few popular graduation speech examples as a guide for you.)

This post is a continuation of our How to Create a Presentation series. We are going to break this post down into three parts, though. We will show you how to create a commencement speech in this post. Next week, I’ll show you how to write a valedictorian speech and how to deliver a salutatorian speech. Each of these graduation speeches has a slightly different purpose, but all of them need to be inspirational and funny.

How to Write a Commencement Speech

The commencement speech is often the keynote speech of the graduation ceremony. This presentation should be uplifting and entertaining, but this graduation speech should also teach a life lesson to the graduating students. If you do a search on YouTube of the best graduation speeches, many of these speakers will be famous comedians. When a comedian delivers a commencement speech, and the speech is posted on YouTube, it will always get a ton of views. The humor alone will make people want to watch the video. Three of the most popular of these speeches are by Conan O’Brien, Will Ferrell, and Ellen DeGeneres. The interesting thing about the speeches from these famous comedians is that, yes, they are funny, but the inspiration comes from what they learned from their failures.

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life life trying to push you in another direction.” Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University Commencement Speech

A Good Structure When You Write a Commencement Address

Thank the crowd.


Start with Something Funny

How Humor helps your speech

Be Inspirational

The inspirational part of your commencement speech will come from the theme of the graduation speech . (For Sample Graduation Speech Themes , see the section below.) The easiest way to develop a theme is to look for an inspirational famous quote about success. You can do this by just going to Google and type in “success quotes”. Once you come up with a great quote, you can either paraphrase the quote and make it your own or quote the original speaker.

Inspire others with your speech

Tell Stories from Your Own Experience Related to Your Quote (Theme).

This the most important part of how to write a graduation speech. The stories and examples are what the audience will remember. These stories add emotion and inspiration to your graduation speech. They also help you build rapport with the audience. Finally, these stories make your delivery much easier. You don’t have to memorize a lot of material. Instead, just play the video in your head of what happened and describe the incident to the graduates.

For a great example of this, watch the YouTube video on Stanford University’s channel where Steve Jobs gives the commencement speech. I love this speech, because Jobs skips the introduction and the funny stuff and starts his speech with the following. “I’m going to tell you three stories.” It’s simple, and the crowd loves him.

End with an Inspirational Call to Action.

How to end a graduation speech

So as you go on to the next stage in your life and you experience failure… because you will experience failure, use that as a stepping stone to your next success. Persevere. Don’t rest on that success. Use it as a stepping stone to your next success. Persevere, and you will experience a series of successes and failures that will allow you to accomplish something great!”

Use this outline to create a simple 20 to 30 minute speech. (The shorter the better… No one gets a diploma until you finish.)

Sample Graduation Speech Themes

Inspiration comes from failure

If you are having trouble coming up with a theme for your graduation speech, here are a few Sample Commencement Speech Themes. As you read through them, think about which them or quote has been most applicable in your career? Once you choose a graduation speech them, use the outline above to create your speech.

  • Hard Work Leads to Success
“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” — Coleman Cox
  • Create Your Own Path.
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” — Herman Melville
  • Make Things Happen.
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” — Henry David Thoreau
  • Don’t Settle for Average. Strive for Greatness.
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” –John D. Rockefeller
  • Don’t Wait for the Perfect Opportunity. Look for a Way to Create Your Own Opportunity.
“Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.” — Chris Grosser/blockquote> The Road Ahead is Hard, But It Leads to Success. “Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.” — Jim Rohn
  • Focus on Your Dream.
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” — Bruce Lee
  • Learn from Every Mistake to Move Toward Success.
“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” — Conrad Hilton
  • When Your Why is Big Enough, Your How Will Appear.
“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” — Jim Rohn
  • Happiness is the Key to Success.
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” — Albert Schweitzer

Use the Speech Creator as a Guide to How to Create a Graduation Speech

Once you have chosen a them, and you have a few stories to inspire your audience, use our Online Speech Writer to help you organize your thoughts. (It’s free.)

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Anatomy Of A Great Commencement Speech

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write a commencement speech

Right now, roughly 7 million students in the U.S. (plus their parents) are sitting through commencement speeches. iStockphoto hide caption

Right now, roughly 7 million students in the U.S. (plus their parents) are sitting through commencement speeches.

It's that time again — graduation season. And that means next week or last week or right this very minute, some 7 million students in the U.S. and lots of doting parents have to sit through a commencement speech.

If you're stuck listening to a particularly bad one — or just need an inspiration infusion — the NPR Ed Team has sifted through hundreds of past speeches (going all the way back to 1774) and built an online database of the very best.

In the process of building this massive hub of hope and optimism, we noticed a few patterns among the best speeches.

Rule #1: Be Funny

Comedian Amy Poehler's 2011 address to Harvard grads is a model of inspirational fun, forcing us to coin a new term: "Funspirational." Actually, a quick Google search suggests we've come late to the "funspirational" party. Oh, well. We do our best — as did Poehler when she kicked off her Harvard speech with this zinger:

"I can only assume I am here today because of my subtle and layered work in a timeless classic entitled Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. "

Funny? Check. Poehler also manages to cover Rule #2.

Rule #2: Make Fun Of Yourself

This rule applies to presidents as well as to comedians. When then-President Ronald Reagan addressed Notre Dame grads in 1981, he used this masterful bit of self-deprecation:

"I thought the first degree I was given was honorary."

We say "masterful" because he's head of the free world. He can't meet the Poehler bar for self-mockery: utter humiliation. It wouldn't be proper. So he finds this crafty little jab to poke fun at himself. And the crowd loved it. In fact, the line was such a hit that Reagan used it again the next year on the Eureka College class of '82.

write a commencement speech

Comedian and actress Amy Poehler addresses Harvard University's graduating class of 2011 on the school's campus, in Cambridge, Mass. Steven Senne/AP hide caption

Comedian and actress Amy Poehler addresses Harvard University's graduating class of 2011 on the school's campus, in Cambridge, Mass.

Rule #3: Downplay The Genre

See, good speakers can never seem to remember the speeches when they graduated:

"Among the many things that I am unable to remember about the speaker that spring morning: name, gender, age, race, physical build and voice. I've run out of fingers."

That's novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, speaking last year at Middlebury College. He, like Poehler, checks two boxes at once: He downplays the genre, and he's funny about it.

But let's get to the heart of the commencement speech:

Rule #4: You Must Have A Message

And here's where things get tricky — because these days there are two very different kinds of speeches. On one side is the traditional message:

"You have to trust in something," Steve Jobs told graduates at Stanford in 2005. "Your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path."

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres said much the same thing to grads at Tulane in 2009 (while also crushing Rule #1 on her head like a beer can):

"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."

Let's call this the "You're Special" speech. Message: Follow your heart because life is about you and yourspecialness .

Then comes this insidious other kind of speech:

"You're not special."

So said English teacher David McCullough Jr. — son of the great historian — addressing the Wellesley High School class of 2012. He then elaborated:

"Even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion, that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you," he told the crowd.

The goal of the "You're Not Special" speech is to say to grads: As hard as you've worked, you also lucked into plenty, including your parents and your country.

The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever

The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever

"And with luck comes obligation," author Michael Lewis told the Princeton class of 2012. "You owe a debt, and not just to your gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky."

Not quite the message grads are used to hearing as they take a victory lap. Besides, they're in debt enough. But how do they repay this debt, to Lewis' unlucky?

"You must find a way to serve."

That's Oprah Winfrey's advice, speaking at Spelman College a few weeks before Lewis. Side note: 2012 was a big year for the "You're Not Special" speech.

"Martin Luther King said that not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service," Winfrey told the Spelman grads.

Service. That word comes up a lot in "You're Not Special" speeches. But, sometimes, the message isn't even about what you do for the world but how you view it. In short: Are you empathetic? Are you kind?

In 2005, writer David Foster Wallace spoke at Kenyon College. And, in a speech that went viral long ago and seems to find a fresh audience online every year, he challenged grads to step outside of themselves, to imagine the value and richness of every life — even when they're stuck in line at the supermarket.

"It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred — on fire with the same force that lit the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down," Wallace said.

Torn by this fight for the soul of the commencement speech? Never fear. Oddly enough, these two kinds of speeches — as different as they seem — complement each other. Taken together, they say:

Congratulations. You are special. Just remember ...

So is everyone else.

Speech Writing

Graduation Speech

Barbara P

Crafting the Perfect Graduation Speech: A Guide with Examples

10 min read

Published on: Mar 12, 2020

Last updated on: Nov 7, 2023

Graduation Speech

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Have you ever stood at the threshold of a new journey, feeling a mix of excitement and uncertainty? 

Well, if you're a soon-to-be graduate, that's probably exactly how you're feeling right now.

The big day is coming, and you're wondering, 'How will I write my speech? Can I ask for speech writing help?

Don’t worry!

In this blog, we're going to tell you how to write a graduation speech for students. Get ready to discover the secrets of crafting a graduation speech that not only captures your audience's attention but also leaves a profound impact on your fellow graduates.

Let's transform that uncertainty into inspiration and confidence as we delve into the art of delivering a speech that will make your graduation day truly unforgettable.

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What is a Graduation Speech?

A graduation speech is the heart of your big day, bringing together all your experiences and achievements. 

It's more than just talking – it's a way to inspire and celebrate. It's not just a tradition. This type of speech is a chance to share what you've learned and dream about the future.

Your graduation speech should include everyone – your friends, the tough times you all faced, and the good times you shared. 

Elements of Graduation Speech

Creating a memorable graduation speech involves several key elements that can help you connect with your audience and make a lasting impression. 

Here are the crucial elements you should consider:

All these elements make a strong and memorable speech and help make your graduation successful.

How to Write a Graduation Speech?

Writing an inspirational graduation speech that stands out isn't as daunting as it may seem. 

With a structured approach and a dash of creativity, you can deliver the best special occasion speech that leaves a lasting impact on your audience. 

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to start a graduation speech and create an inspiring address:

Begin with a Memorable Opening 

Start with an attention-grabbing quote, a personal anecdote, or a thought-provoking question. 

This sets the tone for your speech and captures your audience's interest right from the beginning.

Express Gratitude 

Show appreciation to your teachers, parents, and fellow students. 

Express how their support and contributions have been instrumental in your academic journey. This sets a positive and grateful tone for your speech.

Reflect on Meaningful Moments 

Share personal stories and school experiences that have had a significant impact on your life and the lives of your classmates. 

Use these anecdotes to connect with your audience emotionally.

Offer Words of Inspiration 

Provide words of inspiration and motivation. Encourage your fellow graduates to embrace the future with confidence and courage.

Use stories or quotes to illustrate your points.

Share Practical Advice 

Share life lessons and any advice you've learned during your academic journey. 

Offer insights related to pursuing goals, overcoming challenges, and maintaining a positive outlook on life.

Emphasize Unity and Shared Experiences 

Highlight the importance of unity and the bonds formed with your classmates. 

Emphasize the strength of collective experiences and friendships that have been a significant part of your school life.

Discuss Hopes and Dreams 

Talk about your hopes and dreams for the future, both for yourself and your fellow graduates. Paint a vivid picture of the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

End with an Inspiring Conclusion 

Conclude your speech with a memorable message that resonates with your audience. 

Leave them with a lasting impression or a call to action that inspires them to take on the future with enthusiasm.

Graduation Speeches From Notable Figures 

Notable figures, from celebrities to accomplished professionals, often deliver inspiring graduation speeches, sharing their wisdom, experiences, and advice with the graduates. 

In this section, we explore some remarkable graduation speeches that have left a lasting impact on audiences worldwide.

Taylor Swift Graduation Speech 

Taylor Swift, the renowned singer-songwriter, delivered an inspiring graduation speech that emphasized embracing change and authenticity. 

Her words have motivated graduates worldwide, making her speech a source of valuable life lessons.

“The times I was told no or wasn’t included, wasn’t chosen, didn’t win, didn’t make the cut…looking back, it really feels like those moments were as important, if not more crucial, than the moments I was told ‘yes.’ …” 

Watch complete graduation speech here: 

Rory Gilmore Graduation Speech 

Rory Gilmore, a beloved fictional character from the TV series "Gilmore Girls," delivered a heartwarming graduation speech that celebrated the value of hard work, ambition, and the pursuit of dreams. 

Her speech remains an iconic moment in the series and a testament to the power of perseverance and ambition.

Watch her graduation speech here:

Ree Drummond - Oklahoma State University 

Ree Drummond, known as "The Pioneer Woman," shared her insights and wisdom in a graduation speech delivered in 2022. 

Her address offers a unique perspective on life, success, and the pursuit of dreams, making it a valuable resource for graduates seeking inspiration and guidance as they set out on their own paths.

Listen to the complete speech in this video:

Steve Jobs - 2005 

Steve Jobs' iconic 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University delivered invaluable life lessons and inspiration. 

His words continue to resonate with graduates and individuals worldwide, offering timeless guidance on pursuing one's passions and creating a meaningful life.

Check out his complete speech in this video: 

Graduation Speech Examples for Students 

Looking for inspiration for your own graduation speech? Here is a short graduation speech:

Read some more diverse graduation speech samples to spark your creativity:

Graduation Speech for Kindergarten - Example

Short Graduation Speech

Graduation Speech for Kids

Graduation Speech For Primary 6

8th Grade Graduation Speech

High School Graduation Speech

Explore a collection of inspiring graduation speeches, each offering a unique perspective on this momentous occasion.

Graduation Speech by Students - Example

Graduation Speech for Parents - Example

Graduation Speech by Teacher - Example

Graduation Speech by Principal- Example

Graduation Speech Thanking Teachers

Graduation Speech Ideas - 2023

Here are some interesting and fun graduation speech ideas.

  • Talk about a current school event.
  • Try something new like poetry or metaphors to make your speech interesting.
  • Tell a story about your class, for example, ‘what was the driving force of the class of 2021?’
  • Use quotes from famous and classic books.
  • Use lyrics from the class anthem.
  • Be inspirational and share an inspirational story.
  • Share a humorous experience.
  • Convey a memorable message.
  • If appropriate, add a song with meaning.
  • Appreciate a fellow classmate or a teacher.
  • Connect your speech with your 1st day at school.
  • Significant events that took place in the school.
  • A professor that made you fall in love with a major subject.
  • The long time you spent in the school library and how it impacted your interactions with other students.
  • Tell me about who inspired you the most in your life.

Graduation Speech Writing Tips 

Crafting a memorable graduation speech can be a rewarding yet challenging task. Here are some essential tips to help you write an impactful and engaging speech for your big day:

  • Know Your Audience: Understanding your audience is crucial to tailor your speech effectively.
  • Start Strong: An attention-grabbing beginning sets the tone for your speech.
  • Tell Personal Stories: Personal anecdotes and experiences create a meaningful connection.
  • Inspire and Motivate: Your speech should encourage confidence about the future.
  • Share Practical Advice: Offering practical life advice adds value to your speech.
  • Embrace Humor: Appropriately used humor can engage your audience.
  • Be Concise: Keeping your speech at an appropriate length is essential to maintain interest.
  • Practice and Rehearse: Preparation ensures confidence in your delivery.
  • End on a High Note: A memorable conclusion leaves a lasting impression.

As you take that first step forward, congratulations on your graduation, and we wish you the best of luck in whatever comes next. We hope this graduation speech guide has given you some pointers for what to say in your speech.

If you need further help, you can avail of our assistance and get your speech before the big day.

At MyPerfectWords.com , one of the best " write my essay services ", we help new graduates make their day memorable by delivering quality speeches.

Buy speech from us and get ready to shine.

Barbara P (Literature, Marketing)

Dr. Barbara is a highly experienced writer and author who holds a Ph.D. degree in public health from an Ivy League school. She has worked in the medical field for many years, conducting extensive research on various health topics. Her writing has been featured in several top-tier publications.

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This writer analyzed 100 graduation speeches — here are the 4 tips they all share

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write a commencement speech

Steve Jobs has been credited over the years with popularizing any number of other people’s inventions, from the personal computer to the tablet to the mobile phone. But none of these gifts may be as enduring as one of his rarely credited contributions to contemporary life — popularizing the viral commencement address.

On June 12, 2005, Jobs stood before the graduating class of Stanford University and reminded them that he had never graduated from college. “Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation.” He then told three stories about his life. “That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.”

That speech , coinciding as it did with the rise of internet virality (the first TED Talk would be posted on TED.com exactly 12 months later; the iPhone was introduced exactly 12 months after that), launched a global obsession with pithy, inspirational talks. Jobs’s speech has since been viewed more than 40 million times on YouTube.

Graduation speeches, long viewed as the burdensome interruption before diplomas were granted and mortar boards were tossed, have since become big business. Kurt Vonnegut, Ann Patchett, Carl Hiaasen, J.K. Rowling, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace and many others have all had their commencement speeches published as books.

I’ve been fortunate to give a handful of commencement addresses over the years, and I confess to a fascination with the genre. The internet has been a boon this hobby. There are thousands of commencement speeches on the web. Can we learn anything from their messages?

I’ve spent the last few years gathering and coding hundreds of life stories, looking for patterns and takeaways that could help all of us live with more meaning, purpose and joy. I decided to put some of my coding tools to work, analyzing 100 of the most popular recent commencement speeches.

Here are the four tips they all contain:

1. Dream big

“I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. There are so few people this crazy that I feel like I know them all by first name. They all travel as if they are pack dogs and stick to each other like glue. The best people want to work the big challenges.” — Larry Page at University of Michigan , 2009

“We don’t beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living well and living fully. For the reaper is always going to come for all of us. The question is: What do we do between the time we are born, and the time he shows up? Because when he shows up, it’s too late to do all the things that you’re always gonna, kinda get around to.” — Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University , 2009

“Graduates, we need you. We need you to run companies and make decisions about who has access to capital. We need you to serve at the highest levels of government and determine our country’s standing in the world. We need you to work in our hospitals and in our courtrooms and in our schools. We need you to shape the future of technology. We need you because your perspective — the sum total of your intellect and your lived experience — will make our country stronger.” — Kamala Harris at Tennessee State University , 2022

2. Work hard

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” — Steve Jobs at Stanford University , 2005

“I just directed my first film. I was completely unprepared, but my own ignorance to my own limitations looked like confidence and got me into the director’s chair. Once there, I had to figure it all out, and my belief that I could handle these things, contrary to all evidence of my ability to do so was half the battle. The other half was very hard work. The experience was the deepest and most meaningful one of my career.” — Natalie Portman at Harvard University , 2015

“When you’re doing the work you’re meant to do, it feels right and every day is a bonus, regardless of what you’re getting paid … But make it your life’s work to remake the world because there is nothing more beautiful or more worthwhile than working to leave something better for humanity.” — Oprah Winfrey at Stanford University , 2008

3. Make mistakes

”Fail big. That’s right. Fail big … It’s a new world out there, and it’s a mean world out there, and you only live once. So do what you feel passionate about. Take chances, professionally. Don’t be afraid to fail. There’s an old IQ test with nine dots, and you had to draw five lines with a pencil within these nine dots without lifting the pencil, and the only way to do it was to go outside the box. So don’t be afraid to go outside the box.” — Denzel Washington at University of Pennsylvania , 2011

“The world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.” — Aaron Sorkin at Syracuse University , 2013

“My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best thing in my life. Being embarrassed when you mess up is part of the human experience of getting back up dusting yourself off and seeing who still wants to hang out with you afterward and laugh about it. That’s a gift. The times I was told no or wasn’t included wasn’t chosen, didn’t win, didn’t make the cut, looking back it really feels like those moments we’re as important if not more crucial than the moments I was told yes.” — Taylor Swift at NYU , 2022

“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” — Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth College , 2011

“Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.” — Will Ferrell at the University of Southern California , 2017

“So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.” — George Saunders at Syracuse University , 2013

So what can we learn from these themes?

Every era in American life has its own standards of what it means to be a success. Shortly after America’s founding, success was all about character. Led by Benjamin Franklin, Americans embraced virtue, industry, and frugality. In the twentieth century, success was all about personality. Led by Dale Carnegie, Americans embraced salesmanship, reinvention and charisma. Today, led by Steve Jobs, Americans are embracing meaning, authenticity and bliss. Or, as Kermit the Frog put it in a 1996 commencement speech at Southampton College , “May success and a smile always be yours … even when you’re knee-deep in the sticky muck of life.”

Dream, work, fail and smile are as good a foursome of American identity today as I know. And if those ideas don’t inspire you, you can always embrace the far more practical advice erroneously attributed to Kurt Vonnegut in a commencement speech that he never gave at MIT, but was instead delivered by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich in an imaginary speech to graduates she published in an old-fashioned newspaper, “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.”

This post was adapted from one published on his newsletter The Nonlinear Life; go here to subscribe.

Watch his TEDxIEMadrid Talk now:

About the author

Bruce Feiler is the author of seven New York Times bestsellers, including The Secrets of Happy Families and Council of Dads, both of which became the subject of TED Talks. His latest book, Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, from which this post and TEDx Talk are adapted, describes his journey across America, collecting hundreds of life stories, exploring how we can navigate life’s growing number of transitions with more meaning, purpose and joy. To learn more, visit brucefeiler.com, follow him on Twitter (@brucefeiler), or sign up for his newsletter The Nonlinear Life. 

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How to Write the Best Commencement Speech – Tips & Examples

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Amanda Green was born in a small town in the west of Scotland, where everyone knows everyone. I joined the Toastmasters 15 years ago, and I served in nearly every office in the club since then. I love helping others gain confidence and skills they can apply in every day life.

So, the school principal announced that you’d graduate as the class valedictorian. She also asked you to prepare a commencement speech to send off your classmates with wisdom.

Your commencement speech makes up a substantial part of the graduation ceremony, so you have to make it worth your audience’s while. Here’s a complete guide on how to write a commencement speech with examples.

The Purpose of a Commencement Speech

write a commencement speech

The purpose of a high school or college commencement speech is to celebrate past experiences from the school and look forward to the future. This is usually given by a graduate. But in some schools, celebrities, politicians, and other notable people also give commencement speeches at graduations.

Like any other speech, a commencement speech also includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. But the body should discuss the following:

  • Past memories at school
  • The present (graduation ceremony)
  • Future dreams and plans

How to Give a Good Commencement Speech

Here are some senior speech ideas and tips to prepare you for graduation.

Pick a Theme

To make your graduation speech more significant to your fellow graduates, try building it around a central message or theme. What do you think is essential to your classmates? Here are some examples.

  • Embracing failures in life
  • Following your dreams and working for them
  • Education is the key to success
  • Learning from your mistakes
  • Keeping your friendship
  • Lifelong learning
  • The importance of having big dreams
  • Building a community dedicated to wisdom
  • Overcoming adversity
  • Facing change with grace
  • Taking responsibility for your future
  • Staying grateful

Once you have picked a theme, it will be easier to outline your address. It’s also more convenient to select the best quotes and stories associated with the idea.

Can We Write Your Speech?

Get your audience blown away with help from a professional speechwriter. Free proofreading and copy-editing included.

For example, share stories about your hardships in school if you’re talking about overcoming adversity. Then, research quotes that talk about not giving up.

Start By Thanking Everyone

Learning how to start a commencement speech is essential to catch the audience’s attention. Before sharing life goals, life advice, and your favorite story, begin by thanking the people for their time.

Show appreciation to the graduation class for making it to the end of their high school or college experience. Thank the parents and teachers for their support and everyone for being present at the commencement ceremony.

Another nice thing to do is publicly thank a specific person. Think about a person who helped you at school. Below is an example.

“Thank you, Mr. Smith, for that wonderful speech, and thanks to all the parents, teachers, classmates, and everyone in this room for attending the 56th commencement ceremonies of St. Jude High School. But most of all, I would like to thank my mom for being present today and in every important event of my life.”

Don’t Make It All About You

Valedictorians are usually tasked to give commencement speeches because they represent the whole class. If you’re the valedictorian, congratulations on being on top. But that doesn’t mean you’ll speak only about yourself onstage.

No one wants to hear about why you made it to the podium and the rest of your classmates didn’t. Remember that you represent them. So, you have to speak about them, too.

Talk about your incredible peers and other notable people in high school or college. Share their personal experiences if they allow you. But you can still include personal stories and observations from high school. Balance is key! Consider this example.

“Today, Regis High School has produced another batch of successful graduates. You are the Class of 2022. You finished high school at a historical time. You are born educated in technology… born to be problem solvers… and born to change the world.”

Introduce Yourself

Being the class valedictorian doesn’t mean everyone in the room will instantly know you. For instance, some of your classmates’ parents might not be familiar with your face. You might also need to introduce yourself to VIPs and special guests at the event.

Your self-introduction doesn’t have to be complicated. State your name and why you were chosen to give the speech. For example:

“Good afternoon, everyone. I am Reena Guerrero, Class 2022’s valedictorian.”

Watch Famous Speeches

You can learn a lot from watching famous commencement speeches on YouTube or listening to them on different applications.

Also, consider watching other types of insightful speeches so you can receive guidance on speech writing. Or watch a hilarious speech so you can take inspiration from their jokes.

But make sure to refrain from copying even a single sentence of the speech. Otherwise, you can get accused of plagiarism. Live your life with integrity and understand that your educational experience differs from the speaker you’re watching.

Reflect on the Past

Make your graduation speech memorable by looking back on your favorite memories with the incredible student body. Consider fun memories like your prom, homecoming, and other parties. But make sure these stories are relevant to your theme.

For example, if you have a primary message about courage, talk about classmates who never gave up on a group project. Share a story about a school organization that stood up to bullying.

Recognize your strong friend for continuing his studies despite challenges. This is also the right time to thank a special teacher for being a compassionate person.

After taking a trip down memory lane, it’s time to focus on the future. Imagine your classmates’ next career step and everyone’s professional life after school. Don’t leave them sad about the past. Make them excited about their future. Below is an example.

“North Salem High School was a rollercoaster of experiences. We went through so much during the last four years. We often debated trivial situations, such as basketball games and prom dresses. But despite the fighting, we’ve always known we had each other’s backs. No one leaves the class until everyone understands the lesson. No one also gets left behind in terms of all the fun!”

Use a Motivational Quote

Your graduation speech is an opportunity to insert your favorite quotes. Make sure they still align with your key messages.

Famous Quotes from Business Leaders and Other Public Figures

write a commencement speech

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” – Fred DeVito “The future rewards those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.” – Barack Obama “If you want to be the best, you have to do things other people aren’t willing to do.” – Michael Phelps “Keep your face toward the sunshine and shadows will always fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Arleen Lorrance

Hilarious Quotes for College Students

“I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just going to ask them where they’re goin’, and hook up with them later.” – Mitch Hedberg “The best advice I can give anybody about going out into the world is this: Don’t do it. I have been out there. It is a mess.” – Russell Baker “The main difference for you, between life yesterday and life tomorrow, is you can go to the bathroom whenever you want. It’s a pretty big responsibility, but you’ve earned it.” – Eugene Mirman “Life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next, and you are mostly just making things up as you go along.” – Stephen Colbert “So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave as they would.” – Neil Gaiman

Create a Call to Action

One of the best graduation speech ideas during the graduation ceremony is to motivate your classmates to chase the real dream. For example, convince those attending medical school to heal poor communities. If you have classmates pursuing liberal arts education, ask them to uplift marginalized sectors, such as immigrant communities.

Inspire Your Fellow Graduates

While the school’s already out, you still have a huge task to finish: your commencement speech. Writing one for your graduation ceremony is both an honor and a responsibility, so make sure to prepare in advance.

Public speaking can be challenging. But I hope these tips and examples help you write the best commencement speech.

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How to Write a Graduation Speech

Last Updated: July 24, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by Patrick Muñoz . Patrick is an internationally recognized Voice & Speech Coach, focusing on public speaking, vocal power, accent and dialects, accent reduction, voiceover, acting and speech therapy. He has worked with clients such as Penelope Cruz, Eva Longoria, and Roselyn Sanchez. He was voted LA's Favorite Voice and Dialect Coach by BACKSTAGE, is the voice and speech coach for Disney and Turner Classic Movies, and is a member of Voice and Speech Trainers Association. There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 40,611 times.

If you are giving a graduation speech you should take your time to write a speech with your specific audience in mind that conveys a message you care about and that shows your personality! Making a worthwhile speech takes time researching, writing, editing and rehearsing, but if you put in the right effort your work will pay off and make your graduation all the more memorable. Above all, care about what you say. For example, David Foster Wallace deeply believed that school should not teach you what to think. He thought that school should teach you the freedom to decide how to think, and he gave an inspirational speech to Kenyon College in 2007 that is still being written about and talk about today. [1] X Research source

Considering the Practical Things

Step 1 Ask about the details of the program.

  • It is often important that you thank certain individuals in your speech. This may mean the dean and special faculty, for example, so ask about how to address these individuals, including how to say their names.

Step 2 Write a speech that appeals to everyone in your audience.

  • For example, David Foster Wallace's speech he chose to talk about not getting involved in the rat race but deciding to ignore the pressure of the world that tells you you must make lots of money and buy lots of things. Even though this speech is for the students, anyone can relate to the rat race and high expectations from the world to succeed to make lots of money just to spend it all.
  • Write down a list of the different groups of students you might want to consider: honors students, athletes, students who know what they are doing after graduation, students who do not know what they are doing, etc. Make sure in your speech that you aren't assuming that all the students in attendance are attending college, if that is note the case.
  • You don’t have to make your speech generic or overly general because you are writing for to a wide audience. Pick a universal theme, and you can consider adding parts to your speech that will speak to the different groups, if you like. If your theme is broad enough, like overcoming adversity through perseverance, you don't need to worry about making it appeal to different audiences. Everyone can relate to overcoming hard times.
  • Make sure that your vocabulary is varied and diverse. Try not to alienate anyone in your audience. For example, if you use the word ¨benevolent" to describe your teacher, as in ¨Mr. Garcia was such a benevolent teacher¨, you can follow it up with a description that will show the meaning of the word, ¨he was always so good to us, he let us play card games in his classroom at lunch¨. [2] X Research source

Step 3 Ask about how long your speech should be.

  • If your speech is for a smaller audience or for a less formal affair, you may want to ask about how long the past graduation speeches have gone. Perhaps the speech should be shorter, around five minutes or less.
  • Remember, too, that your speech may feel a lot longer or shorter than it actually is. If you want communicate effectively, try slowing down your speech. This might mean you will have less time to say what you want to say.

Step 4 Find out if there are other rules for graduation speeches.

  • Some schools may ask you to send your graduation speech to someone who will read it first to make sure it is well developed and/or appropriate for the graduation ceremony. Additionally, you may have to practice your speech with one of the staff before the ceremony.

Step 5 Ask about the speeches that went over well in the past.

  • For example, perhaps they dedicated a lot of time and effort as a class when they decorated a float that won a prize in a parade. You could consider incorporating that piece of information into your speech, like ¨It took me a lot of persistence and grit to get through that final term paper. However, it wasn't nearly as much work, or as much fun, as decorating that float with this class the night before the parade.¨
  • Do not feel compelled to replicate that speech. You can, however, use that information to help you decide what you should write about based on your own life, values and experiences.

Step 6 Give yourself plenty of time to write, edit and rehearse your speech.

  • Start working at least two to three weeks before you have to give your speech.
  • Rehearse your speech in the place where you plan on giving it, if possible. Being familiar with the surroundings should dampen any unease or nerves.

Deciding What to Talk About

Step 1 Brainstorm before you get started writing your speech.

  • Once you have ideas from talking to your friends or family or thinking about what you want to say start writing down experiences that match those ideas.
  • For example, if you were driving toward the theme that David Foster Wallace used of learning how to think instead of what to think. You might have brainstorm about a time that you decided to learn how to knit to make all of your friends and family gifts for Christmas instead of buying them gifts. Talk about how much your grandmother loved the scarf you made her and how that ended up bonding you two together. When you think back to why you care so much about making gifts instead of buying them you realize that you want to question the pressure that is put on you to spend a lot of money to buy everyone Christmas presents. That is your theme.

Step 2 Decide on a message for your speech.

  • For example, you may want to talk about how giving your time to volunteer work will end up making you a happier and healthier person.
  • Write out your most important life experiences and lessons learned, and decide what a main take away from those stories/lessons could be. For example, after working at the soup kitchen every weekend during my senior year, I learned life lessons from people I never expected to learn from. Homeless people who I saw freely give others some of their prized possessions ended up teaching me how to give freely.
  • Some examples of common themes in graduation speeches are: believing in/liking yourself, taking risks/putting yourself out there, failing is necessary for success, giving back helps you as an individual, being persistent pays off, being okay with not being perfect, overcoming adversity, good friendships save, and there are different paths to take through life/there is no one right answer. [7] X Research source
  • Giving thanks and congratulations is another style of graduation speech you can choose to write. In these graduation speeches individuals talk about all that they have come through as a class to get to graduation. They also might take more time to talk about and thank the individuals who helped them along the way.
  • These speeches tend to be less focused on giving advice and the individual giving the speech and more focused on the group as a whole. Listed here is a wikiHow article on writing a graduation thank you speech. [8] X Research source

Step 3 Read and watch really good graduation speeches to get ideas for your graduation speech.

  • See if you can pick out a few main themes in the graduation speech, usually it will not be very difficult to find because it will be repeated several times. Writing those down will help you see how they craft their speech around those ideas.
  • For example, you could take note that David Foster Wallace uses a simple metaphor to get across his main idea. He uses the metaphor of a fish being aware that he is in water as compared to a person who realizes that he is in a society that influences us to think and act. This metaphor shows us how important it is to be aware of the obvious realities of being in society that others might miss. It also how shows us how isolating it can be to be aware.
  • Likewise, think about using a similar convention, for example, a short joke or a metaphor that illustrates your main point.

Step 4 Choose a speech structure that will help you communicate your message.

  • In the first speech structure, you highlight a few, typically one to four, main take-aways, or themes. You show address those ideas through personal anecdotes or nonfiction stories to impart some wisdom to the graduating class. The people who choose this structure generally feel that they have simple, yet important wisdom that might help the graduates succeed in life. For example, Steve Jobs used this structure and told just three stories about his life. The first story he told was about how he “connected the dots” in his life. [10] X Research source
  • In the second structure, make a list of five to ten tips that you have acquired that you give as advice to the graduating class. If you had trouble honing in on one to three themes or take-aways, this might be a good option for you. You can highlight important things that are both big and small in this kind of speech. For example, an admiral gave a speech about the ten essential life tips he learned from the Navy that including tips to both make your bed, and never, ever give up. [11] X Research source
  • In the third, you tell a condensed version of your life story. Go for this option if you feel like you have a very powerful personal story that illustrates some important ideas about how to be successful or how to overcome adversity. You don’t have to start with the beginning of your life, instead talk about the important things that have made you who you are. For example, music producer Jimmy Iovine used this structure and started his speech by talking about a rebuke John Landau gave him. Jon said, ¨this is not about you¨, and that advise gave Jimmy the courage to keep working when his ego was fed up. [12] X Research source
  • In the last speech structure, you develop one main idea as an argument and use observations from life, your personal history, etc., to support this main idea. This option is good if you are really passionate about conveying one central idea to your audience that you are entirely convinced needs to be heard by everyone. This is perhaps the most difficult speech to write because it is much like writing an argument; your ideas need to be logical and well organized. For example, David Foster Wallace follows this structure. He makes a claim that the real value of education isn’t learning what to think but gaining the freedom to choose how to think. He stays with this theme and develops his ideas like an argument. [13] X Research source

Step 5 Show your personality in your speech.

  • You can use humor to convey your personality. For example, Sumner Redstone, giving a speech to DeVry University, starts his speech with some self-deprecating humor that points out that people won't enjoy sitting through his speech. Redstone says that he is glad to go first in the program, and he quotes Mark Twain who recommends swallowing a frog at the start of the day to get the worst thing out of the way. Here Redstone makes himself the toad to make his audience laugh.

Step 6 Don’t give a speech about something unless you really believe in it.

  • Being passionate about what you are talking about will show in your delivery, as long as you practice. Speeches involve much more than the words you say, and oftentimes much more can be said through the emotions you convey when you deliver your speech. Think about all of the ways you can put emotion into a simple phrase like ¨I would die for you." A lot of meaning balances on the way you say those words.
  • Practice putting emotion into your speech to give it meaning. Rehearse what you will say in front of a mirror several times to see how you look, and don't be afraid to use gestures.

Step 7 Consider the enthusiastic mood of the occasion.

  • Because everyone has gone through a lot to get to this point, you may want to take a minute to genuinely congratulate them on their accomplishments.

Step 8 Avoid cliches.

  • You should avoid these cliches because they have been overused, and the people in your audience will most likely not be inspired by these topics. [15] X Research source
  • Do not confuse universal themes for cliches. Some of the best, most powerful speeches have very simple messages. For example, giving back helps you grow as an individual. Even though this theme that has been explored before and will be explored again, the theme still rings true and bears repeating.

Going Through the Steps in the Speech Making Process

Step 1 Organize and develop your writing into an introduction, body and conclusion.

  • After your speech you want people to be able to easily remember what you talked about so they can discuss what you said.

Step 3 Have someone else edit your speech and give you feedback.

  • Send the same person your revisions each time you make a major edit.

Step 4 Practice your speech out loud in front of others.

  • Make sure to practice your pacing, and slow down if you have a tendency to read quickly through your speech. Use a timer when you practice giving your speech in front a mirror or your family/friends.
  • Practice enough times so that you have the things you want to say internalized. This means that when you go into autopilot mode in front of an audience you will be more likely to remember because of your muscle memory. [20] X Research source
  • If you get stuck, look at someone you trust in the audience and breath deeply for a couple of seconds to calm yourself down while you try to collect your thoughts.

Expert Q&A

Patrick Muñoz

  • Practice out loud until you have internalized the essential parts of your speech. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Remember to write a speech that will speak to everyone in your audience. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Find someone who knows about writing or speech making to help you edit your speech. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0

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  • ↑ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-mcguinness/david-foster-wallaces-bri_b_3239411.html
  • ↑ http://blog.oup.com/2015/05/how-to-write-graduation-speech/
  • ↑ http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/how-to-write-a-graduation-speech.htm
  • ↑ Patrick Muñoz. Voice & Speech Coach. Expert Interview. 12 November 2019.
  • ↑ http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/brainstorming/
  • ↑ https://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Graduation-Thank-You-Speech
  • ↑ http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0014-jobs.htm
  • ↑ http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0149-Admiral-McRaven-Best-Commencement-Speeches-2014.htm
  • ↑ http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0140-Jimmy-Iovine-Commencement-Speech-at-University-of-Southern-California-2013.htm
  • ↑ http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0015-wallace.htm
  • ↑ http://www.jostens.com/grad/grad_cp_hs_grad_guide_graduation_speech.html

About this article

Patrick Muñoz

To write a graduation speech, choose a structure that will help to communicate your message. For example, you could highlight a few main themes through personal anecdotes or nonfiction stories. Alternatively, you could make a list of 5 to 10 tips that you want to advise the graduating class about. If you have an interesting or powerful personal story, you can use it to illustrate important ideas, such as overcoming adversity or becoming successful. To learn how to show your personality in your speech, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology

  • By Edwin Battistella
  • May 10 th 2015

It’s graduation time at many of the nation’s schools and colleges. The commencement ceremony is a great exhalation for all involved and an annual rite of passage celebrating academic achievements. Commencement ceremonies typically feature a visiting dignitary who offers a few thousand inspirational words.

Over the years, I’ve heard more of these speeches than I care to admit and have made my own checklist of suggestions for speakers. For those of you giving commencement speeches or listening to them, here’s my advice:

1. Be just funny enough

The best speakers are knowingly wry and a bit self-deprecating. Here’s Michael Bloomberg, opening his 2014 Harvard Commencement address, with a typical opening:

I’m excited to be here, not only to address the distinguished graduates and alumni at Harvard University’s 363rd commencement but to stand in the exact spot where Oprah stood last year. OMG.

Compare that with President Kennedy, speaking at Yale in 1962, who invoked the Cambridge-New Haven rivalry to tease his hosts a bit:

Let me begin by expressing my appreciation for the very deep honor that you have conferred upon me. As General de Gaulle occasionally acknowledges America to be the daughter of Europe, so I am pleased to come to Yale, the daughter of Harvard. It might be said now that I have the best of both worlds, a Harvard education and a Yale degree.

Then again, presidents can get away with that sort of thing, but most speakers can’t.

2. Be like Shakespeare


Keep the diversity of your audience in mind. You are speaking to students, but the students are not all the same.  There are honor students—summa, magna, and cum laude–as well as those who are still sweating out a few grades. You are also speaking to families and to the university faculty.  Shakespeare had that same problem—needing to address those in the Lord’s room, the galleries, and the ground pit. He solved it by repeating himself, expressing ideas in both the Latinate phrases and in plain Anglo-Saxon, as when he combined unfamiliar words like incarnadine with familiar ones like red .

Here is Ellen DeGeneres, giving the commencement speech at Tulane in 2009. Talking about the honorary degree she is receiving, she plays with the languages of her audience:

I thought that you had to be a famous alumnus – alumini – aluminum – alumis – you had to graduate from this school.

She speaks to both the people who are not quite sure of the singular of alumni , and to those who are.

3. Think about bite-sized ideas

Your speech is likely to come up as a topic of discussion later in the day at lunch or dinner, if only to deflect attention from other topics like job interviews and loan repayment. What will the different audiences take away from your speech? What will students say when Grandma asks, “So what did you think of the speaker?”

As you develop your theme, try to have a memorable, quotable line for each segment of your audience—the grads, the families, and the faculty. And remember that your audience can’t rewind your speech or mark it with a yellow highlighter, so be sure to illustrate your easily-recognizable theme with smaller, easily-digestable examples.

Neil de Grasse Tyson did this in his 2012 speech at Western New England University.  His theme was the prevalence of fuzzy thinking and the desire for choices rather than fresh thought. He touched on the theme repeatedly, with examples ranging from a lunch date with his sister, to a spelling bee, to a job interview, throwing in an allusion to Plato (for the faculty) and ending up with the point that thinking is painful hard work. Journalist Sharyn Alfonsi also did it in her commencement address to the journalism school at Ole Miss in 2013, as she talked about work and perseverance, and illustrated those values through her own career’s challenges, including job applications, tough days, and bad bosses. Choose examples that everyone can relate to and can talk about over lunch.

4. Avoid the “Real World” and other clichés

Be careful when using clichés in your speech. Tempting as it may be to tell the graduates that they are about to enter the “Real World” (where you have thrived), you should avoid that. Savvy students will see you as out of touch, since many of them have been working all along and are often managing any number of real life issues.

You may want to avoid talking about the value of their education as well. They know the value. That’s why they went to college. (It’s the cost they are worried about.)

And don’t tell them they are going to die. What if someone had just died on campus? Steve Jobs could get away with talking about death at Stanford in 2005 (“And yet death is the destination we all share”), but he had cheated death at the time.

On a rare occasion, though, you can subvert the clichés. Jon Stewart, speaking at William and Mary in 2004, presents the so-called “Real World” this way:

Let’s talk about the “Real World” for a moment… I don’t really know to put this, so I’ll be blunt: we broke it… But here’s the good news: you fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people.


David Foster Wallace took the liberal arts cliché by the horns in his 2005 speech at Kenyon College, telling the audience:

So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think.”

Wallace then used that to suggest a new perspective—that education is about choosing what to think about.

And screenwriter Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, tricked up the death theme at Wesleyan in 2013, opening with a reference to the horror genre and the live-life-to-the-fullest cliché:

What I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die.

5. Keep it short

Unless you are a national leader using the speech to announce a major policy, you won’t need more than 20 minutes, tops. Twelve minutes would be even better. The average speaker reads about 120 words a minute, so that’s about 1,400-2,400 words or 9-15 pages (double spaced, 16 point font). Sitting in the sun, the students, families, and faculty will all appreciate brevity.

Here is Poet Laureate Billy Collins speaking at Colorado College in 2008:

I am going to speak for 13 minutes. I think you deserve to know that this will be a finite experience. It is well-known in the world of public speaking that there is no pleasure you can give an audience that compares to the pleasure they get when it is over, so you can look forward to experiencing that pleasure 13 minutes from now.

One of the most memorable commencement addresses at my institution was given by a retired speech professor, Leon Mulling. It was just one-minute long, consisted entirely of verbs (Go. Do. Create. Laugh. Love. Live . ) and received thunderous applause.

6. Above all: relax and enjoy yourself

To do well as a commencement speaker, you need gentle humor, Shakespearean universal accessibility, something memorable for each audience, both a theme and relatable examples, an awareness of clichés, and brevity. And if it makes you nervous to think that college graduates, families, faculty, and even YouTube will be scoring your speech, remember—there’ll be another commencement speaker up on the stage next year.

Image Credit: “Graduation Day” by Md saad andalib. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr .

Edwin L. Battistella teaches linguistics and writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he has served as a dean and as interim provost. He is the author of Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology  (OUP, 2014),  Do You Make These Mistakes in English? (OUP, 2009), Bad Language (OUP, 2005), and The Logic of Markedness (OUP, 1996).


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Recent Comments

Very good advice and a fun article to read. My graduation speaker 45 years ago was the president of an African country and he spoke about something relating to Africa. It was memorable. The “it” was the weather that afternoon. It was hot and humid and the gowns were an extra layer on top of regular clothes. Oh, the campus political environment was also memorable. I wore an “equal” sign stenciled on a white cloth armband, urging equal admissions of men and women; the university was concerned that admitting more women would reduce long term importance of the college (useless nonworking women) plus eventual lower alumni donations. Oh, yes, and there was Carling Black Label beer at the reception afterward, chosen because it was donated by an alumnus. My father attended. My girlfriend’s parents were there, watching her graduate, and they had some suspicions about us, but thought we were being really careful. Yeah, that was pretty much it.

I loved it thanks

Really good

I will be a commencement speaker this spring at a Pennsylvania university and I thought your article was a great start for me as I prepare. Thanks!

Comments are closed.

The Write Practice

How to Write a Memorable Graduation Speech

by Sue Weems | 0 comments

If you're lucky enough to be asked to speak at a commencement ceremony, at any level, you know the pressure of writing a memorable speech with broad appeal that fits within the time constraints. But how to write a graduation speech that doesn't bore, drag, or flop? Here's a secret: use your storytelling skills to write a great graduation speech.

write a commencement speech

As a teacher, I have probably heard close to a hundred commencement speeches—those five to twenty minute addresses full of life lessons, inspirational quotes and if we're lucky, funny stories. But more often than not, they fall pieced together clichés and motivational quotes. Forgettable.

The secret to writing a memorable graduation speech? Storytelling. Today let's look at how to use storytelling to write a memorable graduation speech.

A Speech to Remember

Out of all those school graduation speeches I've heard, I can honestly say I only remember one or two. One in particular always leaps to my mind.

A few years ago, a high school senior who had been selected by his peers as a graduation speaker told a story about playing a game with a childhood friend—a game where they pretended to be construction workers. A game they called “builders.”

He recounted their exploits in the sand box: moving dirt, building small stick structures, and working together to make something new. We laughed at his vivid imagery, each remembering our own toy trucks and shovels and play. 

He shifted from that childhood game to the class memories they had built together as students through the years, continuing to develop the theme of building a life.

And then he revealed that his childhood friend—his fellow builder—should have been sitting with their graduating class that day. He'd died in an accident a year before. The speaker closed with a challenge to his fellow students to remember their peer and to be builders—people who create things that outlast them.

The entire stadium went wild as the student graduation speech ended. I couldn't stop the tears flowing down my cheeks. When I saw the student speaker later, I thanked him for his speech, for sharing his love for his friend, for his story that struck such a hopeful note. 

It reminded me that human experience is best related not in quippy inspirational quotes strung together, but in stories. If you're asked to be a commencement speaker, here are a few storytelling principles that will help you write a great graduation speech. 

5 Steps to Write a Memorable Graduation Speech

1. consider the occasion and audience.

A speech for an elementary promotion ceremony has a much different focus and audience than one for a post-graduate ceremony. Just like when you write a story, take time to think about the target audience. 

Who are they? What are they celebrating? How can you meet their expectations for the day and commemorate them in a special way?

When my student gave his speech about his builder friend, he knew he was speaking to his peers, but he had an awareness that their families and teachers were also present. 

2. Choose a story

Here's where most speeches go wrong: they don't ground the remarks in a story. Sure, a lot of speeches rely on favorite quotes, but those are easily forgettable. Stories are how the human brain makes sense of the world; we're hardwired to remember stories.

Dig into your personal experiences, school memories, or other life experience. Usually, you want a true story, a personal story for this kind of speech.  

How do you choose?

When I help students with speeches or any kind of personal narrative writing, I always ask them to make a list of moments where they made a choice that changed their lives for better or worse. 

If you can't think of one, consider a time you watched first-hand as someone else made a significant choice and what it taught you. 

A story depends on a goal and a tough choice (remember dilemma ?)—that's what creates the significance. But you'll also want to choose a story that will emotionally connect with the audience. 

What story can you tell using vivid images that left you changed or taught you something valuable that would resonate with this audience? That's the story to choose.

3. Build a structure and tell the story

Once you know the story you want to tell, use what you know about premise to structure and tell the story first and then build out the rest of the speech around it. 

A premise outlines a character with a goal who meets conflict and has to act until they reach a crisis point and must make a tough decision creating a resolution. 

The length of the story will depend on the time constraints, but you won't be able to delve deeply into backstory or give a prologue. You're going to have to set the scene quickly and get the story in motion. 

An example: I once gave a speech to a group of students (and their families) who were being honored for their resilience and hard work. Most had found themselves  with failing grades and low confidence at one point in the year, but with their hard work and the help of their families and teachers, they had turned it around.  I told the story of a time my daughter was in middle school taking a challenging math class. We would sit at the kitchen table while she insisted she couldn't do the work, it was too hard, etc. It went on for a couple weeks, and we were both so frustrated. I realized I had a choice: I needed to remind her that this was her challenge and that SHE had a couple of different routes (or choices) to solve it.  She could drop the class. She could spend all year crying at the table, slogging through the work and pass it somehow. Or, she could remember that anytime something is new, it's hard, and she could do her best, knowing it would get easier with time—just like riding her bike.

Once I had told the story, I connected it to their experience. I congratulated them on learning so early that they could do far more than they first believed and that hard work and practice makes new tasks easier.

At the end, I told them I hoped they would remember this moment of recognition the next time they thought something was hard. 

Once you know the story you want to tell your audience, build a simple intro to connect it to their experience. After the story, draw out the insight and connect to the event (in this case, their graduation). 

4. Lean into theme

The student who gave the memorable builder speech I shared above leaned into a key theme : building something that lasts. It was the point of his story and he used it as an illustration across different ages to show how the childhood lessons they learned had staying power.

You can choose a common theme , but know that your story will make the application unique. Also, don't feel like you have to state the theme over and over. If the story and insight are strong, stating the theme once might be enough. 

5. Revise to get clear and concise

To revise a speech, I look at two things: the time it takes to deliver and the clarity of the story. I always try to err on the side of speaking for LESS time than I am allotted. This gives space in the speech for audience reaction. 

I typically write speeches out in short chunks of text, and I go through and group them:

  • connection or insight
  • call to action and close

Then, look at every sentence and get brutal with the cuts. Where have I spent too much time describing something? Where have I fallen into unnecessary details? Which sentences are not needed? 

I look at verbs and sentence length too, making sure that the sentences read aloud in a natural and even musical way. Try to vary sentence length and choose the most precise, coherent language. 

Run through the speech a few times aloud, noting where you have to stop and reread to revise. 

A speech doesn't have to be perfect to meet the audience where they are and show both respect for the moment and joy in the celebration. 

Writing a graduation speech that inspires and remains with the audience long after the event doesn't have to be a daunting task. Use these storytelling tips to write and deliver a great speech on that special day. 

Have you ever heard a graduation speech that stayed with you? What did the speaker say that was especially memorable? Share your best tips in the comments. 

For today's practice, write a graduation speech. It might be for a real graduation, or you could also use it as a way to develop a character for a work in progress, since their voice and backstory will be different from your own. 

Set the timer for fifteen minutes . Write the speech and then share a draft in the Pro Practice Workshop , offering feedback to a few others writers. 

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Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website .

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Frantically Speaking

Write and Deliver a Commencement Speech (With example)

Hrideep barot.

  • Public Speaking , Speech Writing

write a commencement speech

A commencement speech is one of the highlights of commencement days. It is given either by a graduating student or a notable personality , or an alumnus of the university.

Graduation day, also known as Commencement day is one of the most crucial and emotional moments in a student’s life. It is a day when everyone who played an important role in shaping their education comes together to celebrate their accomplishments and the future that stands in front of them.

The history behind why this day is called commencement day is interesting. The word commencement comes from Latin ‘inceptio ’ which means a beginning or a start. It is believed that in medieval Europe, students who entered the university as appetencies, after completing their education would commence in their professions. And hence the inception day of new graduates came to be known as Commencement Day.

Commencement speeches are given to instill hope and inspire the students towards a brighter future. A commencement speech is a type of keynote speech that is usually not too formal in nature.

Commencement speeches should ideally be 5-10 mins long . However, you are free to choose the time limit for your speech as long as it doesn’t exceed 18-20 minutes . Keeping it unnecessarily lengthy would only ruin the celebratory mood of the people present.

Things to keep in mind while writing a commencement speech.

1. length of your speech.

As discussed, keep the length of your speech in that sweet range of 5-10 minutes. And try not to exceed it beyond 18-20 minutes.

The reason why we emphasize this so much is that,

First, the audience has a limited capacity to pay attention . Second, and most importantly, the day isn’t about you and your speech only .

Students and their families and friends are gathered to celebrate and you must not forget that.

2. Understand the diversity of your audience

A group of 6 diverse individuals.

It is important to understand that your audience will be more diverse than you can think.

With people coming from different backgrounds, ethnicity, and even professions; using a simple and understandable language would be ideal.

Also, it would be advisable not to add any jokes or quotes that that has the potential to hurt anyone’s feelings.

3. Avoid quantifying success

A balance scale with some coins in it.

Success has as many definitions as the number of people on this planet. This means that what success might mean to you might be very different than what it means to someone else.

Since inspiring the students is one of the major elements of any commencement speech, it is important to never quantify success in your speech . Quantifying success would include statements like

“10 years from now, when you have so and so amount in your bank account, you’ll realize how much this institute has given to you. ”

“You will recall these days when you are sitting on the porch of your Beverly Hills house.”

4. Share a personal experience

Sharing personal experiences in a commencement speech is the best way to give the student’s a chance to relate to you.

If you have been an alumnus of the college, you can go on to describe a few experiences that are common to all, like visiting the cafeteria, attending a particular professor’s lecture, etc.

A good example here will be the commencement speech by Admiral McRaven at the University of Texas.

He begins his speech by sharing his experience of attending the commencement day when he was graduating. He says “I remember I had a throbbing headache from a party the night before.” The crowd’s reaction clearly indicated a similar festivity they might have attended.

It is also one of the most spectacular speeches. He goes on to share not only his personal experiences but the experiences of other people as well. His use of humor and command of the language is something worth noting.

However, while sharing your experience try not to make the speech about yourself.

5. Include the university slogan or mention famous alumni of the university.

Often university students relate to the university slogan which is chanted as a way to cheer for the university.

Including the slogan in your speech would show your dedication and knowledge about the university, especially if you aren’t an alum of the college.

The commencement speech given by Will Ferrell at the University of Southern California is an amazing example of this. He not only begins with university cheer but also recalls the university’s famous alum. He describes how his present self would have described himself to his younger self by saying,

“I can tell you that you will become one of the famous alumni of USC mentioned in the same arm as John Wayne, Neil Armstrong, and Rob Kardashian.”

6. Maintain an equilibrium in your speech

Commencement speeches with a balance of inspirational advice and humor hit the perfect spot in the viewer’s hearts.

Humour is that element in your speech that quite conveniently engages and entertains your audience. Using too much humor or making your commencement speech too informatic, carries the potential of annoying the audience.

The few times when heavy use of comedy in commencement speech was appreciated was when it was given by a comedian, in which case everyone expected to laugh their heart out.

Funniest commencement speeches by comedians

1. andy samberg.

If you have watched Brooklyn 99 then you are already familiar with Andy Samberg’s humor. Famous actor-comedian, Andy Samberg gave the Harvard commencement speech in 2012 and he sure did justice to his art.

One of the absolute blunders that he included in his commencement speech which later went on to famously be turned into an internet meme was,

Class of 2012, you are graduating from college. That means this is the first day of the last day of your life. No, that’s wrong. This is the last day of the first day of school. Nope, that’s worse. This is a day.

2. Ellen DeGeneres

One of the most hilarious beginnings of any commencement speech I could get my hands on was this one.

Popular talk show host, Ellen begins her commencement speech by discussing how she had no idea what commencement meant and so she introduced her own definition of the word.

“I had to break the word down myself to find out the meaning. Commencement. Common and cement. Commoncement.”

Other hilarious statements that she used in her speech were:

  • “I didn’t go to any college at all. And I’m not saying you wasted your time or money, but look at me, I’m a huge celebrity. ”
  • “By the time I was your age I really thought who I was. I had no idea. For example, when I was your age, I was dating men. So what I’m saying is that when you are older most of you will be gay. ”

3. Jimmy Kimmel

Another popular talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel took over the Keck School of Medicine with a laughter-filled commencement speech.

He chose to hit the med students hard with the brutal reality of their profession that was waiting for them.

The most hilarious statement of his speech was:

“Believe me I’m not here to depress you. If they wanted the speaker to depress you, they would’ve asked a neurologist to speak here today.”

Formatting and delivering your commencement speech

Commencement speeches have a very simple format. While there are no rules that you must compulsorily follow the pattern, it might give your speech a better structure and likeability.

Before we jump into formatting your main content comes the question,

How to start a commencement speech?

While there are no rules on how to begin your commencement speech, most people tend to start by either thanking the concerned people or by introducing themselves.

1. Thanking concerned people

It is advisable to start your speech by addressing everyone present and conveying your thanks.

You can start your commencement speech with something like “Thank you Mr.Xyz for such an amazing introduction. Thank you to the students, teachers, staff members, and parents, who made the last 4 years in this institute worth cherishing forever.”

Another statement you can use to start your speech is “ (person who introduced you) Thank you for the introduction. It is my pleasure to welcome you students, teachers, family, and friends to the commencement day today.”

2. Introduce yourself.

No matter how popular or famous you may be, there is always a thin chance that someone in the crowd might not know you. After all, it doesn’t hurt to introduce yourself.

You do not have to go into intricate details about yourself, Just a couple of lines should be enough.

You can also start with a quote, a joke, an inspirational statement, or a personal memory , Whatever suits you best.

A good example of beginning your commencement speech is the one by Taylor Swift at New York University.

She begins by sharing how the last time she was at the stadium, she was performing. And then she goes on to give her thanks to the people concerned.

The content

This is the main part of your speech. Feel free to add the points that you feel are relevant but don’t exceed the time limit.

However, it is the way in which you format all your ideas that will determine the impact your speech will leave on the audience.

Two of the many ways of structuring your content are the PPP format and the pointer format.

PPP (Past, Present, and Future)

PPP format involves structuring your speech in a manner that talks about the past first which would include sharing experiences growing up or in the institute.

Present includes talking about the present day or the year.

And future is where you instill hope and inspiration, talking about the opportunities that come with the future.

Pointer Format

Pointer format is where you clarify to the audience that you’ll be speaking on let’s say 5 or 6 points in the speech and then highlight them while speaking.

A way in which you can add this format to your speech is by saying

There are 4 main points I would like to speak about today. First , Do not compare yourself to others. Second, Life is too short to be in your comfort zone. Take calculated risks. Third , Do not forget where you come from. And lastly Be open to change, as change brings growth.

An example of this is Tim Minchin ’s commencement speech wherein he talks about 9 life lessons.

How to end your Commencement speech?

The end of your commencement speech might be more important than the rest of your speech. Because of the recency effect, people tend to remember what was spoken in the ending better.

You can end your speech with a joke, a quote, or even a restatement of the main idea of your speech.

Avoid ending your speech with a lengthy closing remark. Also, try not to end it with a mere thank you.

Ending your speech with a takeaway that inspires people and is easy to remember is something that you should try to include.

One of the most famous ending lines in a commencement speech of all time was given by Steve Jobs in his commencement speech for Stanford University.

Stay Hungry, Stay foolish.

To know more about the dos and don’ts of closing remarks, check out closing remarks for commencement speeches

Best Harvard Commencement speeches

2. bill gates (2007).

Bill Gates gave a commencement speech at the same university he dropped out of.

He begins by sharing his experience at Harvard, the dorm life, and sitting for classes he didn’t even sign up for.

One of the striking features of his speech was the takeaway. Bill Gates advises the students on how they can contribute to making the lives of less privileged people better. He asks them to use their intellect and privilege to change the lives of people, rather than quantifying their own success.

His last few lines summarise the idea.

I hope you will judge yourself not on your professional accomplishments alone but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequalities.

3. Oprah Winfrey (2013)

Oprah Winfrey ‘s commencement speech to the class of 2013 has been featured in a number of short videos on youtube. the reason?

Because of how stunningly inspirational the speech is.

Besides the humor and stories , and the idea of a brighter future ahead, Oprah reminds the students that the future doesn’t stay bright forever.

She talks about failure and how there is no failure but just guidance to change your course.

3. Mark Zuckerberg (2017)

Mark Zuckerberg , CEO of Meta gave the commencement speech to Harvard students in the year 2017.

The speech was given at a time when it was pouring and so he went on to begin his speech by addressing the situation and assuring the audience that “We’ll make it worth it.”

His sense of humor includes attacking himself when he says “Let’s face it, you have accomplished something I never could.”

However, the focal point of his speech was the idea that “Having a purpose for yourself isn’t enough.” He stressed the challenge that was in front of them, of creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.

Commencement speeches by students

1. donovon livingstone (harvard).

Donovon, a student at Harvard University made headlines with his commencement speech. The reason you ask?

His speech was unlike any other, it was spoken word poetry in the form of a speech.

Apart from the excellently written poem, the way he uses his expressions and gestures is commendable.

Another notable feature of this speech is the way he chooses to end it with an altered quote .

No! sky isn’t the limit, it is just the beginning.

Tessa Otto (Phillips High School)

Tessa Otto’s high school commencement speech has made it to this blog because of the absolutely fun way in which it was delivered.

She points out the peculiar behaviors of certain students that everyone had witnessed, which immediately made the crowd laugh.

Another interesting feature of her speech is the way in which she uses a poll while adding humor to it.

“I ask that you raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by (Student’s name) in the gym or in the classroom as a result of her dangerously competitive lifestyle.”

Best Commencement speeches for High school students

1. barack obama.

Barack Obama giving a speech.

Barack Obama ‘s commencement speech for high school students was held online as it was given in the year 2020.

We already know how great of a speaker Obama is, but the reason this speech particularly stood out was because of the way he uses the pointer format .

He offers 3 pieces of advice (or takeaways) for high school graduates

  • Don’t be afraid (Pandemic circumstances)
  • Do what you feel is right
  • Build a community

Check out the full transcript of Barack obama’s commencement speech .

2. Zander Morciz (Pine View high school)

The commencement speech by Zander Moricz is worth watching.

Zander was the first openly gay president of Pine View (class 2022). The reason his speech made news was that he used the word “Curly hair” every time he wanted to refer to “gay.”

After he was warned not to use his activism toward LGBTQ+ during his commencement speech, he euphemized “curly hair” to determine his sexual orientation.

There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View and they won’t have one… Instead, they’ll try to fix themselves so that they can exist in Florida’s humid climate

Commencement speech Example

Commencement speech sample for students.

Thank you, Mr. XYZ, for the introduction.

I am ABC, A climate activist and graduating art student of this esteemed university.

I would like to welcome all the faculty members, friends, and family of all the graduating students to this wonderful day. And to the class of 2022, I’d like to say; that we did it .

4 years have passed by in a blink. I remember sitting in the cafeteria, talking to my friends about how we couldn’t wait to graduate. Well, the day is here.

And as much as I am proud of the person I have become, all thanks to the University for the Amazing Experiences it has provided; I am equally overwhelmed with the thought of parting my way from the place where I first realized my purpose.

And this might sound heavy but we are all millennials, isn’t figuring out an answer for this question what are we doing in our free time ?

During the first climatic conference that I attended in the year 2019, I had seen it as an opportunity to get extra credits while I daydream at the conference.

Credits for dreaming, are pretty, good aren’t they?

But that is not what happened that day. As Miss QPR started her speech, I’m not sure if it was the way she had command over her language or the content of her speech itself that intrigued me the most. She talked about the amount of plastic pollution in the water bodies. For me, it was an eye-opener.

And this was the point where I gained my purpose.

I am going to take this opportunity to share a few pointers in an attempt to open your eyes to the issue we are all familiar with. Plastic pollution.

Now I know that you are already aware that the amount of damage plastic has done to our planet is immeasurable. But here is what you might not know. Did you know that humans can no longer be the first to reach any newly discovered place or depth? Because plastic has already done that.

Recent estimates by experts and scientific models have found 128 million pieces of space debris aimlessly bobbing around in outer space, A plastic bag recently made its way 36,000 feet underwater inside the marina trench. If you are a sneakerhead then you must be aware of Futurecraft Loop, the new shoes that Adidas is developing using plastic bottles and ocean pollution. I guess that would make you believe the abundance in which this man-made thing has polluted the natural bodies and we are now paying for (quite literally).

But we are humans; we have always cared a little less when something wasn’t harming us directly, right?

Well, guess what? A 2019 WWF report revealed an average person consumes about 1,769 microplastic particles each week.

I won’t sugarcoat and say we still have time to fix it. All we have is now. Now Is the time to take action.

You can wait for government bodies and big corporates to do something about it. Cause what difference will it make if you as one person try to work towards it, right?

If you have a similar thought then I am here to tell you, that you can make a difference.

And when every individual makes takes small steps like avoiding buying more plastic goodies, and recycling the ones you already have; the collective effort will surely make a huge difference.

I believe the university will agree with me here for it has preached us the same;

I will and I can , our university motto.

The misplacement of words always intrigued me until I understood their essence and meaning.

It is not because of your ability to do something that you shall do it but your willingness to do something that ultimately helps you get the work done with ease.

As Mark Zuckerberg had said in one of the commencement speeches he gave “Finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge is to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose” so if you haven’t figured out your purpose yet, I’m here to offer you one.

Take action for your planet. After all, it is as much your home as it is mine.

Final words.

Commencement speeches are given to appreciate their achievements so far and to inspire them for the future that they will be stepping into. The idea is to keep it short, humorous, and informative.

Most people don’t remember the commencement speeches they hear, but they do remember how they felt while listening to them.

So don’t try to make your commencement speech memorable for its content but for the feeling it creates.

Hrideep Barot

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Commencement Speech Examples (PDF)

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As they say, inspiration can be drawn from anything, anywhere. You can be inspired by pretty skies, beautiful faces, heartwarming words – by anything really. It’s all a matter of perspective. When you’re done with one matter at hand, you need new inspiration to push through and succeed another goal.

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Graduates from colleges or universities gets to start a new journey in their lives. They journey on the path to the real world also known as adulthood. They work jobs that may or may not be related to the course they took in university, but for some, they continue on their academic journey through masters or additional degrees.

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It just means that the road to the professional world is just beginning. Most of them struggle to balance their professional and personal life. And some of them seem like they have things already figured out. And you may ask how? Well, maybe they have already mapped out their future or they use their inspiration as fuel to continue on with their life after university. You may also see  Student Goals to Achieve Before Graduating College

Why is it Called a Commencement Speech?

By definition commence means “To begin or start,” but why is the end of a school year is called commencement?

Some may think it is an official welcome to their new life after university. A gentle reminder that their professional life is beginning. But if you look at it historically, during the medieval times a student entered the university as an apprentice and emerged as commenced university master of doctor.

According to the book  The Founding of Harvard College, the initiation of apprentices in the masters of art guild were initiated by teachers during the middle ages. Candidates or apprentices having received a license to teach were ceremonially admitted the masters’ or teachers’ guild. They were then confirmed with a new title: Master of Art.

So technically, it is called a commencement because it marked the beginning of a person’s career as a master of arts at the university, meaning, the beginning of a career as a university teacher.

Therefore, we still call the end of the university years of a student a commencement because of the above mentioned reason. It is the ceremony in which degrees or diplomas are conferred upon graduating students.  Now, the speech made during the said event is called a commencement speech in honor of the students’ ceremonial admission to the professional world.

A commencement speech is commonly given by notable figures in the society. Colleges or universities usually invite politicians, experts in a specific field, important citizens and other noted speakers to be their commencement speaker. Also see  Narrative Speech Examples & PDF .

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How to Write a Commencement Speech

1. acknowledge notable people.

Start by acknowledging notable people such as top university officials, local politicians and maybe even the student class president. However, the downside to this is it can become a missed opportunity to mention someone.

According to Daniel Benaim, a professor from New York University and also a speechwriter for former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, you need to find a way to make your acknowledgement personal. “If you know people, don’t give them a compliment anyone could find on a Hallmark card. If you can, say something specific and uniquely true about them. If you’re not sure, start Googling,” says Benaim.

2. Congratulate the students

Congratulate the students on their achievements. They deserve a decent acknowledgment of the fruits of their hard work. Recognize the fact that because they worked extraordinarily hard, they are now able to graduate and harbor the fruits of their labor.

In case you don’t have a personal connection with the school, it’s okay. “Researching (students’) experience is a sign of respect, and when someone outside their community knows their favorite bars and inside jokes, that can be an easy source of humor and a way to connect,” Benaim said.

At the same time, congratulate the parents of the graduates. They, too, have worked really hard in order to support and encourage their children to finish their studies.

3. Share some wisdom

Wise words you’re about to share will either greatly impact the students or they forget it right after you share them. You can share some wisdom through personal stories of success and defeat. Share something the students can relate to when they venture out there in the real world, how you found hope amidst the adversities and how you came up victorious or how you handled loss. Give them something to remember through your experiences. Let them live through those moments with you in just a short span of time, give them something remarkable.

4. Leave them with a challenge

Lastly, you challenge the students do something specific. Challenge them to something they can be proud but remind them that it is okay to take baby steps– small steps that can still make a difference. This can also be something you wish you’d known before when you were in their shoes.

Sample Commencement Speech

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Commencement Speech Example

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College Commencement Speech

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Standard Commencement Speech

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Superintendent Commencement Speech

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Commencement Speech Format

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How to Give a Great Commencement Speech

  • It is important that before you write and deliver your speech, you must first know your audience. The audience in the commencement ceremony is comprised of professionals and lay persons. With it’s diversity comes a large threat of offending someone with the words you say. Always get to know who are you talking to to avoid offending and becoming an awful commencement speaker.
  • You should be able to fully understand what the ceremony is about and what it’s not. Your speech must be uplifting and inspiring to the students. Do not talk about yourself too much; it’s okay to use your experiences as reference for some words of wisdom but don’t overdo it. The ceremony is not about you, but it’s about the graduates and their guests.
  •  Avoid controversial topics such as religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, political opinions, negative view of other professions etc. These topics and so much more can cause conflict and controversy. Different people have different opinions about these topics, so it is much better to leave it as is. Like how you normally avoid it in normal conversations, it is more likely if you don’t talk about it in your speech as well.
  • Balance the serious with the humorous. Don’t overdo by sounding like a hip and happy person as forcing it can easily can become annoying. Plus, the main goal of your speech is to inspire and challenge the graduates in their new journey.
  • Don’t dwell in the past and don’t get too technical. A little bit of history about the university and profession is acceptable but too much of it, as of everything else, blurs the message. If you want to share some technicalities, make sure you use terms that lay persons can understand.
  •  It is distasteful and inappropriate to talk about success in terms of money or high volume practices. Such talk contradicts the virtue that success is not measured by material things but how others react and respond to a person.
  • Finally, keep it short and simple. Long speeches end up being forgotten; short but insightful speeches are remembered even after the ceremony itself. Five to 10 minutes is just about the right duration for a speech. Speakers who carefully choose their words, who quickly gets to the point, and concludes enthusiastically are greatly appreciated during times like this.

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A commencement speech is not meant to give a lecture or sound preachy, it is meant to sound like a normal conversation where you share a little about yourself. The main goal is to deliver a speech that can captivate the hearts of the audience. The moral of the stories you share should ultimately be how to become a better human being.

Student Reflection Commencement Speech

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Graduation Commencement Speech

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Commencement Speech for the Math Department

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Commencement Speech Guidelines

commencement speech guidelines

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Guide to Writing an Excellent Commencement Speech

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Graduation is a key part of any person’s life. It is a transition from academic life to a more vital stage, be it higher education or professional life. As with all forms of change, the transition can be a scary phase. Learning  how to write a commencement speech  is crucial to any authority figure.

Not only is it a way to calm the nerves of graduates, but it’s also an opportunity to inspire a new generation. If you want to master the art of writing an impactful speech, read on. 

What is a Commencement Speech?

 It is an inspiring address given to graduating students to motivate and encourage them as they transition into the next stage of their lives. It provides insight into success, offers advice for challenges, and encourages graduates to pursue their passions. 

A good commencement speaker utilizes anecdotes from personal experiences, humor, and powerful language to captivate the audience and impart a timeless message. 

The writer’s expertise can be demonstrated by presenting pertinent facts alongside humorous stories to drive home key points. 

Using uncommon words, he can create an impactful narrative that resonates with the audience and remains memorable well beyond the moment of delivery.

Esteemed leaders usually give commencement speeches not just because of their authority.

The Significance of a Commencement Speech

 A commencement speech is an important opportunity to advise and guide those beginning a new chapter in their lives . As such, you should craft your speeches carefully and imbue them with the speaker’s experience and wisdom. A commencement speech serves as both a source of knowledge and a vehicle for inspiring others. 

Personal experiences and examples relevant to the audience allow the speaker to impart essential lessons that will help guide graduates into their future. 

Commencement speeches are significant to the audience because they help mold and direct the potential in each individual. The following section will show readers how to write a moving commencement speech.

group of fresh graduates students throwing their academic hat in the air

How to Write a Commencement Speech

Prepare thoroughly.

Before starting to write a commencement speech, take time to research and reflect on the topic. Gather as much information as possible about the school’s culture, values, and goals so that you can incorporate these elements into your address. Additionally, preparation is essential because it grants you the confidence needed for effective delivery.

Choose your ideas carefully, and make sure to keep your speech short and inspirational. Long speeches tend to be tedious. 

Invoke Emotion

Try to evoke emotions in your audience while maintaining professionalism. Emotional stories, inspiring quotes, and anecdotes are great ways to engage listeners with your message. Few things can move people the same way that emotions do.

Emotions also make your speech more memorable. Many principles of Psychology point out that people are likelier to remember the feelings introduced by an experience than specific details. 

Speak From Personal Experience

To make your words more meaningful and authentic, draw upon personal experiences. For example, share moments of success or lessons learned along the way that demonstrates your knowledge and insight.

Personal anecdotes come across as authentic and credible, thus creating a deeper connection with your audience. 

Balance Humor and Seriousness

While it’s important to keep things lighthearted, remember to be serious. Use well-crafted jokes and humorous comments when appropriate but avoid going off-topic. Again, it’s a matter of tact and context. 

End with a Powerful Closing Statement

After delivering an impactful message, end strong by tying together all of your points. A memorable conclusion will inspire and motivate audiences, thus fulfilling the main purpose of your speech.

Sample Commencement Speech

Good morning everyone, and congratulations to the Class of 2021! Today is a day for celebrating all that you have achieved. However, as someone who experienced the hardships, successes, and lessons life can bring, I want to leave you with some key advice. 

 First, be bold in your endeavors and take calculated risks. Life is full of challenges, but don’t let them paralyze you; look for opportunities to grow. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Second, don’t just strive to succeed – strive to learn. By proactively seeking out knowledge and wisdom, you’ll reap the rewards far beyond those of monetary gain. Finally, never forget the power of self-reflection and introspection. In an age of immediacy, it’s easy to get caught up in distractions. Take time to observe yourself objectively, so you can identify areas of improvement and further develop personally. 

 I am confident that each one of you will make use of these values and go forth to achieve greatness. Thank you, and congratulations once again – my heartiest felicitations to the Class of 2021!

A commencement speech is a structured message that imparts wisdom and words of comfort to graduates . Effective speeches can leave lasting impressions and may even influence the outlook and behavior of your audience. This is why you must learn how to write a commencement speech.

The same principles apply if you’re writing a graduation speech for college or high school graduates. Use these tips to set an example for a younger audience.

Guide to Writing an Excellent Commencement Speech

Abir Ghenaiet

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever

Looking for some new words of wisdom? Check out our hand-picked selection of commencement addresses, going back to 1774. Search over 350 speeches by name, school, date or theme — and find out what they have in common with pop songs — on our blog: n.pr/ed .

By Jeremy Bowers, Emily Davis, Danny DeBelius, Christopher Groskopf, Anya Kamenetz, Meredith Rizzo, Sami Yenigun

Thanks to Cristina Negrut, the creator of http://graduationwisdom.com/ where many of these speeches were first collected.

May 19, 2014, Last updated: July 2, 2015

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16 Best Graduation Speeches That Leave a Lasting Impression

By Kristi Kellogg and Noor Brara

Listen to words of wisdom from the best graduation speeches.

Some of the most impactful and inspiring sentiments are shared during graduation speeches delivered by the leaders we look up to. Graduation speeches from celebrities , entrepreneurs, authors and other influential thinkers are motivational, inspiring, thought-provoking and just might make you reach for the nearest tissue. After four years of hard work, stress, and exhausting self-discovery, lucky graduates are privy to a life-changing speech to top it all off.

Here, we rounded up up 16 of the best graduation speeches of all time, including words of wisdom from Natalie Portman, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and more.

1. Steve Jobs: Stanford, 2005

"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."

2. Michelle Obama: Tuskegee University, 2015

"I've found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the piece of mind knowing that all of the chatter, the name-calling, the doubting...all of it was just noise. It did not define me, it didn't change who I was, and most importantly, it couldn't hold me back."

3. Natalie Portman: Harvard, 2015

"I just directed my first film. I was completely unprepared, but my own ignorance to my own limitations looked like confidence and got me into the director's chair. Once there, I had to figure it all out, and my belief that I could handle these things, contrary to all evidence of my ability to do so was half the battle. The other half was very hard work. The experience was the deepest and most meaningful one of my career."

4. Amy Poehler: Harvard University, 2011

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"What I have discovered is this: You can't do it alone … Listen. Say 'yes.' Live in the moment. Make sure you play with people who have your back. Make big choices early and often."

5. Meryl Streep: Barnard College, 2010

"This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal. There's only change, and resistance to it and then more change."

6. David Foster Wallace: Kenyon College, 2005

"Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master."

7. Barack Obama: Howard University, 2016

"You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. I’ll repeat that. I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. Not just hashtags, but votes."

8. Kerry Washington: George Washington University, 2013

"You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that can write the story that you were meant to tell."

9. Conan O'Brien: Dartmouth College, 2011

"There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized. Today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality … Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen."

10. J.K. Rowling: Harvard, 2008

"I stopped pretending to be anything than what I was. My greatest fear had been realized. I had an old typewriter and a big idea. Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

11. Oprah Winfrey: Harvard University, 2013

"Learn from every mistake because every experience, encounter, and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you and force you into being more who you are. And then figure out what is the next right move. And the key to life is to develop an internal moral, emotional G.P.S. that can tell you which way to go."

12. Joss Whedon: Wesleyan University, 2013

"You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key—not only to consciousness–but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in. It's not just parroting your parents or the thoughts of your learned teachers. It is now more than ever about understanding yourself so you can become yourself."

13. George Saunders: Syracuse University, 2013

"Do all the other things, the ambitious things … Travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop)—but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness."

14. Nora Ephron: Wellesley College, 1996

"Be the heroine of your life, not the victim."

15. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Wellesley College, 2015

"As you graduate, as you deal with your excitement and your doubts today, I urge you to try and create the world you want to live in. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get your hands dirty way."

16. Admiral William H. McRaven: University of Texas at Austin, 2014

"If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right."

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How to write a commencement speech on courage or on any theme

A commencement or convocation speech should deliver a powerful message, one that students can draw on for inspiration in their lives beyond the academic walls. Here is how to write a commencement speech on courage or on any theme.

Commencement speeches, typically about 10 minutes long, have the power to change lives. Not usually in big ways, of course. More in the sense of giving an uplifting message that students can take with them from graduation out into the world when they need inspiration.

Sevy Petras is co-owner of Priority Life Care , a chain of retirement homes. She was invited to speak to the graduating class at Tiffin University in Ohio.

She wanted to talk about courage.

She had some great ideas. She had some references. She even had some words.

That’s where we came in. We helped polish those words into a narrative that flowed in a style she felt was her own.

An effective and powerful commencement speech needs three key ingredients.

  • A universal message that students can apply broadly to life
  • A speech script that conveys the message in a way they can relate to
  • A motivated speaker to step forth and own the speech

The speech below is what we wrote. It shows how to write a commencement speech.

The speech in this video (introducing her at 52:30) is the speech Sevy delivered. It shows how to deliver a commencement speech.

You will notice there are numerous tiny differences. Right up to the last minute, she was making changes – improvising.

That’s what you want from a speechwriter . Not necessarily the exact final words to “read” at the lectern. You want text you can use to deliver a smooth-flowing commencement speech that sounds like you mean it. Like you own it.

Here is what Sevy had to say.

Commencement speech on courage

Dean Schumacker, Trustees, parents, and especially you students.


This is a wonderful milestone in your journey through life.

Some of you have come from right here in Tiffin. Who’s here from Tiffin?

Some of you come from across Ohio. Who’s here from Ohio?

Some of you come from across the USA. Who here is from somewhere else in America?

And some of you come from all around the world. Who has come here from another country?

We come from so many different places. And despite this pandemic, we are all in this same hall. It was no small fete arranging this gathering, so I would love it if you join me in a round of applause for Dean Schumacker and the board and the rest of the team who organized this rare in-person event.

But this hall is not your destination. This hall is a portal to your destiny.

Your parents, your teachers, your counsellors – they’ve all given you their best. They have set you on the right path. I think we should show them our appreciation, too. Let’s give them a hand.

Now, it’s your turn. What they gave you, has helped you get this far. And each and every one of you knows how hard you have worked to get this far, as well. From here on in, though, it’s all up to you.

A few words about courage

I would like to say a few words … about just one word.

It’s a word we don’t hear often enough.

It’s a word some people should hear more often.

It’s a word than can carry you through your darkest times and your biggest challenges – a word than can raise you to fantastic heights and help you create your destiny.

That word is…

I could tell you that you’ll need courage because it’s a big, scary world out there. I have to admit that facing all of you without a Zoom filter or virtual background seemed a little scary today.

But courage isn’t about some big, scary world. It’s about a small, scary world right in here. In our hearts.

We are all human. And we are all subject to fear.

It’s OK to be afraid. It really is. But it’s not OK to let fear stop you from creating the destiny you seek.

Your education took courage

Historically, a third of students drop out of college after their first year, and another third drop out before graduation. This past couple years have been more challenging than most.

The economy.

Civil unrest.

It’s enough to make a student drop out of school. In fact, it has been enough to make many, many students drop out of school – 20 to 30 percent more than in most other years.

But other students hung on. Other students kept on studying. And those other students are in this hall today. Those other students are you…and that takes courage.

Think about it for a moment. You are here because you’ve worked hard. But you are also here because you have had the courage to pursue your degree in difficult times.

Let me quote from an eminent philosopher, respected around the world – The Wizard of Oz. He said to the Cowardly Lion:

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure. All you need is the confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger where you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”

Wise words, indeed.

Your courage here at Tiffin, should give you confidence beyond these walls. In fact, nothing gives a person the confidence to overcome obstacles quite like recalling courage from one’s past.

Remember this: you graduated, when over 80 percent have dropped out.

That is courage.

And if you did in here, you can do it elsewhere.

If you did it now, you can do it again.

If you have a dream, you can have the confidence and the courage to pursue it.

Facing risks in life takes courage

Bobby can tell you a thing about courage. He had more than a few misgivings when his crazy older sister came to him and said, “Hey Bobby, let’s form a company.”

He had even more misgivings when she said: “And let’s work for free.”

Well, Bobby did join me in creating Priority Life Care. So did a few others, and we worked for free and we built a great company that is doing great things for people who might not otherwise be able to afford assisted living in their old age.

That took courage.

And look what that courage did.

Look what it did for us.

Look what it did for those elderly people.

Look what it is doing for our society.

But that’s our story. What will your story of courage be, if you get to stand here in 20 or 30 years time?

What does courage mean?

In practical terms, what does courage mean? It means taking a risk. That’s all. That risk could be real or imagined.

If the risk is real, don’t ignore it. Courage does not mean being stupid, and I am sure you are all smart enough to take a real risk seriously.

But far too often, people live in fear of imaginary risks. A little research can help you determine the difference between real and imaginary risks.

I know you thought that you were done with pop quizzes for the rest of your life, but I’m going to spring one on you anyway.

Which of these risks should stop you from pursuing something you had set your hopes on: real risk or imaginary risk?

Let me hear you! Real, or imaginary?

Sorry, I can be a little mischievous sometimes – that was actually a trick question.

You should not let imaginary risks stop you from anything. That’s pretty obvious.

But you should not let real risks stop you, either.

Bobby and I started our company without taking a salary in 2008, during the worst financial crisis of our lifetime. We had some very real risks to face. And we had to decide whether it was smart or stupid to take those risks.

We did our research, so we understood exactly what the risks were.

We decided that the benefits were worth the risk.

And we made plans to reduce each of those risks, making it even smarter to take them.

And that is my challenge to you. Meet risk face-to-face. Gather the facts, measure the risk, figure out if you can reduce or overcome the risk…then make a decision based on real information – on facts – not on fear.

If your plan is to set up a lemon aide stand in a war zone, you might conclude that the risk is too great and the reward too small. But if your plan is to reduce crime or start up a new sports team or found your own company, have the courage to pursue it if it is viable.

Sometimes, facts should stop you. But fear never should.

Education breeds confidence

I said at the start that this is a wonderful milestone in your journey through life. But it is more. This is the destiny you have created though years of courage and perseverance. Let that sink in. Savor the moment.

Now, commit this moment to memory – a memory to recall the next time you need courage.

You have come from near and far. Unlike 80 percent of students this year, you saw your plans through to graduation. I have faith that you can see your plans through the rest of your lives.

Confucius said:

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”

You have the education.

You have shown the confidence.

Now go out and create the peace, the innovation, the inspiration or whatever other destiny you envisage.

David Leonhardt is President of The Happy Guy Marketing, a published author, a "Distinguished Toastmaster", a former consumer advocate, a social media addict and experienced with media relations and government reports.

Read more about David Leonhardt

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write a commencement speech

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'Follow your heart': Lee Hyo-ri gives inspirational speech to Kookmin graduates

Singer Lee Hyo-ri makes a commencement speech during Kookmin University's graduation ceremony on Wednesday. [NEWS1]

Singer Lee Hyo-ri makes a commencement speech during Kookmin University's graduation ceremony on Wednesday. [NEWS1]


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write a commencement speech


  1. 10 Steps To Writing A Graduation Speech

    1. Pick a theme. If you want the audience to feel moved and inspired by your speech (Who doesn't, right?), then it helps to build your speech around a central theme or message. Think about what's important to you as the speaker and what you'd like others to take away from your words.

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    Failure is just life life trying to push you in another direction." Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University Commencement Speech Conan's commencement speech to Dartmouth occurred a short time after he was fired from NBC. The first 10 minutes is basically just a monologue like he would deliver on his TV show.

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  8. How To Write A Graduation Speech: 12 Practical Tips

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  11. 50 Top Graduation Speech Ideas (& Examples)

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    5. Keep it short. Unless you are a national leader using the speech to announce a major policy, you won't need more than 20 minutes, tops. Twelve minutes would be even better. The average speaker reads about 120 words a minute, so that's about 1,400-2,400 words or 9-15 pages (double spaced, 16 point font).

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    Effective speeches can leave lasting impressions and may even influence the outlook and behavior of your audience. This is why you must learn how to write a commencement speech. The same principles apply if you're writing a graduation speech for college or high school graduates. Use these tips to set an example for a younger audience.

  19. The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever : NPR

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  21. 16 Best Graduation Speeches That Leave a Lasting Impression

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  23. How to write a commencement speech on courage or any theme

    A speech script that conveys the message in a way they can relate to; A motivated speaker to step forth and own the speech; The speech below is what we wrote. It shows how to write a commencement speech. The speech in this video (introducing her at 52:30) is the speech Sevy delivered. It shows how to deliver a commencement speech.

  24. 'Follow your heart': Lee Hyo-ri gives inspirational speech to Kookmin

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