It’s graduation time: time for cap and gown, pomp and circumstance. Do you have to write a salutatorian or valedictorian graduation speech? It’s a great honor, but it can be intimidating, too. Here are tips to write a graduation speech that will leave them speechless (with admiration).
Remember K.I.S.S (not the band) Keep is short and simple. Whether you are a professional speech maker, seasoned veteran speaker or novice senior making giving your first public talk, use this rule of thumb. Make your point. Don’t belabor it to fill time. With graduation speeches, less is more and more is boring.
Take a cue from President Lincoln. Lincoln wrote his speech dedicating Gettysburg National Cemetery on the train, just before he arrived. The famous orator Edward Everett also gave a speech. Everett said of Lincoln’s speech, now the famous Gettysburg Address,
“I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea in two hours as you have in two minutes, Mr. President.” (For that, read: don’t pontificate)
Talk to the audience, not at them. As you write your speech, consider your listeners. Address them as valued colleagues. Look for friendly faces the crowd. Connect with them. Don’t sermonize, advertise or proselytize. It’s a valediction (farewell tribute) not a sales pitch.
Recall shared memories. Along your educational journey, some friends were inevitably lost. Their parents will never get to celebrate graduation. Honor their memory. But end happy. Touch on accomplishments of your class and school. Share funny reminisces like 4th period chemistry’s mysterious explosion. But tread carefully with feelings and don’t “roast” anyone.
Include everyone in the glow. Don’t make your speech about you personally. That you’re valedictorian or salutatorian, everyone gets. You’re not accepting an award. Families come to see their children, even (especially) those who graduated in the bottom of the class. This is a time to celebrate everyone’s achievements.
Speak to your common experience. Some graduating classes are huge; you may not know everyone. Bu you are bonded by your alma mater. You walked the same halls, sat in the same classrooms, were taught by the same teachers.
Give many heartfelt thank-yous. Graduates have much to be proud of, but to paraphrase John Donne you ain’t no island. Ya didn’t do it alone, kiddo. You had help from parents, family, teachers, lunch ladies, bus drivers, parapros, custodians, principal and counselors who guided, nagged, advised, and supported you.
As a teacher, I’ve sat at many a graduation. They’re sentimental times. We are proud to watch the rebellious kid maturely shake hands and receive his diploma. We bubble with joy when the shy, awkward girl confidently walks down the aisle. In a few short years, you blossom before our eyes. We miss you very much when you leave.
So when that last (school) bell has tolled for thee, graduates, the words of Polonius (sneak though he was) say it best. “This above all else, to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell, my blessing season this in thee.”
For more speech-writing and composition activities, visit my blogs The Writers Garden and Free Lesson Plans 4U.