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How to write a graduation speech

Filed Under: miscellaneous

graduates with diplomasAbout this time last year, I stopped over at my sister's house. She informed me that my niece, the president of her high school class, was in her bedroom crying. I asked why and my sister sighed and said, "I tried to help her with her graduation speech." I went to my niece's room and helped her bang out an awesome speech to wow the crowd. (Sometimes kids are more willing to accept help from someone who isn't their parent.)

Though I think the speech my niece and I crafted was great, we could have used some of these tips on writing a memorable graduation speech. Your first step is to avoid the cliches. We've all heard the graduation speeches about how students are "prepared for their futures" and so forth. Instead of the same old, same old, try some of the tips that I'll list after the break.

  • Tell stories. Tell funny or touching stories about classmates or teachers. Be sure not to limit stories to your immediate group of friends -- you're speaking to a broad audience and your words should be equally meaningful to everyone.
  • Talk about meaningful events. Bring up dances, charity events, plays, sporting events -- anything that might spark good memories of your shared school days.
  • Be positive. Don't speak poorly of anyone. Even if you just mean it as a joke, it could really fall flat. Your speech is meant to be uplifting.
  • Be careful with humor. If you're a naturally funny person, you'll probably be able to pull off jokes. But make sure any jokes are proper. Also, avoid inside jokes -- even if your classmates will all get your humor the audience isn't likely to catch on.
  • Give advice sparingly. If you're part of the graduating class you probably don't have much advice to give.
  • Thank the parents and teachers. Really. It will be appreciated.
  • Feel free to reference pop culture or appropriate songs. Using current references (not obscure references, though) is a good way to draw everyone in.
  • Include a befitting quote. Bartleby.com is just one website with a handy quote search.
Finally, practice, practice, practice. Ask friends and family to listen to your speech and give advice. You don't want to memorize every word -- just have notes and speak in a comfortable, conversational manner. Good luck!

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  • Adam

    I'm surprised the title of this pulp wasn't "How to write a graduation speech to WOW the crowd -- it's as simple as banging it out!"

    The author misses the reality of the social experience of a graduation ceremony -- the parents don't come there to be "wow'd" by a artificial valedictorian cum future politician. No audience wants to listen to a contrived speech written by someone's aunt. Parents come to see their own child and perhaps catch a glimpse into their life. In-jokes and youthful exuberance are all part of that age and should not be carefully edited out of the proceedings to be replaced by a dull retrospective of dances and charity events. Good grief.

    For what it's worth, while I assume the "story" of this article was fiction, if it were true, that young niece was chosen to give her graduation speech because she was recognized as the right person for the job -- if her "coping" with the pressure of that challenge meant having a good cry, that's fine, but she was always capable of writing that speech and making it her own words and her own message, not the "bang it out" blather of a meddling aunt. Children live for the moment and that speech was her life, not yours.

    Reply
  • Maggie Vink

    Wow. Ouch, Adam. My niece was the president of her high school class because she earned the honor through years of hard work on student council and because she was voted into the position by her peers. She is a good leader and a strong girl that I'm incredibly proud of. But, like many people, the thought of making a speech in front of so many people made her a bit weak in the knees.

    I did not write her speech for her. It was hers to write. Instead, I sat with her, made suggestions, and encouraged her. And I assure you, her speech did wow the crowd. She got a standing ovation from her classmates, her teachers, and the people who came to see the ceremony. It was because her speech spoke to the whole class, it rang true, and there was something in her speech that everyone could relate to.

    She did a beautiful job with her speech. She worked very hard on it. I only held her hand when the job seemed like too much. I'm very proud of her.

    Reply
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