Please note that this blog was written before the coronavirus outbreak. We realize many graduation ceremonies have been canceled, postponed, or altered because of COVID-19, and we feel for the students affected. If your school is having an alternative ceremony and you are tasked with giving a speech, we hope these tips are helpful. And congratulations to the Class of 2020—we are so proud of you and can’t wait to see what the future has in store!
High school or college graduation can be an overwhelming time, even without the added stress of writing and delivering a speech. Not everyone is made for giving speeches. But the good news is if you are facing this task, the right preparation can make your speech meaningful and enjoyable—even if you don’t necessarily love doing it. Here are five tips to help you write a perfect speech for your graduation ceremony, however it may be occurring this year.
Have a message
Let's be honest—no one wants to listen to four years of school summarized year-by-year with no real insight. Even funny speeches need to make a point. Remember, your speech isn’t about you but whatever insight you have to offer. For example, in my graduation speech, my message was about how we should appreciate the different strengths in individuals as a way to build a successful team.
Your speech isn’t a time to air grievances or seek revenge either. Your goal should be entertainment, insight, and recognition of the hard word for the diverse group of students that make up your class. With family, friends, and faculty being the majority of people in the audience, your message should speak to everyone—especially since for many in the audience, this may be the only time they or their family will celebrate a graduation.
Every person in the audience should feel like your speech speaks directly to them and recognizes them—be it the popular kids, the jocks, those headed to universities and community colleges, or those headed to the military, trade schools, and the workforce. This requires details that everyone can relate to.
I used the football rivalry between the University of Washington and Washington State University as a reflection of the importance of being part of a team and a metaphor for binary thinking by forgetting there are 5,000 other colleges out there. This is relatable to anyone from a state with sports rivalries or anyone who enjoys football.
It’s also nice to specifically recognize people in your class who have specialized skills and unique talents—artists, musicians, robotics team members, and others—so every group can feel appreciated. Recognition is a great way for people to connect with your speech.
Any good grad speech needs at least a little bit of humor. This can range from expecting laughter after every few lines to a couple of well-placed jokes. Again, relatability will play a role as your speech should be enjoyable for everyone. I made jokes relating to pop culture, specific students (not making fun of them), and self-deprecating quips. Everyone could really use a laugh during this unusual situation. Just remember that no part of your speech should be harmful or offensive—make sure your humor is appropriate.
Keep it short and sweet
Keep your speech between five to 10 minutes, and be sure that every part is important to the development of your theme. If a section isn’t necessary, cut it; graduation ceremonies are already long and boring enough without additional rambling. Make sure to end your speech on a positive note and thank staff members too.
Practice makes perfect
Your delivery is equally as important as your writing. Here are a few key things to keep in mind so you can deliver your speech with confidence:
- Work through any potential stumbling ahead of time by practicing the more difficult sections.
- Remember to plan in pauses for laughter where appropriate.
- Teach yourself to shake off public speaking mistakes and just keep going.
- Speak slowly and emphasize important sentences.
- Try to make eye contact with the audience and stand up straight.
- Make sure you know when you’ll speak and how you should walk up to the stage if you’re having an in-person ceremony.
Don’t forget, this is an honor
Giving a speech at graduation is a major achievement. Even though you may be stressed by the task, make sure to pat yourself on the back at some point. And remember, you’ve been asked to give this speech because your peers and teachers know you have what it takes. Put some heart in your speech and everything will be fine!
Did you know you can use this experience on a college or job résumé? Check out this article on how to plan your perfect résumé and be sure to include it!