Giving a speech during a graduation ceremony is both an exciting and challenging opportunity at the same time. It’s a special honor bestowed upon the best students who have earned the respect of teachers and peers alike and were chosen to represent their graduating group or class. However, this fact does not make the process of writing and delivering the speech any easier. You have to apply all your skills and imagination to create a memorable valedictorian address, and inspire your fellow group-mates on their further fulfillments. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources around that can help you with this task. In this article, we’ll tell you how to plan, structure, and write an outstanding graduation speech.
How to Start a Graduation Speech: Brainstorm for Ideas
The process of creating an inspirational commencement speech differs for all students. Some may immediately come up with a bunch of good ideas but experience a writer’s block once they start working on a draft. For other young people, it takes a while to decide which themes to bring up in the speech, but they cope with the process of writing easily.
To choose a great topic for your future speech, you’ll need to start with brainstorming. There are plenty of things you can tell about: your past experience, your future, the advice you’d like to give to your peers, etc. Not to miss out anything, we recommend you write all suggestions into a notebook and keep updating the list whenever something new comes to your mind. It may also be helpful to look for inspiration online or discuss possible variants with your group-mates or a teacher.
It’s important to start working on a commencement speech as early as possible. You’ll be expected to speak in front of the audience for 10-15 minutes nonstop, which means that your piece will have to be long enough to cover this time.
You shouldn’t talk longer than 15 minutes either: after this point, your listeners most likely will lose their interest and concentration, and won’t remember much of what you’ve said.
It’s believed, the first 30 seconds of your speech is the most important because it’s your best chance to engage your listeners and keep them focused till the moment you finish speaking. With the average of 140 words spoken by students per minute, you have only 70 words to get your point across. Keep this in mind, and avoid including unnecessary details and retreats aside from your main subject.
How to Write a Valedictorian Speech: Choose a Theme
The speech can either have one main idea or cover a few related topics providing real-life examples in both cases. At its core, your commencement speech is a story, and all stories have a special power of not just bringing advice to life, but actually making it stick. Here’s a list of themes you can cover:
- Believe in yourself
- Explore who you are
- Be selfless and serve others
- Use your creativity
- Challenge self with the new goals and achieve them
- Work hard towards your dreams
- Learn from your mistakes
- You don’t need to be perfect, cherish your uniqueness
How to Write a Commencement Speech: Build a Basic Structure
What is a commencement speech other than a creative piece of writing? Much as different types of literary work, a graduation speech has three main parts: an introduction, main body, and a conclusion.
An introduction, or an opening part, should include a hook – a relevant quote, an interesting or a controversial statement, an anecdote, or a real-life story that grabs the attention of the audience. After a hook, comes a thesis statement – the key point of your speech, formulated briefly in a few sentences. Your introduction should be convincing and well-planned because, as mentioned above, the strongest effect is achieved within the first minute of addressing to the audience.
The main body always is the largest part of a graduation speech. In this part, you should present your arguments and thoughts to support the essay’s main point.
The best way to organize the body of the speech is to present the arguments (tips for other students, examples from your life, etc.) in a series of points that logically follow one another. This way, the audience won’t lose the thread of your speech.
A conclusion is the closing part of a speech. Just like the introduction, it makes a strong impression on the listeners. In conclusion, you should re-state your thesis in different words, and provide a logical ending of your speech. Besides, you should:
- Summarize the key points of the speech;
- Offer your audience some ‘food’ for further thought;
- Conclude with the final emotion/thought.
To understand the structure of commencement speeches better, we recommend you to read the examples of speeches delivered by famous speakers such as J. K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, and others.
How to End a Graduation Speech?
Once you’ve chosen one of the best graduation speech topics and familiarized self with the structure of the speech, it’s time to write a detailed outline. Basically, the outline will have three parts – introduction, body, and conclusion; organize your notes and ideas to fit them. When everything seems to be in place, move straight to writing a graduation speech as such. Don’t be afraid to make changes, re-read, and revise the text as many times as you need. Read the speech to your family and friends, and ask their opinion. When you are happy with the result, memorize your speech and practice delivering it to the audience.
What to Say in a Graduation Speech Aside from the Main Topic?
There’re a few things to include in your graduation speech aside from the main point. As you start speaking, you should greet the audience, introduce self, and congratulate everyone on finishing the course. Later, you can thank your friends, family, teachers, deans, staff, and everyone else who helped you throughout the journey. At the end of your speech, you can wish your fellow classmates the best of luck in their future.
Tips for Graduation Speeches of Different Levels of Education
In middle school valedictorian speeches, a student can highlight a few important or funny moments that happened to him/her or the whole class, and talk about their future in high school.
In a high school graduation speech, it’s worth mentioning the experience that the students have gained over the school years, and debate over the challenges that the college life brings.
In a college commencement speech, a valedictorian can share his/her expectations of the future, the importance of working towards the dreams and goals, and of trust in self.