6 Secrets to Writing a Memorable Graduation Speech, Even If You've Never Done It Before
If you’re facing writer’s block, get inspired by these essential graduation speech ideas.
It’s not easy to give advice to your peers, and it’s even harder to do it in front of a room full of their friends and relatives at college graduation (or high school, middle school, or elementary school, for that matter). Whether you were chosen to speak at the commencement podium because of your top-of-class grades or were elected class speaker because of your charisma, there are probably countless memories, tidbits of wisdom, and funny one-liners you want to include. And after what seems like 100 other speakers, you want to grab people’s attention—not put them to sleep.
Since you're also graduating, you don’t need to use this time to answer all of life’s existential questions, although you might feel like trying. After all, you’re still figuring it out yourself. Instead, talk about what you know, reflect on the big memories you share with your fellow classmates, and use our tips below to write the most memorable speech of the day.
Before you start writing, find inspiration from some of the most memorable high school and college graduation speeches in history. NPR put together a database of over 350 speeches, categorized by message, school, and speaker's name, so it's the perfect resource for graduation speech ideas about where to start. (If you’re looking for something unconventional, try watching David McCullough Jr.'s speech from Wellesley High School in 2012.) And don't forget about celebrities you love: read through the most encouraging quotes from famous graduation speeches to spark inspiration for your own address.
Give It Structure
All engaging stories have a beginning, middle, and end—think of your graduation speech the same way. Be thoughtful about how you open your speech to grab people's attention, how you plan to keep their attention throughout, and finally, how you'll tie it all together with a neat, closing message. Giving a speech structure won't make it boring or formulaic—it'll make it easier for your audience to follow (and for you to deliver it).
Stick With a Theme
If you’re trying to string together a bunch of quotes that have nothing to do with one another, you’re going to confuse your audience more than inspire them. Find one core message or a theme that really resonates, and build the rest of your graduation speech around it.
Keep It Short
There’s nothing worse then sitting in a hot auditorium or tent outside while listening to someone ramble on endlessly. At most, people will remember one funny joke, a great anecdote, or the general message, so cut out extra fluff and only include the parts you think are the most important.
Practice Out Loud (and Often)
As Richard T. Jones showed us in his infamous speech at University of Maryland University College in 2011, improvisation is not the way to go when you’re supposed to be giving people advice on one of the most important days of their lives. Make sure you actually write a speech—and practice it out loud—so you don’t end up repeating the same idea over and over again.
Infuse Your Personality
In 2016, Harvard University graduate Donovan Livingston did his commencement speech in spoken-word poetry, an interest of his. Though his message touched on common grad themes—the power of education in the world, following your passions with your degree, and reaching for the stars—his delivery also changed the way people heard these ideas. Not all speeches need to be straight-forward and full of classic Robert Frost quotes. If you highlight your strengths and talk about things that make you excited—in other words, if you be yourself—people will listen.