If you’re facing writer’s block, let these clever graduation speech ideas guide you.
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 extended family members 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 make sure to grab people’s attention instead of putting them to sleep.
Since you are 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, get some 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. It’s sure to give you a few 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.
Keep It Short.
There’s nothing worse then sitting in a hot auditorium or being squeezed together under a hot tent outside while you listen to someone ramble on with a speech that won’t seem to end. At most, people will remember one funny joke, a great story, or the general message, so make sure to only include the parts you think are the most important.
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 you will inspire them. Pick a message or a theme that is the most important, and build the rest of the speech around that.
Remember to Practice... and Practice Some More.
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—so you don’t end up repeating the same idea over and over again.
Add a Little of Your Own Pizzazz.
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, you will keep people interested.