Whatever your 2020 vision might have been, it sure as hell didn’t look like this. Particularly for students who are graduating. All those years of study, the friendships, experiences and challenges. Culminating in … well, if they’re really lucky they might get to sip a glass of something fizzy in front of Netflix.
Meanwhile, the Graduation ceremony itself, will, in all likelihood, be conducted via Zoom. No mortar boards, no wild parties, no tearful farewells. So if you were lucky enough to be asked to give a graduation or commencement speech this year, you’ve got a bit of challenge on your hands!
The stakes are high. Deflated students staring at the screen, possibly with parents and pets in tow. Job prospects at an all-time low. And the pubs aren’t even open.
Whether you’re the Dean, Principal, a Keynote Speaker or Valedictorian, you’ve got quite a job on your hands. The speech you give has to be relevant yet timeless . Poignant yet practical. Inspiring yet realistic.
How to start writing a graduation or commencement speech
Megan Markle has already addressed graduates of the Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School. Her theme was speaking up against racism in light of the killing of George Floyd.. In previous blog pieces I have mentioned Steve Jobs’ brilliant Commencement Speech at Stamford in 2005. The key, as with any kind of speech, is to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and work backwards from there. How are they feeling? What are their hopes and dreams? What is worrying them? How, in any way, could your advice help? If you think backwards from that point, you have a great chance of delivering something great.
DO be yourself. If you like to tell jokes and stories then tell them. Or if you’re more sentimental then highlight the significance of the moment. Ideally do both. Either way, be authentic. Don’t force yourself to be someone you’re not.
DO acknowledge the current circumstances. But DON’T wallow in the sadness of the current events or nostalgia. You want to keep everyone’s spirits up and excited for the future whatever it may hold for them.
DO be aware of your audience. Families, teachers and faculty members will be present, keep this in mind when writing your speech. Start your process off by thinking “if I were in the audience, what would I want to hear?”
DON’T talk about yourself too much unless it is directly relevant to the graduating students. You are there to inspire their next steps and decisions.
And of course, if you do find yourself stuck and not knowing where to begin, we’re here to help. We can write it completely from scratch or polish up your draft, either way we can make your commencement speech unforgettable for all the right reasons!