Commencement Speeches

Commencement speeches are given by special guests at the graduation ceremony. They're usually given at college graduation ceremonies but are sometimes offered at high school graduations too.

Who Gives Commencement Speeches?

Commencement speeches are generally delivered by people of merit. Examples include Bono, Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, and Paul Hawkins, all of whom were speakers at various colleges. Some may be famous or otherwise noteworthy.

Speakers often have ties to the school or college at which they will be appearing, and are invited to speak at the graduation as a motivating presenter... as one who once stood where the day's graduates now find themselves.

A graduation is a momentous event and one which signifies a parting of ways.

The graduates have up to this point, shared a mutual experience.

Following the graduation ceremony, their paths will diverge, each proceeding through life on their own unique trail.

This parting of ways is a significant change in all their lives. It is one laden with emotion: fear, excitement, anticipation, bittersweet happiness.

The uncertainty of the future is scary, yet it is also inspiring.

As one who has been in the graduate's shoes, you as the commencement speaker are intimately familiar with the feelings they're experiencing! And the fact that you've been invited to speak shows that you are an example of how an uncertain future can contain success and significant achievement.

What Should You Include in Your Commencement Speech?

It is essential that you communicate the excitement and anticipation you know the graduates are feeling about the new experiences that await them.

Emphasize that each of them will be making new decisions and life choices. Up to this point, they have shared a common history - but from this point forward, they will have futures separate from one another and in pursuit of their unique dreams and goals.

You'll want to draw on that common history in your speech, making it significant and meaningful to your entire audience, but especially to the graduates.

They are your primary audience, and their achievements are what draw you all together on this special day. Celebrating their shared history and individual accomplishments is the purpose of the ceremony. Be sure to craft your speech in a way that reflects this.

Commencement speeches can contain any variety of personal experiences and motivational messages. The addresses themselves are as unique as are the speakers who deliver them.

There are, however, some elements which should be included in any speech given at a graduation ceremony.

These include

  • a welcome to guests
  • acknowledgment of faculty and staff
  • a heartfelt expression of your feelings on being asked to speak at such a tremendously important event

Graduation is a historic occasion, and should be celebrated as one! So include well-selected quotations and stories that mark the importance of such events in life.

Finally, be sure to emphasize the importance of celebrating achievements and moving into the future with hope and enthusiasm.

commencement speeches

Here are links to some of my all time favorite commencement speeches:

Toni Morrison's Commencement Speech at Wellesley College in 2004

Bono's Commencement Address in 2004 at the University of Pennsylvania

Paul Hawken's Speech at the University of Portland in 2004

Seems like 2004 was a good year for commencement speeches! I find the above four speakers to be brilliant, although their statements are vastly different. They are all inspiring and motivating. Personally, I would have felt incredibly honored to have been sitting in the audience on graduation day listening to them and soaking in all they had to say.

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