It’s graduation time at many of the nation’s schools and colleges.The commencement ceremony is a great exhalation for all involved and an annual rite of passage celebrating academic achievements.Here is Ellen De Generes, giving the commencement speech at Tulane in 2009.
David Foster Wallace took the liberal arts cliché by the horns in his 2005 speech at Kenyon College, telling the audience: So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think.” Wallace then used that to suggest a new perspective—that education is about choosing fame, tricked up the death theme at Wesleyan in 2013, opening with a reference to the horror genre and the live-life-to-the-fullest cliché: What I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die. Keep it short Unless you are a national leader using the speech to announce a major policy, you won’t need more than 20 minutes, tops. The average speaker reads about 120 words a minute, so that’s about 1,400-2,400 words or 9-15 pages (double spaced, 16 point font).
Sitting in the sun, the students, families, and faculty will all appreciate brevity. Above all: relax and enjoy yourself To do well as a commencement speaker, you need gentle humor, Shakespearean universal accessibility, something memorable for each audience, both a theme and relatable examples, an awareness of clichés, and brevity.
Journalist Sharyn Alfonsi also did it in her commencement address to the journalism school at Ole Miss in 2013, as she talked about work and perseverance, and illustrated those values through her own career’s challenges, including job applications, tough days, and bad bosses.
Choose examples that everyone can relate to and can talk about over lunch. Avoid the “Real World” and other clichés Be careful when using clichés in your speech.
It was just one-minute long, consisted entirely of verbs (Go.
Representing a high school graduating class by giving the graduation speech is a great honor usually bestowed upon a student who has earned the respect of peers and teachers alike.I don’t really know to put this, so I’ll be blunt: we broke it…But here’s the good news: you fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people.You may want to avoid talking about the value of their education as well. On a rare occasion, though, you can subvert the clichés.Jon Stewart, speaking at William and Mary in 2004, presents the so-called “Real World” this way: Let’s talk about the “Real World” for a moment…There are honor students—summa, magna, and cum laude–as well as those who are still sweating out a few grades.You are also speaking to families and to the university faculty.Shakespeare had that same problem—needing to address those in the Lord’s room, the galleries, and the ground pit.He solved it by repeating himself, expressing ideas in both the Latinate phrases and in plain Anglo-Saxon, as when he combined unfamiliar words like .For those of you giving commencement speeches or listening to them, here’s my advice: 1.Be just funny enough The best speakers are knowingly wry and a bit self-deprecating. Compare that with President Kennedy, speaking at Yale in 1962, who invoked the Cambridge-New Haven rivalry to tease his hosts a bit: Let me begin by expressing my appreciation for the very deep honor that you have conferred upon me.