16 Best Graduation Speeches That Leave a Lasting Impression

By Kristi Kellogg and Noor Brara

Listen to words of wisdom from the best graduation speeches.

Some of the most impactful and inspiring sentiments are shared during graduation speeches delivered by the leaders we look up to. Graduation speeches from celebrities , entrepreneurs, authors and other influential thinkers are motivational, inspiring, thought-provoking and just might make you reach for the nearest tissue. After four years of hard work, stress, and exhausting self-discovery, lucky graduates are privy to a life-changing speech to top it all off.

Here, we rounded up up 16 of the best graduation speeches of all time, including words of wisdom from Natalie Portman, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and more.

1. Steve Jobs: Stanford, 2005

"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."

2. Michelle Obama: Tuskegee University, 2015

"I've found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the piece of mind knowing that all of the chatter, the name-calling, the doubting...all of it was just noise. It did not define me, it didn't change who I was, and most importantly, it couldn't hold me back."

3. Natalie Portman: Harvard, 2015

"I just directed my first film. I was completely unprepared, but my own ignorance to my own limitations looked like confidence and got me into the director's chair. Once there, I had to figure it all out, and my belief that I could handle these things, contrary to all evidence of my ability to do so was half the battle. The other half was very hard work. The experience was the deepest and most meaningful one of my career."

4. Amy Poehler: Harvard University, 2011

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"What I have discovered is this: You can't do it alone … Listen. Say 'yes.' Live in the moment. Make sure you play with people who have your back. Make big choices early and often."

5. Meryl Streep: Barnard College, 2010

"This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal. There's only change, and resistance to it and then more change."

6. David Foster Wallace: Kenyon College, 2005

"Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master."

7. Barack Obama: Howard University, 2016

"You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. I’ll repeat that. I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. Not just hashtags, but votes."

8. Kerry Washington: George Washington University, 2013

"You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that can write the story that you were meant to tell."

9. Conan O'Brien: Dartmouth College, 2011

"There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized. Today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality … Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen."

10. J.K. Rowling: Harvard, 2008

"I stopped pretending to be anything than what I was. My greatest fear had been realized. I had an old typewriter and a big idea. Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

11. Oprah Winfrey: Harvard University, 2013

"Learn from every mistake because every experience, encounter, and particularly your mistakes are there to teach you and force you into being more who you are. And then figure out what is the next right move. And the key to life is to develop an internal moral, emotional G.P.S. that can tell you which way to go."

12. Joss Whedon: Wesleyan University, 2013

"You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key—not only to consciousness–but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in. It's not just parroting your parents or the thoughts of your learned teachers. It is now more than ever about understanding yourself so you can become yourself."

13. George Saunders: Syracuse University, 2013

"Do all the other things, the ambitious things … Travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop)—but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness."

14. Nora Ephron: Wellesley College, 1996

"Be the heroine of your life, not the victim."

15. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Wellesley College, 2015

"As you graduate, as you deal with your excitement and your doubts today, I urge you to try and create the world you want to live in. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get your hands dirty way."

16. Admiral William H. McRaven: University of Texas at Austin, 2014

"If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right."

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a short graduation speech

How to Write and Deliver a Memorable Graduation Speech: Tips, Examples, and Techniques

  • The Speaker Lab
  • March 7, 2024

Table of Contents

The goal of any graduation speech is to find words that capture the essence of years spent learning and growing. Today, we’ll guide you through that process and help you craft a memorable graduation speech . You’ll learn to weave gratitude with shared experiences, and balance humor with wisdom. We’ll even help you find quotes that strike a chord and deliver them in a way that resonates.

But that’s not all! Dive into proven strategies for public speaking, managing stage fright, and drawing inspiration from iconic commencement speeches. Discover how personal growth stories add depth to your message and explore themes that leave a lasting impact on your peers as they step forward into new beginnings.

Crafting Your Graduation Speech: A Step-by-Step Guide

When it comes to marking the end of your high school or university journey, a graduation speech can capture the essence of this pivotal moment. But how do you start such an important address?

Opening with Impact

The first words of your graduation speech are crucial. They set the stage for what’s to come and grab your audience’s attention. Think about starting strong by sharing a personal anecdote that ties into the broader experience of your class or drawing from Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech , where he began with, “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life.” This technique instantly piques interest because it promises narratives that have shaped who you are.

An impactful opening also acknowledges shared experiences. Perhaps you could reflect on how moments in classrooms turned strangers into lifelong friends. Or for university commencements, consider touching upon those late-night study sessions that tested perseverance but ultimately led to academic achievements worth celebrating today.

Building the Body of Your Graduation Speech

In crafting the body content, intertwine lessons learned throughout high school years or during university courses with aspirations for what lies ahead. For instance, share how overcoming obstacles like balancing extracurricular activities and academics taught valuable time management skills.

To add depth, incorporate quotes from luminaries like Oprah Winfrey or draw parallels between classroom learnings and real-world applications. Dive deeper by discussing milestones achieved together as a graduating class and recognizing the hard work everyone put in to make it to this monumental occasion.

Concluding with Inspiration

Your conclusion should leave fellow graduates feeling inspired while helping them celebrate high school memories one last time—or honor those unforgettable college years if addressing higher education grads.

Closing remarks could include heartfelt gratitude towards teachers’ support and parental guidance. You might even crack a joke or two. It’s these personalized touches paired with universal truths that resonate most deeply as students step forward into new chapters post-graduation.

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Delivery Techniques for Confident Speaking

Standing in front of a crowd can turn even the most composed student into a bundle of nerves. But fear not, with some smart strategies, you’ll be able to channel your inner orator and deliver your graduation speech with confidence.

Practicing Your Graduation Speech

Becoming familiar with every word of your speech is key. Rehearse it out loud until the words feel like second nature. This practice does more than just help you remember what comes next; it lets you find the natural rhythm and pace of your delivery. Consider recording yourself to catch any quirks or stumbling blocks—you might be surprised at how much this helps refine your presentation.

A trick often overlooked is practicing in different environments. If possible, stand on the actual stage where you will deliver your commencement address. Familiarity breeds comfort, making that once daunting podium seem like an old friend when graduation day arrives.

Overcoming Nervousness and Stage Fright

Nervousness is normal but doesn’t let it dictate your performance. Before stepping up to speak, take deep breaths to steady yourself—a calm body encourages a calm mind. An effective method for easing anxiety is visualization. Imagine delivering each line perfectly and receiving an enthusiastic response from listeners—envisioning success can make it so.

Maintaining Eye Contact

The power of eye contact cannot be overstated. It connects speaker and listener on a personal level that amplifies engagement significantly. Scan across different sections of the audience periodically without lingering too long on any one individual.

Incorporate these techniques diligently when preparing for the big day. In doing so, they become part of muscle memory and help build confidence. With confidence and plenty of practice on your side, your graduation speech is sure to conclude to applause leaving you to celebrate yet another milestone achieved.

Analyzing Renowned Graduation Speeches for Inspiration

When crafting a commencement speech, it’s often helpful to look at the giants whose words have echoed through auditoriums and across campuses. Steve Jobs’ Stanford University Commencement Speech is a classic example of weaving life lessons into an address that connects deeply with graduates. Similarly, Oprah Winfrey’s Harvard University Commencement Address showed how stumbling blocks can become stepping stones if we learn from them.

Steve Jobs’ Storytelling Mastery

Jobs had a knack for turning personal anecdotes into universal truths. In his Stanford address, he shared three stories from his own life without sounding self-indulgent. These stories worked because each one carried a broader message relevant to every graduate: finding what you love, dealing with loss, and facing death head-on. Jobs famously urged students to “stay hungry, stay foolish,” encouraging them not just to pursue success but remain curious about life despite challenges. This advice is especially poignant for today’s graduating class.

Like Jobs, you too can craft narratives around moments that speak volumes about perseverance and passion.

Oprah’s Unflinching Honesty

Much like her television persona suggests, Oprah did not shy away from discussing her setbacks in front of Harvard’s graduating class. Instead, she confidently laid bare the challenges faced by anyone who dares greatly because failure is part of achieving greatness. As she reminded students, “It doesn’t matter how far you might rise… At some point you are bound to stumble.”

In doing so she forged an instant connection with listeners grappling with their fears about what the future holds post-graduation. It was a powerful reminder that even icons like Oprah are not immune to trials but emerge stronger through them.

The power behind these speeches lies not just in their content but also in their delivery. These speakers mastered the art of speaking confidently before crowds, maintaining eye contact, and conveying authenticity—techniques any speaker should aspire to replicate on graduation day.

Themes and Messages That Resonate with Graduates

Facing a sea of caps and gowns, the right words can turn a graduation ceremony from mundane to memorable. When crafting your commencement speech, focusing on themes like overcoming obstacles and perseverance connects deeply with graduates who have hurdled high school or college challenges.

Overcoming Obstacles

Talking about stumbling blocks is not just relatable; it’s inspirational. Think Steve Jobs at Stanford University or Oprah Winfrey at Harvard—both shared personal tales of setbacks turned into comebacks. Beyond simply telling their stories, they showed how those hurdles were stepping stones to success.

Weave your narrative around the potholes you’ve navigated during your high school years. This doesn’t mean airing every bit of dirty laundry, just highlighting that one significant moment where everything seemed against you yet failed to defeat you.

The Power of Perseverance

Perseverance is more than sticking to something—it’s pushing forward when every fiber wants to quit. It resonates because everyone, including your fellow graduates, has felt that urge to give up but chose to persevere instead.

Incorporate this theme by using vivid examples that mirror collective experiences—the all-nighters before exams or balancing sports stars ambitions with academics—to illustrate perseverance isn’t just an idea but lived reality for many students.

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Life Lessons Shared During Graduation Speeches

In addition to sharing content that fellow graduates will find relatable and inspirational, you should also consider sharing life lessons with your audience. Whether young or old, everyone has a unique perspective on life and sharing your wisdom can steer graduates toward a fulfilling path.

The Power of Kindness

Making a positive impact doesn’t require grand gestures; sometimes it’s found in small acts of kindness or an innovative idea that simplifies lives. This message sticks because everyone wants their work to mean something—to know they’ve left footprints on society’s vast canvas.

True Grit and Tenacity

Embracing failure and resilience is another powerful theme echoed by commencement speakers across podiums. Let’s face it; not all endeavors lead straight to success. But as Oprah Winfrey once said during her Harvard University commencement address, “It doesn’t matter how far you might rise… At some point, you are bound to stumble.” Her words remind us: How we pick ourselves up matters more than how we fall.

Making a Positive Impact

A graduating class stands poised on tomorrow’s threshold ready to mold history—and speeches should fuel this transformative fire within them. Memorable graduation speeches show individuals that ovation-worthy achievements are possible if you believe your actions count.

As you prepare your graduation speech, consider including one of these life lessons or one of your own. Don’t be afraid to share your hard-won insights to your fellow graduates—you just might inspire them to make history.

Celebrating Achievements and Acknowledging Contributions

Graduation is not just a ceremony. It’s a tribute to the academic achievements and extracurricular activities that have shaped students into who they are. The acknowledgment of teacher support and parental guidance also plays a pivotal role in these speeches, as they’re the scaffolding upon which student successes are built.

Academic Achievements, Extracurricular Activities

Acknowledging academic prowess goes beyond GPA scores or honor societies; it’s about highlighting unique intellectual journeys. Similarly, shining a light on extracurricular triumphs—be it sports stars setting records or artists winning competitions—adds depth to your speech. Remembering these moments isn’t merely recounting victories but celebrating the relentless spirit of your fellow graduates.

Diving deeper into personal anecdotes helps you connect with peers by reminding them of their growth through challenges faced together—from late-night study sessions to championship games. It’s these stories that make graduation memories stick with classmates long after commencement ends.

Teacher Support, Parental Guidance

The unsung heroes behind every graduate deserve their moment in your address too. Teachers’ dedication can turn classrooms into launch pads for dreams, while parents’ unwavering belief often fuels aspirations during tumultuous times like the pandemic.

In weaving tales of mentorship from teachers or wisdom imparted by parents, you remind everyone that success is rarely a solo act—it’s supported by many hands and hearts along the way. Celebrate this collective effort because each person has contributed uniquely to shaping graduating classes across America, including yours.

Common Issues in Writing and Delivering Graduation Speeches

Staring at a blank page as the clock ticks down to graduation day can rattle even the most seasoned speech writers. Overcoming writer’s block is about finding your message stick—the core idea that you want to leave with your peers. Remember, this isn’t just any talk; it’s one that marks a significant transition for both you and your audience.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Finding yourself stumped on how to write a speech ? Don’t sweat it. Start by jotting down memories from school years or powerful life lessons that resonate. Think of Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech where he shared personal stories, which became an inspirational backbone for many other speeches.

If inspiration doesn’t strike immediately, step away from the computer. Take a walk and reflect on high school experiences or browse through commencement speeches archives—like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s address at the University of Pennsylvania. They might spark ideas you hadn’t considered yet.

Navigating Technical Troubles

A great speech can stumble over technical hiccups. To avoid glitches, check all equipment beforehand—a simple but crucial task often overlooked due to nerves or excitement about graduating class celebrations.

Prior rehearsals will also let you handle these issues like a pro should they pop up during delivery. Make sure any videos or slides complement rather than overshadow what you’re saying. After all, graduates aren’t there for bells and whistles—they’re there for meaningful words.

Handling Stage Fright

Your knees may shake thinking delivering in front of proud parents and peers—it’s no small feat, after all. Before you step on stage, visual your success until it feels more real and attainable.

And don’t forget to watch your body language. During your speech, maintain eye contact—not stare-downs—to connect genuinely with fellow students. And if anxiety creeps up despite practice sessions? Take deep breaths to steady yourself and keep going. You’ve handled high school—you can handle this.

FAQs on Writing and Delivering a Graduation Speech

What do i say in my graduation speech.

Share heartfelt stories, acknowledge support from others, and inspire your classmates to chase their dreams boldly.

How do you write a 3 minute graduation speech?

Keep it tight: hit the high notes with gratitude, shared memories, a dash of humor, and wrap up with punchy inspiration.

How do I start a graduation speech?

Kick off with thanks. Give props to family and mentors. Set the stage for reflecting on past adventures together.

What is the most important message of a graduation speech?

The core should spark hope—urge peers to leap into tomorrow equipped with lessons learned during these formative years.

Master your moment with a graduation speech that turns heads and warms hearts. Remember the power of gratitude and connect with your audience through stories, those shared adventures that bind you to your classmates. Don’t be afraid to add a few jokes and quotes to your speech either, as well as personal growth stories to inspire.

When you hit the stage, stand tall, make eye contact, and speak from your heart—the podium’s yours. If butterflies invade, breathe deep and know everyone’s rooting for you. Writer’s block didn’t stop you and neither will this.

Your graduation speech is not just words—it’s a battle cry for your graduating class as you prepare to conquer what lies ahead!

  • Last Updated: March 5, 2024

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Speech Writing

Graduation Speech

Barbara P

Crafting the Perfect Graduation Speech: A Guide with Examples

10 min read

Graduation Speech

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Have you ever stood at the threshold of a new journey, feeling a mix of excitement and uncertainty? 

Well, if you're a soon-to-be graduate, that's probably exactly how you're feeling right now.

The big day is coming, and you're wondering, 'How will I write my speech? Can I ask for speech writing help?

Don’t worry!

In this blog, we're going to tell you how to write a graduation speech for students. Get ready to discover the secrets of crafting a graduation speech that not only captures your audience's attention but also leaves a profound impact on your fellow graduates.

Let's transform that uncertainty into inspiration and confidence as we delve into the art of delivering a speech that will make your graduation day truly unforgettable.

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  • 1. What is a Graduation Speech?
  • 2. How to Write a Graduation Speech?
  • 3. Graduation Speeches From Notable Figures 
  • 4. Graduation Speech Examples for Students 
  • 5. Graduation Speech Ideas - 2023
  • 6. Graduation Speech Writing Tips 

What is a Graduation Speech?

A graduation speech is the heart of your big day, bringing together all your experiences and achievements. 

It's more than just talking – it's a way to inspire and celebrate. It's not just a tradition. This type of speech is a chance to share what you've learned and dream about the future.

Your graduation speech should include everyone – your friends, the tough times you all faced, and the good times you shared. 

Elements of Graduation Speech

Creating a memorable graduation speech involves several key elements that can help you connect with your audience and make a lasting impression. 

Here are the crucial elements you should consider:

All these elements make a strong and memorable speech and help make your graduation successful.

How to Write a Graduation Speech?

Writing an inspirational graduation speech that stands out isn't as daunting as it may seem. 

With a structured approach and a dash of creativity, you can deliver the best special occasion speech that leaves a lasting impact on your audience. 

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to start a graduation speech and create an inspiring address:

Begin with a Memorable Opening 

Start with an attention-grabbing quote, a personal anecdote, or a thought-provoking question. 

This sets the tone for your speech and captures your audience's interest right from the beginning.

Express Gratitude 

Show appreciation to your teachers, parents, and fellow students. 

Express how their support and contributions have been instrumental in your academic journey. This sets a positive and grateful tone for your speech.

Reflect on Meaningful Moments 

Share personal stories and school experiences that have had a significant impact on your life and the lives of your classmates. 

Use these anecdotes to connect with your audience emotionally.

Offer Words of Inspiration 

Provide words of inspiration and motivation. Encourage your fellow graduates to embrace the future with confidence and courage.

Use stories or quotes to illustrate your points.

Share Practical Advice 

Share life lessons and any advice you've learned during your academic journey. 

Offer insights related to pursuing goals, overcoming challenges, and maintaining a positive outlook on life.

Emphasize Unity and Shared Experiences 

Highlight the importance of unity and the bonds formed with your classmates. 

Emphasize the strength of collective experiences and friendships that have been a significant part of your school life.

Discuss Hopes and Dreams 

Talk about your hopes and dreams for the future, both for yourself and your fellow graduates. Paint a vivid picture of the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

End with an Inspiring Conclusion 

Conclude your speech with a memorable message that resonates with your audience. 

Leave them with a lasting impression or a call to action that inspires them to take on the future with enthusiasm.

Graduation Speeches From Notable Figures 

Notable figures, from celebrities to accomplished professionals, often deliver inspiring graduation speeches, sharing their wisdom, experiences, and advice with the graduates. 

In this section, we explore some remarkable graduation speeches that have left a lasting impact on audiences worldwide.

Taylor Swift Graduation Speech 

Taylor Swift, the renowned singer-songwriter, delivered an inspiring graduation speech that emphasized embracing change and authenticity. 

Her words have motivated graduates worldwide, making her speech a source of valuable life lessons.

“The times I was told no or wasn’t included, wasn’t chosen, didn’t win, didn’t make the cut…looking back, it really feels like those moments were as important, if not more crucial, than the moments I was told ‘yes.’ …” 

Watch complete graduation speech here: 

Rory Gilmore Graduation Speech 

Rory Gilmore, a beloved fictional character from the TV series "Gilmore Girls," delivered a heartwarming graduation speech that celebrated the value of hard work, ambition, and the pursuit of dreams. 

Her speech remains an iconic moment in the series and a testament to the power of perseverance and ambition.

Watch her graduation speech here:

Ree Drummond - Oklahoma State University 

Ree Drummond, known as "The Pioneer Woman," shared her insights and wisdom in a graduation speech delivered in 2022. 

Her address offers a unique perspective on life, success, and the pursuit of dreams, making it a valuable resource for graduates seeking inspiration and guidance as they set out on their own paths.

Listen to the complete speech in this video:

Steve Jobs - 2005 

Steve Jobs' iconic 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University delivered invaluable life lessons and inspiration. 

His words continue to resonate with graduates and individuals worldwide, offering timeless guidance on pursuing one's passions and creating a meaningful life.

Check out his complete speech in this video: 

Graduation Speech Examples for Students 

Looking for inspiration for your own graduation speech? Here is a short graduation speech:

Read some more diverse graduation speech samples to spark your creativity:

Graduation Speech for Kindergarten - Example

Short Graduation Speech

Graduation Speech for Kids

Graduation Speech For Primary 6

8th Grade Graduation Speech

High School Graduation Speech

Explore a collection of inspiring graduation speeches, each offering a unique perspective on this momentous occasion.

Graduation Speech by Students - Example

Graduation Speech for Parents - Example

Graduation Speech by Teacher - Example

Graduation Speech by Principal- Example

Graduation Speech Thanking Teachers

Graduation Speech Ideas - 2023

Here are some interesting and fun graduation speech ideas.

  • Talk about a current school event.
  • Try something new like poetry or metaphors to make your speech interesting.
  • Tell a story about your class, for example, ‘what was the driving force of the class of 2021?’
  • Use quotes from famous and classic books.
  • Use lyrics from the class anthem.
  • Be inspirational and share an inspirational story.
  • Share a humorous experience.
  • Convey a memorable message.
  • If appropriate, add a song with meaning.
  • Appreciate a fellow classmate or a teacher.
  • Connect your speech with your 1st day at school.
  • Significant events that took place in the school.
  • A professor that made you fall in love with a major subject.
  • The long time you spent in the school library and how it impacted your interactions with other students.
  • Tell me about who inspired you the most in your life.

Graduation Speech Writing Tips 

Crafting a memorable graduation speech can be a rewarding yet challenging task. Here are some essential tips to help you write an impactful and engaging speech for your big day:

  • Know Your Audience: Understanding your audience is crucial to tailor your speech effectively.
  • Start Strong: An attention-grabbing beginning sets the tone for your speech.
  • Tell Personal Stories: Personal anecdotes and experiences create a meaningful connection.
  • Inspire and Motivate: Your speech should encourage confidence about the future.
  • Share Practical Advice: Offering practical life advice adds value to your speech.
  • Embrace Humor: Appropriately used humor can engage your audience.
  • Be Concise: Keeping your speech at an appropriate length is essential to maintain interest.
  • Practice and Rehearse: Preparation ensures confidence in your delivery.
  • End on a High Note: A memorable conclusion leaves a lasting impression.

As you take that first step forward, congratulations on your graduation, and we wish you the best of luck in whatever comes next. We hope this graduation speech guide has given you some pointers for what to say in your speech.

If you need further help, you can avail of our assistance and get your speech before the big day.

At MyPerfectWords.com , one of the best " write my essay services ", we help new graduates make their day memorable by delivering quality speeches.

Buy speech from us and get ready to shine.

Barbara P

Dr. Barbara is a highly experienced writer and author who holds a Ph.D. degree in public health from an Ivy League school. She has worked in the medical field for many years, conducting extensive research on various health topics. Her writing has been featured in several top-tier publications.

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Inspirational Graduation Speeches

Inspirational Graduation Speeches

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Do you have a graduating son or daughter? A high school or college graduation is a major milestone in life that should not be ignored. The graduation ceremony celebrates hard work and encourages students to move into the world to achieve great things. This hopeful message is further cemented through an inspirational graduation speech.

As you celebrate graduation day and wish your student good luck, consider the following commencement advice you can share as well as inspirational quotes for a happy graduation.

Here are the best graduation speeches and inspirational message graduation quotes to inspire you and change your life.

Page Contents

1. Barack Obama – Howard University, 2016

YouTube video

You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. I’ll repeat that. I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness but action. Not just hashtags, but votes. Barack Obama

During his graduation message, Barack Obama spoke with hope. He urged the graduating students to be hardworking yet pragmatic as they sought justice, equality, and freedom. Howard University is one of the nation’s most distinguished and historically Black universities.

In 2020, Barack Obama also shared a graduation message to the Class of 2020 as part of Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 . These students had to learn to overcome obstacles and challenges that classes before them had not had to deal with due to the pandemic.

The disappointments of missing a live graduation, those will pass pretty quick…What remains true is that your graduation marks your passage into adulthood—the time when you begin to take charge of your own life. It’s when you get to decide what’s important to you: the kind of career you want to pursue. Who you want to build a family with. The values you want to live by. And given the current state of the world, that may be kind of scary. Barack Obama

Obama goes on to offer hope and support as graduating students set out to navigate a very new landscape and shape a new world.

2. David Foster Wallace – Kenyon Graduation Speech, 2005

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually, one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water? David Foster Wallace

In this commencement address, Wallace reminds us that we often forget, or take for granted, the most obvious things around us. He acknowledges it’s difficult to stay aware of what’s happening in the world, especially when you’re too busy dealing with the monologue inside your head.

That’s what a college education is about, according to him. It’s learning how to think and exercising some degree of control over your thoughts so you can choose what to pay attention to.

Our thoughts affect our realities, and the ability to choose how you “construct meaning from experience” will determine the lenses from which you see the world and how you react in return.

3. Natalie Portman – Harvard Graduation Speech 2015

YouTube video

Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values. But you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path, one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons . Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman majored in psychology at Harvard University because she believed it would help her acting. She graduated in 2003. In her commencement speech at the 2015 graduation ceremony, she spoke of her own self-doubt and gave an inspiring, funny , and wisdom-filled speech for the graduating class.

Portman said even though she was a successful student and went on to find success as an actress, she still struggled with her own worth but eventually learned to set her own goals.

4. Ellen DeGeneres – Tulane University, 2009

YouTube video

Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine. Ellen Degeneres

This is one of the funniest graduation speeches ever! All humor aside, this speech shows why  it’s better to be true to yourself instead of trying desperately to be a second-rate version of someone else.

For years, Ellen thought being bisexual might prevent her from being a successful stand-up comedian, but it’s just not the case. Ellen proved that you could be successful, whoever you are, if you worked hard and learned from your past experiences— even one as sad as the death of a loved one.

5. Charlie Munger – University of California Law School, 2007

YouTube video

*Skip to 4:08 for the actual speech

You’re not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave here. Charlie Munger

Education doesn’t stop after you graduate from college. It doesn’t stop after you finish your MBA or PhD either. Munger says, “Wisdom acquisition is a moral duty. It’s not just something you do to advance in life.”

It’s a moral duty because it’s only through continuous learning that we can add to the vast knowledge of man kind. If we stopped learning, progress in all industries—computers, finance, engineering, biology, stops as well.

6. Michelle Obama – Eastern Kentucky University, 2013

YouTube video

If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do — we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose. Michelle Obama

As far as inspirational speeches go, Michelle Obama’s speech is very actionable. Her advice is simple (not easy), talk to each other with an open mind.

Different religion, race, political stand, it doesn’t matter. We can all learn from one another.

7. Jim Carrey – Maharashi University of Management, 2014

YouTube video

This is one of my favorite motivational speeches because Jim Carrey is such a good example of his message.

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an account. Jim Carrey

Carrey’s father lost his accounting job when he was 12, and it was then he realized that failure is inevitable , whether you’re doing what you want or not. If that’s the case, you might as well take a stab at doing something you love.

8. J.K Rowling – Harvard Commencement Address, 2008

YouTube video

I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. J.K. Rowling

This is probably one of the most inspirational videos for writers and creatives everywhere.

Rowling was suffering from depression when he wrote the Harry Potter books. But through grit and patience with herself, she was able to complete the first Harry Potter Manuscript and, stay motivated to continue even when feeling down. Thanks to her drive and imagination, the world has Harry Potter !

9. Bono – University of Pennsylvania, 2004

YouTube video

In case you don’t know him, Bono is the lead singer of the famous band U2. Of course, being the rock star he is, he leads his speech by saying, “My name is Bono, and I am a rock star.”

In his speech, he urges graduates to carefully consider their big idea, in saying:

What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, (and) your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University of Pennsylvania? The world is more malleable than you think, and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape. Bono

Being a rock star, I thought Bono would talk about the perils of fame, the road to stardom or something to that effect. But instead, he talked about big ideas and changing the world.

10. Amy Poehler – Harvard University, 2011

YouTube video

Life is like a heist that requires good drivers, an explosives expert, a hot girl who doubles as a master of disguise, and this is a hard and fast rule. If the Rock shows up, they’re on to you . Amy Poehler

During her commencement speech at Harvard University in 2011, Amy Poehler expressed her surprise at the invitation to do so. She delivered a speech with jokes, advice, and insight as she looked out at the graduates.

She told them to head out into the world with love, light, joy, and laughter. Finishing off her speech in true Amy Poehler fashion, she also says, “please don’t forget to tip your waitresses.”

11. Meryl Streep – Barnard College, 2010

YouTube video

This is your time, and it feels normal to you, but really there is no normal. There’s only change, and resistance to it and then more change . Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep is an actress most famous for Sophie’s Choice , The Devil Wears Prada , and Mamma Mia . She was asked to deliver the commencement speech to Barnard College in 2010. Her speech was dripping with extreme personality, honesty, and bluntness.

Streep shared her own personal stories and emphasized the importance of empathy. The audience was all women, so the speech was directed at them, but she shared many graduation messages that applied to everyone.

12. Kerry Washington – George Washington University, 2013

YouTube video

You and you alone are the only person who can live the life that writes the story you were meant to tell . Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington is an actress, producer, and director. In 2018, she was named the eighth highest-paid television actress and has won several awards, including the President’s Award.

In her commencement speech at George Washington University in 2013, she urged graduates to go beyond their comfort zones and live their own stories.

How to Create Your Own Inspirational Graduation Speech

Do you need to write your own inspirational speech or curate the perfect graduation message? Here are a few tips on how to do just that, so you can inspire others like the commencement speeches above.

Start With a Quote

Start with a relevant quote. This sets the overall tone of your speech and grabs your audience’s attention. A good example of this is a quote by David Brinkley, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.”

Provide Scenarios

Now that you have drawn in the audience, present a what-if scenario to encourage the audience to continue following your thought process.

You can also provide a scenario encouraging the audience to put themselves directly into it. Suggest that they imagine doing something and ask what they would do if it doesn’t go as planned.

If you are giving a graduation message, ask where they see themselves years down the road or what they picture success as. You can then offer advice and insight based on your own experience.

Ask Questions

You should also ask questions, whether they are literal or rhetorical. When you present a question to someone, the person intuitively answers it, keeping them engaged with what you have to say.

Pause for Silence

When giving an inspirational speech, it also helps to pause for a few seconds after important points. This pause allows the audience to react to what you have to say and settle down before you continue with your next statement. The pause is also a good way to draw attention to what you want to say.

What Makes an Inspirational Graduation Speech?

The best graduation speech should have a very uplifting message that leads with education and wisdom. The graduation speech should focus on the graduates’ achievements and accomplishments. It should highlight the sacrifices that may have been made.

When writing a graduation or inspirational speech, ensure a strong theme or message is conveyed to keep your audience’s focus and attention.

Do you remember the speaker on your graduation day? What pearls of wisdom did he or she share?

Related Reading : Don’t forget what you worked so hard on in school! Check out our 150 Education Quotes for Teachers and Students , too. These gems are good for any graduation card when offering congratulations.

Photo of author

Natalie Seale

3 thoughts on “Inspirational Graduation Speeches”

Am really inspired by these brief messages,indeed education has no boundary; therefore, I say to you,” education is immeasurable, regardless of what disciplines or background we find ourselves.

These are very inspiring. My favorite is from J.K. Rowling. Thanks for sharing

Actually Very Inspiring ……thanks for sharing

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How to Write a Graduation Speech (Graduation Speech Examples)


Have you been asked to deliver a commencement speech? Or have you worked your butt off to become valedictorian or salutatorian, and now you have to deliver a graduation speech? In this post, we will cover one of the more challenging types of presentation creation: How to Write a Graduation Speech . (By the way, I have also included a few popular graduation speech examples as a guide for you.)

This post is a continuation of our How to Create a Presentation series. We are going to break this post down into three parts, though. We will show you how to create a commencement speech in this post. Next week, I’ll show you how to write a valedictorian speech and how to deliver a salutatorian speech. Each of these graduation speeches has a slightly different purpose, but all of them need to be inspirational and funny.

How to Write a Commencement Speech

The commencement speech is often the keynote speech of the graduation ceremony. This presentation should be uplifting and entertaining, but this graduation speech should also teach a life lesson to the graduating students. If you do a search on YouTube of the best graduation speeches, many of these speakers will be famous comedians. When a comedian delivers a commencement speech, and the speech is posted on YouTube, it will always get a ton of views. The humor alone will make people want to watch the video. Three of the most popular of these speeches are by Conan O’Brien, Will Ferrell, and Ellen DeGeneres. The interesting thing about the speeches from these famous comedians is that, yes, they are funny, but the inspiration comes from what they learned from their failures.

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life life trying to push you in another direction.” Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University Commencement Speech

A Good Structure When You Write a Commencement Address

Thank the crowd.


Start with Something Funny

How Humor helps your speech

Be Inspirational

The inspirational part of your commencement speech will come from the theme of the graduation speech . (For Sample Graduation Speech Themes , see the section below.) The easiest way to develop a theme is to look for an inspirational famous quote about success. You can do this by just going to Google and type in “success quotes”. Once you come up with a great quote, you can either paraphrase the quote and make it your own or quote the original speaker.

Inspire others with your speech

Tell Stories from Your Own Experience Related to Your Quote (Theme).

This the most important part of how to write a graduation speech. The stories and examples are what the audience will remember. These stories add emotion and inspiration to your graduation speech. They also help you build rapport with the audience. Finally, these stories make your delivery much easier. You don’t have to memorize a lot of material. Instead, just play the video in your head of what happened and describe the incident to the graduates.

For a great example of this, watch the YouTube video on Stanford University’s channel where Steve Jobs gives the commencement speech. I love this speech, because Jobs skips the introduction and the funny stuff and starts his speech with the following. “I’m going to tell you three stories.” It’s simple, and the crowd loves him.

End with an Inspirational Call to Action.

How to end a graduation speech

So as you go on to the next stage in your life and you experience failure… because you will experience failure, use that as a stepping stone to your next success. Persevere. Don’t rest on that success. Use it as a stepping stone to your next success. Persevere, and you will experience a series of successes and failures that will allow you to accomplish something great!”

Use this outline to create a simple 20 to 30 minute speech. (The shorter the better… No one gets a diploma until you finish.)

Sample Graduation Speech Themes

Inspiration comes from failure

If you are having trouble coming up with a theme for your graduation speech, here are a few Sample Commencement Speech Themes. As you read through them, think about which them or quote has been most applicable in your career? Once you choose a graduation speech them, use the outline above to create your speech.

  • Hard Work Leads to Success
“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” — Coleman Cox
  • Create Your Own Path.
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” — Herman Melville
  • Make Things Happen.
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” — Henry David Thoreau
  • Don’t Settle for Average. Strive for Greatness.
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” –John D. Rockefeller
  • Don’t Wait for the Perfect Opportunity. Look for a Way to Create Your Own Opportunity.
“Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.” — Chris Grosser/blockquote> The Road Ahead is Hard, But It Leads to Success. “Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.” — Jim Rohn
  • Focus on Your Dream.
“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” — Bruce Lee
  • Learn from Every Mistake to Move Toward Success.
“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” — Conrad Hilton
  • When Your Why is Big Enough, Your How Will Appear.
“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” — Jim Rohn
  • Happiness is the Key to Success.
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” — Albert Schweitzer

Use the Speech Creator as a Guide to How to Create a Graduation Speech

Once you have chosen a them, and you have a few stories to inspire your audience, use our Online Speech Writer to help you organize your thoughts. (It’s free.)

a short graduation speech

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24 Graduation Speeches: Speeches You Give in Pointy Hats

A picture of a graduate and his grandfather

Graduation is a big day for graduates, their families, and teachers. If you are called to give a graduation speech, you want to make it special.  I want to share with you what makes a good graduation speech and give you tips on how to write one that will make an impact.

As we begin, you need to wrap your mind around two main things:

  • Most people do not remember the graduation speeches they hear, but they do remember the feeling they got in the moment–inspired, bored, challenged.
  • The more you tap into shared memories, the more meaningful the speech will be for those listening.

There are two main types of graduation speakers, the student speaker, and the headline speaker. At one college at our university, there is a speech contest to be the graduation speaker and at another college, it is someone who has been nominated by a faculty member. How you get there varies from place to place At the local high school, the valedictorian is often the speaker. I recently went to high school graduation and they had seven valedictorians so they had seven speakers–yes, it was as long as you can imagine.

When thinking about giving a graduation speech, you have to ask, “What does the audience need from me?” They need you to reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and focus on the future. This chapter will walk you through the essentials of giving a graduation speech and then give you several example speeches as samples of key elements.

Gather the Details

  • How long will you speak?
  • Who will be in attendance?
  • Who will introduce you?
  • Are you the only speaker?
  • Will there be a microphone?
  • Can you use speech notes?
  • Brainstorm with Friends

This is the fun part. Sit down with friends and make a list of all the things that come to mind about the college experience. When brainstorming, write down everything you think of and don’t try to judge whether it should be included, just go with it.  There is an entire chapter on how to brainstorm here. 

  • Food, dining halls, local restaurants
  • Hangouts on campus
  • Social events
  • Notable classes
  • Significant memories
  • Current events
  • Shared college experiences (on our campus it might be buying scantrons, hearing the bells of Old Main, and using Blackboard.

Organizational Format

Most all student graduation speeches include the past, present, and future format.

  • Present: Opening statement and the thank you.
  • Past: The shared memory.
  • Future: The challenge and a closing statement.

Manuscript Format

Most student graduation speeches are in manuscript format. That helps you from getting overwhelmed at the moment and that also gives the school a chance to censor– I mean to approve of–your content. There is an entire chapter on writing a manuscript that you can refer to here. 

Pick a Theme

Many graduation speeches use a theme. Here are some of the most common graduation themes.

It can be helpful to pick a theme and connect a metaphor to your theme. There is an entire chapter on how to do that here. 

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to push you in another direction.” Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University Commencement Speech

Start Your Speech with an Introduction

Most introductions acknowledge the occasion, offer thanks, and lead into the main idea. Shutterfly suggests these as openings.

  • “Thank you [person who introduced you]. And thank you to the students, teachers, parents, and staff who made these four years everything that they were.”
  • “It’s my honor today to deliver the commencement address for this incredible student body.”
  • “It is my pleasure to welcome students, families, and faculty to graduation day at [school’s name]. Every one of you has made an impact on the graduates who sit here today.”
  • “I stand here before you, looking back on four years of legacy we’ve all made together.”

Use the Principles of Good Ceremonial Speaking

I have written a chapter on each component of ceremonial speaking and you can reference those you need:

  • Tell a story
  • Use identification, narration, and magnification
  • Use colorful language
  • Use metaphor, simile,  and theme
  • Put your speech in manuscript format

Look for Stories that Celebrate Common Experiences

Notice how Jaclyn Marston reflects on specific classes and memories. (Watch starting at .54 seconds).

Watch how Lin Manuel Miranda references the familiar and the obscure in his address to the University of Pennsylvania (start watching at 1:12).

Use a Theme

Notice how she uses the theme–“What do you want to be” when you grow up and alters it to  “What do you want to do?” She opens with this and wraps back around to this same idea at the end.

Be Vulnerable

Notice how this speaker admits his shortcomings. We feel like he is honest and vulnerable so we hang on his everyword.

Headline Speaker Sample Speeches

Headline speakers are usually someone famous or notable. Speeches by those individuals almost always include stories and challenges. I have included several here. Pick two of them to analyze.

Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories. Steve Jobs

These highlights of Lou Holtz’s graduation speech is full of great challenges and life lessons.

Tim Minchin

“One: Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up.

Two: Don’t seek happiness. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy and you might find you get some as a side effect.

Three:  Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.

Four: Exercise. Take care of your body: you’re going to need it.

Five: Be hard on your opinions. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges.

Six: Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education.

Seven: Define yourself by what you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro stuff not just anti stuff.

Eight: Respect people with less power than you.

Nine: Finally, don’t rush. You don’t need to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.”

As you can see, graduation speeches can be serious or lighthearted; they can be personal, motivational, and informative. The key thing is that the speech should be authentic. It should be as unique as the speaker.

Key Takeaways

Remember This!

  • Graduation speeches should reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and inspire towards the future.
  • Consider the needs of the audience and find commonalities.
  • Tell a story.
  • Use a manuscript.

Bonus Features

Jaclyn Marson describes the process of how she wrote her Graduation Speech.

Dunham, A. (2019). Valedictorian comes out as autistic during speech. [Video] YouTube.  https://youtu.be/GtPGrLoU5Uk Standard YouTube License

Holtz, L. (2017). Lou Holtz’s inspirational speech. Commencement speech.[Video] YouTube.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3LOo_Ccyws Standard YouTube License

Jobs, S. (2008). Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. [Video] YouTube.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc Standard YouTube License.

Jostens, (n.d.).  Celebrate high school memories. Inspire your grad community. https://www.jostens.com/resources/students-and-parents/graduation-guides/how-to-write-a-grad-speech

Marson, J. (2020). How to write an amazing graduation speech–Jaclyn Marson podcast Ep 1. [Video] YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5CUSzp9SrM Standard YouTube License.

Marston, J. (2016). Beautiful and moving graduation speech 2016. [Video] YouTube.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F3K3Z_5CEE Standard YouTube License.

Minchin, T. (2013). 9 life lessons-Time Minchin UWA Address. [Video] YouTube.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoEezZD71sc Standard YouTube License.

Rosen, L. (2019). Leah Rosen: “The power of this place,” Duke University 2019 commencement student speaker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4N Standard YouTube License.

Shutterfly. (n.d) How to start a graduation speech. https://www.shutterfly.com/ideas/graduation-speech/

Stewart, M.  (2020). Student speaker. Commencement 2020. University of Utah. [Video] YouTube.   h ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZFJnZvuQIo Standard YouTube License.

University of Pennsylvania. (2016). Penn’s 2016 commencement ceremony- Commencement speaker Lin-Manuel Miranda. [Video] YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewHcsFlolz4&t=0s Standard YouTube License.

Media Attributions

  • Graduation Photo © Lynn Meade is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license

Advanced Public Speaking Copyright © 2021 by Lynn Meade is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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This writer analyzed 100 graduation speeches — here are the 4 tips they all share

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a short graduation speech

Steve Jobs has been credited over the years with popularizing any number of other people’s inventions, from the personal computer to the tablet to the mobile phone. But none of these gifts may be as enduring as one of his rarely credited contributions to contemporary life — popularizing the viral commencement address.

On June 12, 2005, Jobs stood before the graduating class of Stanford University and reminded them that he had never graduated from college. “Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation.” He then told three stories about his life. “That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.”

That speech , coinciding as it did with the rise of internet virality (the first TED Talk would be posted on TED.com exactly 12 months later; the iPhone was introduced exactly 12 months after that), launched a global obsession with pithy, inspirational talks. Jobs’s speech has since been viewed more than 40 million times on YouTube.

Graduation speeches, long viewed as the burdensome interruption before diplomas were granted and mortar boards were tossed, have since become big business. Kurt Vonnegut, Ann Patchett, Carl Hiaasen, J.K. Rowling, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace and many others have all had their commencement speeches published as books.

I’ve been fortunate to give a handful of commencement addresses over the years, and I confess to a fascination with the genre. The internet has been a boon this hobby. There are thousands of commencement speeches on the web. Can we learn anything from their messages?

I’ve spent the last few years gathering and coding hundreds of life stories, looking for patterns and takeaways that could help all of us live with more meaning, purpose and joy. I decided to put some of my coding tools to work, analyzing 100 of the most popular recent commencement speeches.

Here are the four tips they all contain:

1. Dream big

“I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. There are so few people this crazy that I feel like I know them all by first name. They all travel as if they are pack dogs and stick to each other like glue. The best people want to work the big challenges.” — Larry Page at University of Michigan , 2009

“We don’t beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living well and living fully. For the reaper is always going to come for all of us. The question is: What do we do between the time we are born, and the time he shows up? Because when he shows up, it’s too late to do all the things that you’re always gonna, kinda get around to.” — Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon University , 2009

“Graduates, we need you. We need you to run companies and make decisions about who has access to capital. We need you to serve at the highest levels of government and determine our country’s standing in the world. We need you to work in our hospitals and in our courtrooms and in our schools. We need you to shape the future of technology. We need you because your perspective — the sum total of your intellect and your lived experience — will make our country stronger.” — Kamala Harris at Tennessee State University , 2022

2. Work hard

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” — Steve Jobs at Stanford University , 2005

“I just directed my first film. I was completely unprepared, but my own ignorance to my own limitations looked like confidence and got me into the director’s chair. Once there, I had to figure it all out, and my belief that I could handle these things, contrary to all evidence of my ability to do so was half the battle. The other half was very hard work. The experience was the deepest and most meaningful one of my career.” — Natalie Portman at Harvard University , 2015

“When you’re doing the work you’re meant to do, it feels right and every day is a bonus, regardless of what you’re getting paid … But make it your life’s work to remake the world because there is nothing more beautiful or more worthwhile than working to leave something better for humanity.” — Oprah Winfrey at Stanford University , 2008

3. Make mistakes

”Fail big. That’s right. Fail big … It’s a new world out there, and it’s a mean world out there, and you only live once. So do what you feel passionate about. Take chances, professionally. Don’t be afraid to fail. There’s an old IQ test with nine dots, and you had to draw five lines with a pencil within these nine dots without lifting the pencil, and the only way to do it was to go outside the box. So don’t be afraid to go outside the box.” — Denzel Washington at University of Pennsylvania , 2011

“The world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.” — Aaron Sorkin at Syracuse University , 2013

“My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best thing in my life. Being embarrassed when you mess up is part of the human experience of getting back up dusting yourself off and seeing who still wants to hang out with you afterward and laugh about it. That’s a gift. The times I was told no or wasn’t included wasn’t chosen, didn’t win, didn’t make the cut, looking back it really feels like those moments we’re as important if not more crucial than the moments I was told yes.” — Taylor Swift at NYU , 2022

“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” — Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth College , 2011

“Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.” — Will Ferrell at the University of Southern California , 2017

“So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.” — George Saunders at Syracuse University , 2013

So what can we learn from these themes?

Every era in American life has its own standards of what it means to be a success. Shortly after America’s founding, success was all about character. Led by Benjamin Franklin, Americans embraced virtue, industry, and frugality. In the twentieth century, success was all about personality. Led by Dale Carnegie, Americans embraced salesmanship, reinvention and charisma. Today, led by Steve Jobs, Americans are embracing meaning, authenticity and bliss. Or, as Kermit the Frog put it in a 1996 commencement speech at Southampton College , “May success and a smile always be yours … even when you’re knee-deep in the sticky muck of life.”

Dream, work, fail and smile are as good a foursome of American identity today as I know. And if those ideas don’t inspire you, you can always embrace the far more practical advice erroneously attributed to Kurt Vonnegut in a commencement speech that he never gave at MIT, but was instead delivered by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich in an imaginary speech to graduates she published in an old-fashioned newspaper, “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.”

This post was adapted from one published on his newsletter The Nonlinear Life; go here to subscribe.

Watch his TEDxIEMadrid Talk now:

About the author

Bruce Feiler is the author of seven New York Times bestsellers, including The Secrets of Happy Families and Council of Dads, both of which became the subject of TED Talks. His latest book, Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, from which this post and TEDx Talk are adapted, describes his journey across America, collecting hundreds of life stories, exploring how we can navigate life’s growing number of transitions with more meaning, purpose and joy. To learn more, visit brucefeiler.com, follow him on Twitter (@brucefeiler), or sign up for his newsletter The Nonlinear Life. 

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How to Write a High School Graduation Speech (+ Examples)

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Amanda Green was born in a small town in the west of Scotland, where everyone knows everyone. I joined the Toastmasters 15 years ago, and I served in nearly every office in the club since then. I love helping others gain confidence and skills they can apply in every day life.

I was in several clubs in high school, I was the valedictorian, and I happened to be the youngest in our graduating class. Needless to say, I had to write and give more than one speech at our graduation.

Being asked to give a graduation speech in high school is a tremendous honor and responsibility. It takes a lot of preparation, from planning to writing and editing your speech.

My guide should show you how to write a graduation speech for high school, especially with the examples I’ve included. Follow the template and tips, and you’re sure to receive a standing ovation from your audience.

How Long Is a High School Graduation Speech?

a short graduation speech

The best high school graduation speeches aren’t long and boring since the ceremonies already take hours. Aim for an address that doesn’t exceed 10 minutes. Keep your audience’s attention and save some for other people’s speeches.

Your graduation speech should only be around 500 to 600 words. You have to read it slowly and articulate the words clearly. One way to keep it shorter is by removing cliches and other unnecessary content.

High School Graduation Speech Template

Essays and speeches usually have three parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. Here is a structure you can follow for a memorable high school graduation speech.


  • Thank people for attending. Acknowledge the presence of your teachers, parents, and fellow graduates.
  • Introduce yourself. Not everyone in the room knows you, even if you’re the class valedictorian.
  • Catch the audience’s attention by sharing a motivational quote or saying. Your personal narratives and advice will later be based on this saying.
  • Recall memorable high school experiences. Anything is worth sharing, whether it’s a simple day in class or your debate competition.
  • Encourage classmates not to forget these beautiful memories.
  • Share helpful advice for this new chapter of their lives.
  • Restate the quote or saying you mentioned in the introduction.
  • End with a call to action that will encourage the graduates to make a difference.
  • Thank the audience for hearing you out.

How to Write a Graduation Speech for High School

a short graduation speech

Public speaking takes a lot of preparation. Here are some tips you should follow when writing and delivering a graduation speech for high school.

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Pick a Theme

Inspirational high school graduation speeches leave a mark on people. If you want to create one, try building it around a central message.

Think about everything you experienced in high school and look for patterns. Was high school about learning from mistakes? Or was it about achieving big dreams with small steps? Consider not only what is essential to you but also what is important for your fellow graduates.

Once you have picked a theme, selecting a quote, including advice, and recalling high school memories will be much easier. Here are some popular themes you can consider using for yours, but make sure to choose ones that are relevant to you and/or your class.

  • Embracing failure
  • Big things take time
  • Achieving big dreams with small steps
  • Facing change with grace
  • Overcoming adversity
  • Becoming a lifelong learner
  • Being more intentional and responsible for your future

Begin With Gratitude and a Self-Introduction

Once you step on stage, you must start with a few formalities. Know the name of the previous speakers and acknowledge their excellent speeches. Then, thank everyone in attendance, including the teachers, parents, and fellow students.

Say it’s a privilege to speak before the audience on this special day. This is also the best time to introduce yourself.

Don’t assume that everyone in the room knows who you are. State your name and why you were tasked to create the speech. Below is an example.

“Thank you, Mr. Jones, for the wonderful speech. And thank you to the parents, teachers, staff, and fellow graduates in this room who have made the past four years unforgettable. It’s a pleasure to stand in front of everyone and represent the class of 2022 at this address. I am [name], your class valedictorian.”

Make It About Everybody But You

Your graduation speech is not a mini-biography of your accomplishments. Only sprinkle a few personal anecdotes, then include what the four years of high school have been like for the other students. Below is an example.

“Four years ago, we were freshmen walking through the doors of [school name]. While some of us want to be doctors, artists, engineers, and singers in the future, we all had one goal in mind during that time: to leave a mark on the school in the next four years.”

Recall High School Memories

Tap the ceremony’s nostalgia by recalling important events from the past four years. You can include prom, school fairs, and even mundane scenarios. Include hardships, such as the sudden shift to online classes during the pandemic.

If you are a valedictorian , you should know which memories everyone treasures. Try interviewing some of your peers about their best high school memories. Below is an example.

“Every batch of graduates from [school] has a common core memory. For us, it was probably prom 2022. Instead of getting our beauty sleep the night before the dance, everyone stayed in school until 8 PM because of the last-minute changes. While that experience was full of pressure and chaos, we look back on that memory remembering teamwork and dedication.”

Share Advice

Your advice is the most crucial part of the speech. It serves as a call to action the students will follow in the future.

Make sure to keep it positive and remind everyone that anything is possible. You can also advise them to advocate for others and treat everyone equally.

Here’s an example showing what I mean.

“The future is uncertain, and the only thing we can do is be optimistic about it. We learned to stay determined in the past four years, so we can do it again throughout college or our careers.”

Incorporate Your Personality

Just because you’re speaking for the rest of the class and following an outline doesn’t mean your speech should be boring. You can still infuse your personality through humor, anecdotes , and life experiences.

You can also open your address with something funny, as long as it’s appropriate and timely. If you’re a valedictorian, self-deprecating humor will be a hit. Try adding quirky memories from classes that will immerse your audience.

Leave Your Audience Inspired

You are not at the graduation to merely receive your diploma. As a speaker, you need to leave your audience inspired on the next chapter of their lives. Encourage them to find their purpose and make a difference in the world.

Some speakers end their speeches with another quote. Here is the one I used in my high school speech, but there are tons to be found on the internet you can use that might better suit your needs.

  • “All our dreams can come true… if we have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney

Finally, thank everyone for taking the time to listen to your speech. Express gratitude toward your classmates for the memories over the last four years.

Proofread Your Work

Read your writing out loud and fix parts that don’t sound pleasing. Doing so will make your writing more powerful and precise. Look out for flowery language, excessive adjectives, and lengthy sentences.

When editing, make sure to remove cliches from your writing. These are words and phrases that have been overused in speech and writing. These include phrases like “all walks of life,” “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Try sharing more personal anecdotes and collective memories than tired pieces of advice. This will make the speech more interesting and customized for the audience. Find out what your fellow high school graduates and the rest of the audience want to hear and know, then write it concisely and effectively.

Once you’re done fixing clarity issues, it’s time to fix structural errors. Perform several edits on your speech to remove all spelling and grammar mistakes.

Practice Your High School Graduation Speech

There’s no exact formula for the perfect valedictorian or commencement speech. But if you follow my tips and examples and speak from the heart, your fellow graduates will live by your words as they go about their futures.

Remember to keep your engaging speech positive and inspiring. Recall memories from high school, then make them look forward to creating new ones in their careers or college.

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a short graduation speech

Graduation Speech Ideas: How to Inspire Your Class

a short graduation speech

Did you know that the shortest recorded graduation speech in history was a mere 19 words long? Yes, you heard that right! While brevity can sometimes be a virtue, when it comes to inspiring your fellow classmates and leaving a lasting impression, well-crafted graduation speeches can be a powerful tool. As you stand before your graduating class, you have the opportunity to ignite a spark of motivation, instill a sense of purpose, and propel your peers toward their future endeavors.

Graduation Speech Ideas: Short Summary

In this article, we will explore a variety of graduation speech topics, along with practical tips and easy steps to help you craft an impressive speech. With these tools in hand, you'll have the power to captivate your class and leave an indelible mark on their hearts and minds. Get ready to create a commencement address that will resonate for years to come.

Graduation Speeches: Exploring the Purpose

Graduation speeches, with their grand stage and eager audience, serve a purpose that extends far beyond mere formality. They are a culmination of years of hard work, growth, and shared experiences. These speeches are a golden opportunity to reflect on the collective journey, celebrate achievements, and inspire the graduating class as they step into the uncharted territory of the future.

Graduation Speech Ideas

According to our paper writing service experts, one of the key elements in crafting a memorable graduation speech is selecting a theme that resonates with the graduating class. Graduation speech themes can range from resilience and perseverance to embracing change and embracing diversity. By choosing a theme that reflects the unique experiences and aspirations of the class, the speaker can create a unifying thread that connects with the hearts and minds of the audience. These themes serve as guiding principles, offering nuggets of wisdom and inspiring anecdotes that reinforce the central message of the speech.

The purpose of a graduation speech is multifaceted. It is a beacon of hope, reminding graduates of their potential and the endless possibilities that await them. It is a heartfelt tribute acknowledging the contributions of teachers, mentors, and loved ones who have played an integral role in their educational voyage. Moreover, a graduation speech is a platform for wisdom and guidance, a chance to impart invaluable life lessons and ignite a fire of motivation within each listener. It is a powerful tool that has the ability to instill confidence, inspire action, and encourage graduates to embark on their unique paths with passion and purpose.

How to Start a Graduation Speech: Essential Preparation Tips

Stepping up to the podium to deliver a graduation speech can be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. As the spotlight shines upon you, it's crucial to capture the attention and hearts of your fellow graduates, faculty, and parents right from the start. The key to a remarkable beginning lies in careful preparation. By employing essential tips for starting a graduation speech, you can set the stage for an impactful and memorable address. From gathering relevant details to brainstorming graduation speech ideas and crafting a well-structured outline, these preparation tips will empower you to confidently begin your graduation speech, leaving a lasting impression on your audience.

Graduation Speech Ideas

Gather Relevant Details

As per our custom essay writing service , the first step in preparing to start a graduation speech is to gather relevant details about the graduating class, the school, and the overall graduation ceremony.

  • Determine the Speaking Time : Find out the allocated time for the graduation speech topics. Knowing the time limit will help you structure your speech accordingly, ensuring that you deliver a concise and engaging message within the given timeframe.
  • Identify the Audience : Consider who will be in attendance at the graduation ceremony. Will it primarily consist of fellow graduates, parents, faculty, or a mix of all? Understanding the demographics of the audience can help you tailor your speech to their interests, experiences, and expectations.
  • Know the Introducer : Find out who will introduce you before your speech. This allows you to establish a connection with the person responsible for setting the stage and can provide an opportunity to coordinate and align the introduction with the theme or key points of your speech.
  • Determine Other Speakers : Inquire whether you are the only speaker or if there will be other individuals delivering speeches. This information helps you gauge the overall time allotted for speeches, ensures you don't overlap content, and allows you to adjust your speech accordingly to offer a unique perspective.
  • Check for Microphone Availability : Verify if a microphone will be available during your speech. Understanding the audio setup will assist you in projecting your voice effectively and ensuring your words reach the entire audience.
  • Consider the Use of Speech Notes : Determine whether you can use speech notes or if memorization is expected. Some graduation ceremonies allow speakers to refer to notes, while others encourage a more natural and memorized delivery. Knowing the expectations allows you to plan your preparation and delivery approach accordingly.

Brainstorm Ideas

By delving into the following diverse aspects of college life, your brainstorming session will yield a rich tapestry of memories, anecdotes, and themes that can be incorporated into your graduation speech, infusing it with authenticity, nostalgia, and the spirit of previous graduation speech examples.

Graduation Speech Ideas

  • Food and Dining : Delve into the culinary adventures of your college days, from the unique offerings at dining halls to the beloved local restaurants that became student favorites.
  • Campus Hangouts : Explore the cherished spots on campus where students congregated, shared laughter, and forged lasting friendships.
  • Social Events : Recall the vibrant social scene that shaped your college experience, from parties and festivals to club activities and campus-wide celebrations.
  • Notable Classes : Highlight the classes or academic experiences that left a lasting impact, whether due to exceptional professors, intriguing subject matter, or memorable assignments. Personalize your speech by weaving in anecdotes from your own autobiography example , showcasing the transformative power of education.
  • Significant Memories : Reflect on the special moments that stand out in your college journey, be it late-night study sessions, impromptu adventures, or milestone achievements.
  • Landmarks : Take note of the iconic landmarks on campus that became synonymous with your college years, contributing to a sense of pride and belonging.
  • Current Events : Consider any noteworthy events or happenings that unfolded during your time at college, shaping the collective experience of your class.
  • Shared College Experiences : Embrace the shared experiences that defined your campus community, such as the ritual of purchasing scantrons, the melodic chimes of the Old Main bells, or navigating the virtual realm of Blackboard.

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Create a Graduation Speech Outline

By following this outline, you'll learn how to write a speech about yourself that leaves a lasting impact on the graduating class and the audience. Infuse your speech with your personality, emotions, and unique perspective, creating an authentic and heartfelt reflection of your journey and the aspirations of the graduating class.

I. Introduction

A. Welcome the audience: Begin your speech by warmly welcoming the graduating class, faculty members, parents, and esteemed guests. Set a positive and inclusive tone from the start.

B. Introduce the theme: Clearly state the overarching theme or message that will be the foundation of your speech. This will provide a sense of direction and purpose for your discourse.

C. Engage with a captivating opening: Start with a relevant and engaging story, joke, or anecdote that connects to the theme and captures the attention of your audience. This will help create an immediate connection and pique their interest.

II. Personal Reflections and Shared Experiences

A. Share personal anecdotes: Draw from your own experiences as a student, highlighting significant moments, challenges, or accomplishments that relate to the theme. This personal touch will make your speech relatable and genuine.

B. Incorporate shared experiences: Discuss shared experiences and milestones that the graduating class has encountered throughout their academic journey. These collective memories will foster a sense of unity and connection among the audience.

C. Add originality: Inject original and unique perspectives into your speech. Offer fresh insights, perspectives, or ideas that will captivate and resonate with the graduating class.

III. Key Messages and Life Lessons

A. Highlight key messages: Identify the key messages or life lessons you wish to impart to the graduating class. These can include resilience, perseverance, embracing change, or pursuing a passion.

B. Support with stories and examples: Illustrate your key messages with relatable stories, examples, or quotes. Make them vivid and impactful, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

C. Inspire and motivate: Use your speech to inspire and motivate the graduating class to embrace the future with confidence, pursue their dreams, and make a positive impact in the world.

IV. Conclusion

A. Express gratitude: Thank the audience, including the graduating class, faculty, parents, and any other individuals who have supported the students' academic journey. Show appreciation for the opportunity to address them.

B. Summarize your discourse: End your speech with a concise, one-line summary of your main message or theme. This will serve as a memorable takeaway for the audience.

C. Conclude on an inspiring note: Leave the audience with a final inspiring thought, challenge, or call to action, encouraging the graduating class to make a difference in their lives and the world.

Pick a Topic

When picking graduation speech themes, it is crucial to select one that complements your personality, experience, and attitude. Your chosen theme should align with who you are as a person and reflect your journey throughout your academic years. Ensure that the topic resonates with your values and allows you to convey your message authentically. This alignment will make it easier for you to connect with the audience and deliver a speech that is genuine and impactful.

Extra Tips for Preparation

When preparing topics for a graduation speech, consider incorporating graduation speech ideas that align with your personality and experiences. Practice vocal delivery and body language to ensure effective communication during your speech. Vary your tone and pace, and use gestures and facial expressions as punctuation marks examples to enhance your message. By injecting humor and personal touches, such as relatable anecdotes and witty observations, you can engage and entertain the audience. Remember to strike a balance, ensuring the humor complements the main message without overshadowing it.

To further captivate your listeners, engage the audience with interactive activities during your speech. Break away from the traditional format by asking thought-provoking questions, conducting a quick poll, or inviting volunteers to share their reflections on the theme. This interactive approach will foster a deeper connection and keep the audience actively involved in your discourse.

Finally, craft a memorable closing to leave a lasting impact on your listeners. Consider ending your graduation speech with a powerful, thought-provoking question, a compelling call to action, or an inspiring story. This will reinforce your main message and motivate the graduating class to embrace their future with confidence and determination. By incorporating these strategies, your graduation speech will be an unforgettable experience for both you and your audience.

🎏 Inspirational High School Graduation Speech Themes

  • Embracing Change and Embracing New Opportunities: Navigating the transitions and challenges that come with moving on from high school.
  • From Dreams to Reality: Encouraging graduates to pursue their passions and turn their dreams into actionable goals.
  • The Power of Resilience: Highlighting the importance of bouncing back from setbacks and staying strong in the face of adversity.
  • Unleashing the Potential Within: Inspiring graduates to recognize their unique abilities and unleash their full potential.
  • Embracing Diversity: Celebrating the value of diverse perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds in fostering understanding and unity.
  • Making a Difference: Encouraging graduates to use their skills, knowledge, and influence to make a positive impact in their communities.
  • Embracing Lifelong Learning: Highlighting the importance of continuous learning and personal growth beyond the classroom.
  • Breaking Barriers: Encouraging graduates to challenge societal norms and push beyond their comfort zones to achieve greatness.
  • Cultivating Compassion: Inspiring graduates to foster empathy and kindness in their interactions with others.
  • The Power of Teamwork: Highlighting the value of collaboration and cooperation in achieving shared goals and making a difference.
  • Embracing Innovation: Encouraging graduates to embrace new technologies and creative thinking to drive positive change.
  • The Journey of Self-Discovery: Encouraging graduates to embark on a journey of self-discovery to find their true passions and purpose.
  • Embracing Sustainability: Encouraging graduates to adopt sustainable practices and become responsible stewards of the environment.
  • Embracing Mindfulness: Highlighting the importance of living in the present moment and cultivating a sense of mindfulness.
  • The Impact of Mentorship: Acknowledging the influential role of mentors in shaping our lives and inspiring graduates to become mentors themselves.
  • Embracing Failure as Growth: Encouraging graduates to view failure as an opportunity for growth and learning.
  • Building Strong Relationships: Highlighting the importance of nurturing meaningful connections and relationships throughout life.
  • Embracing Global Citizenship: Encouraging graduates to be responsible global citizens and embrace diversity on a global scale.
  • Inspiring Leadership: Empowering graduates to become compassionate and visionary leaders who inspire positive change.
  • Embracing Gratitude: Encouraging graduates to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the people and experiences that have shaped their lives.

🎉 Funny Graduation Speech Ideas

  • The Art of Procrastination: How I Managed to Graduate Despite My Last-Minute Habits
  • Embracing the Power of Naps: A Guide to Surviving College and Still Getting Your Diploma
  • The Real MVPs: A Shout-out to Cafeteria Food and Late-Night Snacks
  • The Unforgettable Fashion Faux Pas: Lessons Learned from Questionable Outfit Choices
  • Surviving Group Projects: A Comedy of Errors and Unexpected Friendships
  • The Great Coffee Chronicles: How Caffeine Became the Key to My Graduation Success
  • Mastering the Art of Balancing Netflix and Assignments: A Graduation Story
  • The Perils of Autocorrect: Hilarious Texting Mishaps During Exam Season
  • Dorm Life Diaries: Tales of Roommate Adventures and Misadventures
  • The Legendary Study Breaks: From Netflix Binges to Epic Dance Parties
  • The Great Parking Wars: A Comedy of Finding the Perfect Parking Spot on Campus
  • The Chronicles of Punny Professors: Hilarious Wordplay in the Classroom
  • The Daring Tales of Sneaking Food into Lecture Halls: An Epic Saga
  • From Class Clowns to Class Favorites: Celebrating the Humorous Side of High School
  • The Ultimate Guide to Successfully Procrastinating Procrastination: A Comedy of Irony
  • The Awkward Dance of Public Speaking: Overcoming Stage Fright with Laughter
  • The Unforgettable Tales of Failed Experiments: Science Gone Hilariously Wrong
  • The Art of Surviving PowerPoint Presentations: A Humorous Guide to Slide-Deck Disasters
  • Laughing Through the Late-Night Study Sessions: Comedy as a Coping Mechanism
  • Embracing Awkward Graduation Photos: Celebrating Unforgettable Memories

Graduation Speech Example

In this section, we have a fantastic example that perfectly showcases what makes a speech outstanding. We understand the importance of providing students with a clear vision of a remarkable speech, and in the following words, you'll find inspiration on how to engage your audience, evoke emotions, and create a lasting impression.

a short graduation speech

In conclusion, this article has equipped you with various graduation speech ideas and resources to create an exceptional graduation speech. From exploring the purpose and themes to offering preparation tips and examples, we've provided the tools you need to captivate and inspire your audience. Furthermore, if you're seeking metaphors and analogies examples to add depth and creativity to your speech, we have plenty of suggestions for you to consider. Congratulations, and may your speech inspire and motivate your fellow graduates as they embark on their future endeavors.

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Student Graduation Speech

Student Graduation Speech

A graduation ceremony marks a pivotal moment, offering a blend of joy, nostalgia, and anticipation for the future. Crafting a memorable student graduation speech can be challenging, but it’s an opportunity to inspire and reflect. This comprehensive guide provides detailed insights and practical tips to help you create an impactful address. Filled with inspiring speech examples , it’s tailored to guide you through the process of composing a speech that resonates with your audience and leaves a lasting impression. Whether you’re seeking to inspire, reminisce, or motivate, our guide, complete with speech examples, is your go-to resource for delivering a message that captures the essence of this significant milestone.

What is a Student Graduation Speech? A Student Graduation Speech is a special talk given by a student during a graduation ceremony. It’s a moment where the student shares their experiences, celebrates achievements, and gives thanks to teachers, family, and friends. The speech often includes memories from school, lessons learned, and hopes for the future. It’s a way for the student to say goodbye to one chapter of their life and welcome the next with excitement and optimism. This speech is a memorable part of the graduation ceremony, marking the end of school and the beginning of a new journey.

In addition to that, a student graduation speech is also a good way to show or to tell students that they have finally achieved what they wanted in life. Basically the purpose of a student graduation speech is to make sure that each student knows what their professors and other students feel during this time. Graduation speeches can sometimes get very emotional, depending on who may be presenting the speech and how it was delivered. Often than not, it is considered normal for a lot of people to be very emotional when presenting a student graduation speech. To know about how to write one, let’s move on to how to write a good student graduation speech.

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Download Student Graduation Speech Bundle

graduation speech bundle

Download Graduation Speech Bundle

This is especially true for those who are graduating this year or for those who are going to be passing through and going forward. For students, this is the best day of their lives, the freedom, the path to choose what they can want and can get. However, when there is graduation, there is always that one thing students seem to not be able to escape. Making a graduation speech. Of course, a lot of students would say this is going to be easy now because of the practice they went through. But how do you make a good graduation speech? Where do you even begin? Am I confusing you? Don’t worry, I got you covered.

Student Graduation Speech Format


Greeting : Start with a warm welcome to guests, teachers, family, and fellow graduates. Personal Introduction : Briefly introduce yourself. Acknowledgment of the Occasion : Express the significance of the graduation day.
Reflections on the Journey : Share memorable experiences and lessons learned during school years. Memories : Highlight special moments and achievements. Challenges Overcome : Discuss obstacles faced and how they were overcome. Gratitude : Express thanks to teachers, family, and friends for their support. Current Feelings : Talk about emotions associated with graduating, like excitement, nostalgia, or anticipation for the future. Lessons Learned : Share valuable insights or life lessons gained during school years.

Future Outlook

Hopes and Dreams : Discuss aspirations and goals for the future. Call to Action : Encourage fellow graduates to pursue their dreams with determination and courage. Inspirational Message : Offer a motivational thought or quote to inspire the graduating class.
Closing Remarks : Summarize the key points of your speech. Final Thanks : Express gratitude to the audience for listening. Farewell Message : End with a heartfelt farewell, wishing everyone success in their future endeavors.

Best Graduation Speech

Ladies and Gentlemen, Honored Guests, Teachers, Family, and my Fellow Graduates,   Today marks a pivotal moment in our lives. As I stand here, I am overwhelmed with memories and emotions. Our journey through these halls has been nothing short of remarkable.   Firstly, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to our dedicated teachers and school staff. Your unwavering support and guidance have been our guiding star. To our families, your love and sacrifices have shaped us into the individuals we are today. Your belief in our dreams has been our strongest foundation.   Looking back, our school years were filled with learning, not just from textbooks, but from every experience. We learned the value of friendship, the importance of hard work, and the power of perseverance. We celebrated victories, learned from our failures, and grew stronger with each challenge.   But today is not just about reminiscing. It’s about embracing the future. As we step out into the world, let’s carry the lessons and memories with us. Let’s approach the future with courage and optimism, ready to make our mark and create positive change.   In closing, I leave you with this thought: Let’s not just dream about the future; let’s be the architects of it. As we go forth, may we always remember where we came from and who we are. To my fellow graduates, congratulations! Our adventure begins now.   Thank You.

Student Graduation Speech [Text Version]

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed faculty members, distinguished guests, and beloved family and friends,   On this momentous occasion, I stand before you with a heart brimming with gratitude and excitement. As we gather here to celebrate our achievements, I am deeply humbled by the journey that has led us to this significant milestone.   Reflecting on our collective journey, it is undeniable that our relentless hard work, unwavering dedication, and steadfast perseverance have been the driving forces behind our success. Each step we’ve taken, every challenge we’ve faced, has molded us into the individuals we are today.   As we reminisce on the past years, let us cherish the memories we’ve created together. From late-night study sessions to unforgettable experiences shared, these moments have woven the fabric of our unique and remarkable journey as a graduating class.   Throughout our academic pursuits, we have not only gained knowledge but also nurtured personal and professional growth. The challenges we encountered along the way have been formidable, but through resilience and teamwork, we have emerged stronger and more determined than ever.   To our esteemed educators, mentors, and dedicated school staff, we owe a profound debt of gratitude. Your guidance, wisdom, and unwavering support have been instrumental in shaping our paths and fueling our aspirations.   To our cherished family members and friends, thank you for being our pillars of strength, unwavering sources of encouragement, and constant sources of love and support. Your belief in us has been our greatest motivation.   As we stand on the threshold of the future, let us embrace the infinite possibilities that lie ahead. Let us nurture our dreams, pursue our passions, and strive to make a positive impact on the world around us. Remember, learning is a lifelong journey, and our thirst for knowledge should never cease.   In the words of the great philosopher Aristotle, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Let us carry the lessons, memories, and friendships we’ve cultivated during our time here as we embark on the next chapter of our lives.   So, my fellow graduates, as we bid farewell to this chapter and step into the vast unknown, let us do so with courage, conviction, and unwavering determination. For the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.   Congratulations to the graduating class of [Year]! May our paths be filled with success, fulfillment, and endless possibilities. Thank you.

16+ Student Graduation Speech Examples

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How to Write a Student Graduation Speech?

Are you tasked to write a student graduation speech or are you simply curious as to how a student graduation speech looks and how it is written. Regardless of the reason, and if you are interested, here are some five simple tips to get you started on writing. How to write a student graduation speech?

1. Always Introduce Yourself to the Crowd

When you get up on that stage, thank the person who made the speech or who made the introduction first. Do this before reading your speech. It is seen as something polite and should be done. In addition to that, introduce yourself whether the person before you did or did not. Never assume that everyone in the crowd knows you. Remember, the people in the crowd are a mixture of students, your classmates, teachers, faculty and parents. There is only a few percent chance they can remember you or know you.

2. Share Your Experience in a Story

Another thing you can do when making a speech is to share your experience in the form of a story. Let your fellow graduates feel the same thing you felt or at least at some point. Tell your story so others could learn from your struggles and from the sweet rewards of graduating. Your experience may be different from others or may have at least a few things that are common, but your experience is there to awaken what it was like for students to struggle and feel the joy of a fruitful future. Think of how you would write your own  personal statement . But the difference is it is a speech than just a  short narrative essay .

3. Add an Inspiring Quote

One of the best ways to inspire and to get through your audience is to share an inspiring quote. Your quote must match that of your speech that you need not have to explain what it means. There are a lot of inspiring quotes, but you can also make your own.

4. Give Everyone Some Good Advice

Part of your speech should also be about giving people some good advice. Especially those students who may be graduating with you who are younger. Be the big person here and show them that with a lot of sacrifices, there will always be a rainbow after every thunderstorm. A brighter side of things. However, make it that they would find it good enough and not that they may get annoyed or disappointed. This means that when you say it, say it in a polite manner.

5. Thank Everyone for Attending the Event

Last but not the least, add graduation thank you speech to your graduation speech . Add this when you are about to end your speech. Showing that you appreciate the audience and the time they gave to attend the graduation. Saying this would mean that your speech is done and you would want everyone to be thankful for the people who came to the said event to watch.

How does a student start a graduation speech?

1.Express Gratitude:

Start by expressing gratitude to teachers, parents, mentors, and fellow students for their support and contributions throughout the academic journey. Thanking the audience creates a positive atmosphere from the beginning.

Example: “Good evening, honored guests, teachers, parents, and my amazing fellow graduates. I stand before you today with immense gratitude in my heart for the incredible support we’ve received on this journey.”

2. Use a Quote:

Begin with a relevant and inspiring quote that encapsulates the theme of the speech. Quotes can provide depth and immediately capture the audience’s attention.

Example: “As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Today, we celebrate not just the end of our academic journey but the beginning of our mission to make a difference.”

3. Tell a Personal Story:

Share a brief, relatable personal anecdote that connects to the overarching message of the speech. Personal stories can create an emotional connection with the audience.

Example: “Allow me to take you back to the first day of school when we were wide-eyed freshmen, feeling a mix of excitement and nervousness. Little did we know that this place would become our second home, filled with laughter, challenges, and lifelong friendships.”

4. Ask a Rhetorical Question:

Pose a thought-provoking rhetorical question that engages the audience’s curiosity and encourages them to reflect on the journey ahead.

Example: “What does it truly mean to graduate? Is it merely receiving a diploma, or is it about the knowledge gained, the friendships formed, and the transformations within ourselves? Today, we contemplate not just our achievements but the infinite possibilities that lie before us.”

5. Use Humor:

Start with a light-hearted, witty remark or humorous anecdote related to the graduation experience. Humor can instantly capture the audience’s attention and create a warm atmosphere.

Example: “Ladies and gentlemen, if someone had told me four years ago that I would be standing here giving a speech, I would have thought they were joking. Yet, here I am, trying not to trip over my own excitement. Life truly is full of surprises!”

6. Acknowledge the Significance of the Moment:

Begin by acknowledging the importance of the graduation day, recognizing it as a pivotal moment in the students’ lives and the beginning of a new chapter.

Example: “Today is more than just a ceremony; it’s a milestone. It marks the culmination of years of hard work, late-night study sessions, and the unwavering determination that brought us to this moment. Today, we stand on the threshold of a future waiting to be shaped by our dreams and ambitions.”

What should I say in my high school graduation speech?

1. Introduction

Begin by expressing gratitude to the school, teachers, parents, and fellow students. Acknowledge the significance of the moment and the honor of addressing the graduating class.

2. Reflect on the Journey

Share personal reflections on your high school experience. Discuss memorable moments, challenges, and the growth you and your classmates have undergone.

3. Acknowledge Achievements

Recognize the accomplishments of your fellow graduates, including academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and personal growth.

4. Inspire and Encourage

Offer words of inspiration and encouragement to your peers as they embark on the next phase of their lives. Remind them of their potential and resilience.

5. Share Life Lessons

Reflect on the lessons learned during high school, both in and out of the classroom. Discuss how these lessons can be applied to the future.

6. Embrace Diversity:

Celebrate the diversity and unique qualities of your graduating class. Highlight the importance of inclusivity and understanding in a diverse world.

7. Discuss the Future:

Talk about the exciting possibilities and challenges that await graduates as they move on to college, careers, or other pursuits.

8. Express Hope and Optimism:

Convey optimism for the future, emphasizing the potential for positive change and personal growth. Inspire your peers to make a difference in the world.

9. Use Personal Anecdotes:

Share personal stories or anecdotes that connect with the audience and convey your messages effectively.

10. Conclude with Gratitude:

Thank your audience once again for the privilege of speaking and express your optimism about the future.

How do you write a short and sweet graduation speech?

  • Start with Gratitude: Begin by expressing gratitude to the school, teachers, parents, and fellow graduates for the support and experiences throughout the journey.
  • Acknowledge Achievements: Recognize the accomplishments and milestones of your graduating class, both academic and personal.
  • Reflect on the Journey: Share a brief reflection on your high school experience, mentioning memorable moments and challenges.
  • Inspire and Encourage: Offer a concise message of inspiration and encouragement for your peers as they step into the next chapter of their lives. Encourage them to pursue their dreams and make a positive impact.
  • Express Hope: Convey optimism and hope for the future, highlighting the potential for success and personal growth.
  • Use a Memorable Quote: Consider incorporating a well-chosen quote that encapsulates the theme of your speech.
  • Engage the Audience: Use eye contact, a confident tone, and gestures to engage the audience. Maintain a warm and inclusive atmosphere.
  • Stay True to Your Voice: Keep your speech authentic and true to your personality and values.

Here’s an example of a short and sweet graduation speech:

“Good evening, honored guests, teachers, parents, and my fellow graduates. As we stand here today on the brink of a new journey, I want to express my gratitude for the experiences and support we’ve shared throughout our high school years. Our achievements, both big and small, have brought us to this moment, and I couldn’t be prouder to call you my classmates. As we move forward, remember that every challenge we faced and overcame has shaped us into the individuals we are today. We are ready to embrace the future with open hearts and unwavering determination. As Dr. Seuss once said, ‘You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.’

Is it necessary to make a graduation speech?

Some schools require their outstanding graduates to make a graduation speech, while others may not require them. The whole purpose of the speech is to let everyone know that they have done great and should continue to do great things.

What are the elements of a good graduation speech?

The introduction where you are going to be talking about the reason you are here. The body which will be about telling a story, an anecdote, sharing of experiences and hope for the future. It is also the part where you give way to inspire others to keep on pushing their dreams. The conclusion where you give thanks and congratulate on everyone for achieving.

What are the benefits of writing a graduation speech?

The benefits of writing a graduation speech is the opportunity to say thank you and welcome at the same time. To give everyone the opportunity to say we made it in one simple but grand speech. Making a graduation speech is the written and oral way of showing the world that you have made it and will continue to make it.

Why do we need a graduation speech example?

Sometimes, the process of making the perfect speech outline involves long nights and a lot of crumpled papers. We’re either experiencing major writer’s block or we’re just absolutely clueless on what to talk about. Regardless, writing a good speech is not an easy job. Sometimes, we just need a little guidance to get started. This is when references serve their purpose.

How long is a graduation speech?

A graduation speech does not have to be too long nor too short. A single page is enough to make a speech. If the speech is too long, your audience may fall asleep or choose to ignore as it may drag. But if the speech is too short, it may leave an awkward air around the whole event. Make sure that your speech should not last more than five minutes nor less than that.

Graduation speeches can either get very emotional or can be made as a polite way to say thank you. Depending on who writes it and how it is written. It is normal to cry when you’re doing your speech, but it is not okay to not make any eye contact.

Graduation speeches are more than just words; they are the encapsulation of an educational journey, filled with challenges, achievements, and invaluable lessons. They are a platform to inspire, encourage, and impart wisdom to fellow graduates and the audience. As you craft your speech, remember the impact of your words can extend beyond the ceremony, leaving a lasting impression on your listeners. To further explore inspiring examples and advice on crafting impactful graduation speeches, consider visiting the American Institute for Economic Research for a unique perspective on graduation speeches here and the University of Chicago for a collection of student graduation speeches here. These resources offer additional insights and inspiration that can enhance your speechwriting process.

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  • 10 Powerful Graduation Speeches You Don’t Want To Miss
  • by Celes     |    
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Graduation Speech

Commencement speeches have become outlets for sharing some of the most important life lessons ever. After listening to Steve Jobs ‘ Stanford commencement speech, I was inspired to round up the best graduation speeches of all time, so all of you can enjoy the rich insights of the speakers.

You’ll probably recognize most of the speakers, who are prominent people in their fields – people like Steve Jobs , Bill Gates, Oprah, Ellen, Randy Pausch, JK Rowling, and so on. I think the schools couldn’t have picked better speakers than them, because the most important inspiration anyone can ever get is someone who his living by example. I’ve picked these 10 speeches because they share important wisdom that are applicable to anyone in any time, beyond just graduating students.

The 10 speeches are not ranked in any order . I have included videos and transcripts (where available) as well as my thoughts with each speech. My personal favorites are the ones by Steve Jobs , Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Randy Pausch.

1) Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

(Read the transcript )

“Remembering you’re going to die, is the best way I know, to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” — Steve Jobs

Whenever people talk about inspiring graduation speeches, Steve Job’s speech instantly comes up. In this speech, Steve shares his life lessons via 3 stories in his life. His birth, when he got fired from Apple, and when he found out about his cancer. These 3 stories were extremely inspiring – most people knew Steve as the hot-tempered yet charismatic CEO who heads Apple, but who would have known that his birth parents gave him up for adoption? That he quit college because his college fees were sucking up his parents’ savings? That he was once fired from the very company he founded? And that he diagnosed in cancer in 2004, and by a stroke of fate, survived it?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve reminds us that in life, there is really nothing we have to lose, because we were born with nothing to begin with. This is what I alluded to in my article  How To Overcome Fear and Pursue Your Dreams . Eventually one day, all of us will die. Everything that we’ve come to see as important, will lose significance on that day. What would you wish you could have done then? How would you rather have lived your life? Take that and start living true to that today. Don’t live your life in regret, because life is not meant to be lived in regret. It’s meant to be live in passion, with love, with fire, conviction, and purpose. Don’t ever settle for what you don’t want; keep fighting for what you believe in.

Update Oct 7 ’11 : Steve Jobs has since passed away on Oct 5 ’11, at the age of 56. I’ve written a tribute for him in remembrance of how boldly he had led his life, and the life lessons we can learn from him:  In Remembrance of Steve Jobs : 11 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Him

2) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emory University, 2010

“You’re going to find naysayers in every turn that you make. Don’t listen. Just visualize your goal, know exactly where you want to go. Trust yourself. Get out there and work like hell. Break some of the rules and never ever be afraid of failure.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold is an international movie star (Conan, Terminator, Commando) and the 3eighth Governor of California. I found his speech very inspiring – he’s living proof of how one can overcome all odds to achieve one’s dreams, as long as you set your heart and mind to it. Arnie shared how important it is to not be afraid of failure. He shared his personal stories of how he overcame resistances from everyone and achieved his dreams, one after another, by first having that crystal clear vision of what he wanted, then going all out to achieve them. Truly, there’s no such thing as “can’t be done”. If you really want to achieve your dreams, they will be yours for the taking.

3) Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon University, 2008

Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He was best known for The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams , and also co-author of the book with the same name, which became a New York Times best-seller. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was told in Aug 2007 that he only had 3-6 months to live. When he gave this speech at Carnegie Mellon, it was the ninth month. He later passed away 2 months after that.

Even though Randy’s speech was the shortest of the commencement speeches in this list (less than 6 minutes), it is in no way any less impactful. Randy’s reminder to all of us is the importance of living true to our dreams and pursuing them. That life isn’t about how long we live, but about how we live. His passion in living, teaching, and his relationship with his wife really shows through in his speech.

“We don’t beat the reaper by living longer. We beat the reaper by living well and living fully. For the reaper is always going to come for all of us. The question is: What do we do between the time we are born, and the time he shows up? Because when he shows up, it’s too late to do all the things that you’re always gona, kinda get around to.”

4) Michael Dell, University of Texas at Austin, 2003

Michael Dell

(Read the  transcript . Unfortunately there’s no video version of this speech.)

“[Now] it’s time for you to move on to what’s next. But you must not let anything deter you from taking those first steps. [D]on’t spend so much time trying to choose the perfect opportunity, that you miss the right opportunity. Recognize that there will be failures, and acknowledge that there will be obstacles. But you will learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others, for there is very little learning in success.”

Michael Dell is the owner of Dell and one of the richest people in the world with a net worth of $14 billion. Michael studied in University of Texas at Austin (UT) but never graduated – he founded Dell when he was 19 and it became successful enough that he decided to drop out of UT to run it.

I found Dell’s speech extremely inspiring. It was filled with concrete, sound and extremely wise advice. He urges us to pursue our dreams, to listen to our heart, and to create our journey. Choose what you must, and embark on it right away. Don’t fall into the trap of analysis paralysis, because otherwise you’ll just be living a life of regret. At the same time, the journey is one of exploration and self-discovery:

“Then, as you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own. When Dell got started, it didn’t come with a manual on how to become number 1 in the world. We had to figure that out every step of the way. And with each new product and new market, the industry “experts” said we’d fail. Through the chorus of naysayers, we emerged as a world leader in servers, and we continue to gain momentum.”

Has there ever been a time when you’re not sure what you should do, when people give you conflicting advice, when you feel oppressed to do things that you don’t want? Remember, it’s up to you to take the step and identify what works best for you and what doesn’t, then adjust accordingly. At the end of the day, as long as you keep striving for the best that you can be, and learn every step of the way, you’ll never veer into the wrong track.

5) Bono, University of Pennsylvania, 2004

“For four years you’ve been buying, trading, and selling everything you’ve got in this marketplace of ideas. The intellectual hustle. Your pockets are full, even if your parents’ are empty, and — and now you’ve got to figure out what to spend it on. … So my question I suppose is: What’s the big idea? What’s  your big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside […]?” — Bono

Bono is the lead singer in the famous rock band U2 and extremely well-known for his activism work in Africa. In his humorous yet passionate speech, he first urges everyone to find a cause to fight for, then shares the plights and injustice that people in Africa are facing. While the problems like extreme poverty and AIDs are deeply rooted and not going to be changed overnight, there are things that everyone of us can start doing immediately to alleviate the issue.

“… The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape. … We can’t fix every problem — corruption, natural calamities are part of the picture here — but the ones we can we must. And because we can, we must. Because we can, we must. Amen!”

The biggest takeaway I got from Bono’s speech is that it’s up to each of us to find a cause we’re passionate to fight for. What’s your cause? I’m most passionate about helping others grow. I hate it when I see people who are stifling their true selves and not living to who they can be; subsequently this is my life purpose what drives me endlessly. How about you? What are you most passionate about? What makes you come alive?  Find it, then go and make it happen. Use your skills, your knowledge, everything you’ve learned, and make real, meaningful change with them. That’s when you come alive, and that’s when you make the world come alive.

6) JK Rowling, Harvard, 2008

Part 1 (10 min).

Part 2 (5:16 min)

Part 3 (5 min)

“You might never fail on the scale I did. But some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case, you fail by default.” — JK Rowling

JK Rowling is the famous author of the highly successful Harry Potter series, and is also well known for her rags-to-riches story, where she grew from living in poverty to a multi-millionaire in 5 years. Today her net worth is estimated to be at least $1 billion. In this speech, she shares her story of how she fell to the rock bottom when she was 27. Her marriage had failed after just 1 year, she was a single parent, she was extremely poor, and she was jobless. It was at her lowest point in her life, and she contemplated suicide.

Yet this failure had given her the solid foundation to build her life. Because she had failed on such an epic scale, there was nothing else there. It helped her to cut away the inessential, see beyond the unimportant and focus on the important – which was (a) her daughter, and (b) writing her fantasy novel (the Harry Potter series, which would later propel her to success). What matters the most to you in life? Are you pursuing that? Or are you letting the fear of failure prevent you from doing what you love?

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

Rowling also shared about her experience working at Amnesty International, where she witnessed the darkest as well as the best sides of humanity. The biggest magic we have is the ability to touch others’ lives, and it’s something that we already have the power to do. If you’re reading this, that means you’re more privileged than a big part of the world out there, who have difficulty even getting the bare essentials to live. Will you waste away this power? Or will you use this power to a better cause? The power of choice lies in us.

7) Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

If you don’t know Ellen, she is one of the most famous talk show hosts in the world (right up there with Oprah). She started out as a stand-up comedian and had her own TV sitcoms back in the 1990s to early 200s. Her show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, has won 12 Emmys. It’s incredibly inspiring to see her amazing work and how she has influenced millions of lives around the world.

(Update: This post was written before the issues regarding The Ellen Show’s toxic workplace environment came to light in 2020.)

Ellen’s speech is filled with her trademark characteristics — her wit, humor as well as her dancing (at the end).

“Really when I look back at it I wouldn’t change a thing. I mean it was so important to me to lose everything because I found out what the most important thing is – To be true to yourself. Ultimately that’s what’s gotten me to this place. I don’t live in fear, I’m free, I have no secrets, I know I’ll always be okay because no matter what, I know who I am.” — Ellen

While Ellen’s speech was humorous, she also weaved in important lessons from her life. She talked how she had no direction and no ambition when she was young, and it wasn’t until a tragic event that things changed. Her girlfriend (Ellen is gay) died in a car accident when she was 21, and for a while after that she did some deep soul searching, and realizing how fragile life was. She decided she wanted to do stand-up (comedy) afterward, and set out to be the first woman to be on Johnny Carson’s show (the biggest comedian at that time). Several years later it happened, and her TV career took off, only to come crashing down when she came out in 1997 that she was gay. For 3 whole years, she did not get booked for any jobs, and in the end she rebuilt her career to be bigger and better than it ever is.

The key message in Ellen’s speech is to be true to yourself. Find your inner self , know who he/she is, and embrace him/her. Be free, have no secrets, and be who you want to be, because life is too beautiful to be experienced otherwise. Live with integrity, and be an honest and compassionate person. If you are true to yourself and follow your passion, nothing can ever stop you in your way.

8) Bill Gates, Harvard, 2007

Bill Gates needs no introduction – he’s one of the wealthiest men in the world ( second wealthiest as of 2010 , right after Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu). He owns Microsoft, which earns $62 billion a year, and is also a highly influential philanthropist, having donated billions to health causes through his foundation Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. We said to ourselves: “This can’t be true. But if it is true, it deserves to be the priority of our giving.” ” — Bill Gates

In his heartfelt speech, he shared his passion about the inequities of the world – referring to the injustices and unfairness, such as poverty, suffering in third world countries, diseases, lack of healthcare support, etc. I applaud Bill Gates for making this the topic of his commencement speech and bringing awareness to the issue of inequities, because (a) It’s not what one would expect in a commencement speech. Most were probably looking for advice on achieving success in life. (b) He took the risk of boring the audience, since it was not a topic most people were interested in. I had a deeper respect for him after reading his speech.

“Even with the advent of the Internet and 24-hour news, it is still a complex enterprise to get people to truly see the problems. When an airplane crashes, officials immediately call a press conference. They promise to investigate, determine the cause, and prevent similar crashes in the future. But if the officials were brutally honest, they would say: “Of all the people in the world who died today from preventable causes, one half of one percent of them were on this plane. We’re determined to do everything possible to solve the problem that took the lives of the one half of one percent.” The bigger problem is not the plane crash, but the millions of preventable deaths.”

The media today dramatizes on specific incidents and events – which are just a fraction of what’s occurring around the world today. Stop using media as the filter to our world, and instead look out there to understand what’s happening around. Then pick a cause that you’re most passionate about, and pursue that in full throttle. That’s how we start making that difference.

9) Oprah Winfrey, Stanford University, 2008

“I consider the world, this Earth, to be like a school. And our life, the classrooms, and sometimes on this planet Earth school, the lessons often come dressed up as detours, or roadblocks, and sometimes, as full blown crises. And the secret I’ve learned to getting ahead, is being open to the lessons – lessons from the grandest universe of all, that is the universe itself.” — Oprah Winfrey

Everyone knows Oprah – She’s arguably the most influential woman in the world, and owner of the most successful TV talkshow in the world, The Oprah Winfrey Show. In Oprah’s speech, she shares 3 powerful lessons from her life (If you want to skip straight to Oprah’s speech, fast forward to 3:24min in the video). The first is about the importance of being true to who we are . When she started her TV career at 22, she never felt she was at home. She tried to emulate Barbara Walters (another TV host). There were differing expectations from her manager and her father on what she should be. Her news director wanted to change her name to “Susie” because “Oprah” didn’t seem marketable.

In the end she decided to stay true to who she was, and just be herself. Her feelings became her GPS in assessing whether a decision was right or wrong. She learned to listen to her intuition and tune out what others around her were asking her to do. It turned out to be the best thing she could ever do. If you ever feel that you’re at a loss of what to do, get still, “very still”, and the answer will come to you eventually.

“Don’t react against a bad situation; Merge with that situation instead. And the solution will arise from the challenge. Because surrendering yourself doesn’t mean giving up, it means acting with responsibility.” — Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

The second lesson is to learn lessons from failure. Every failure, every experience is there to teach you something. In Oprah’s case, she was starting a new school in Africa, and was very focused on creating a beautiful environment for the kids, until one day she was told that one of the girls was sexually abused. She broke down, and rather than let the incident take over her, she thought about what there was to learn from the situation. She learned that she had been focusing on the wrong things – trying to build the school from outside in, rather than inside out, and this led her to change her approach from there on. If you lose yourself with the bad situations that hit you, you’d have lost there and then. But if you take a lesson, at least one lesson with every experience, you’d have emerged a stronger and better person.

The third lesson is on finding happiness. What makes you happy? In Oprah’s speech, she shared that happiness is achieved when you give something back to others. Did you know how Stanford came to be? The university was founded in 1885 when the Stanfords lost their child a year earlier, and decided in their grief to build a school, and treat the children in the school as theirs. Because of their kindness, they have forever changed ten thousands of lives directly, and millions as a corollary to that. For me happiness is when I help others to achieve their highest potentials and live their best lives. This is why I dedicated my life to this cause, and I know I’m happiest than I’ve ever been just doing this.

However, I believe that service is not necessarily everyone’s calling, and it’s most important to do what makes you happy, vs. blindly serving others just because that’s what other people say. That’s no different from an unconscious life. Think about what makes you happy – In your ideal life, what will you be doing? What’s your passion ? Pursue that, because it’s the most important thing you can ever do in your life.

In the first week of Live a Better Life in 30 Days , we envision our ideal life, set our ideal life goals, design our life map, and create our action plan to achieve our goals.

10) Larry Page, University of Michigan, 2009

Larry Page is the co-founder of Google, the #1 search engine in the world. He’s part of the reason why all of us get such seamless web searching experience today :D. In his heartfelt speech, he shared how he created Google. It all started out with a dream – literally, a dream while he was sleeping. When he woke up in the middle of the night, he had a sudden idea to download the web. He immediately wrote down the idea and approached his advisor later. From there, Google was born. He had a dream, and rather than brush it aside, he took action on it.

“I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. There are so few people this crazy that I feel like I know them all by first name. They all travel as if they are pack dogs and stick to each other like glue. The best people want to work the big challenges.” — Larry Page

Larry also shared the importance of treasuring our families and friends. He lost his dad to polio when he was 23, which left him devastated. Where are your families and friends? How’s your relationships with them? While we’re pursuing our dreams and ambitions, don’t forget our relationships. As I wrote in the Life Wheel , our life is made up of 11 segments, including family, social and love. Our lives can never truly the best if we neglect any one segment, so make sure you use the wheel as your guide every step of the way.

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This is part of the Inspiration & Motivation series. Check out the other articles in the series:

  • 13 Meaningful Movies With Life Lessons To Learn
  • 20 Amazing Commercials To Inspire the Greatness in You
  • 56 Most Inspirational Songs of All Time
  • 15 Beautiful Inspirational Wallpapers For Your Desktop
  • 15 More Beautiful Wallpapers With Positive Affirmations
  • 101 Inspiring Quotes of All Time
  • 101 Things To Do Before You Die
  • 101 Ways To Be a Better Person
  • 101 Ways To Live Your Life To The Fullest
  • 101 Important Questions To Ask Yourself in Life
  • 101 Life Principles to Live By Daily

(Images: Graduation speech , Michael Dell , Bono )

a short graduation speech

  • How To Deal With Disillusionment
  • How To Deal With Uncertainty
  • How To Overcome Anger
  • How To Say No To Others
  • How To Tackle Naysayers
  • How To Stop Analysis Paralysis
  • How To Deal With Critical People
  • How To Deal With Negative Self-Worth
  • How To Deal With Unsupportive Friends & Family
  • How To Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents
  • How To Find Your Life Purpose
  • Find Purpose After a Hard Fall
  • How To Move On From a Heartbreak
  • How To Find Your Soulmate
  • How To Stop Procrastination
  • How To Make Life’s Hardest Decisions
  • Develop Your Talent Stack
  • How To Stay Focused & Not Get Distracted
  • How To Be Happy: 10 Principles
  • How To Deal With Disappointment
  • How To Handle Negative Criticism
  • How To Give Constructive Criticism
  • 101 Ways To Live Your Best Life
  • 101 Questions To Ask Yourself

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a short graduation speech

10 Steps For Writing An Unforgettable Graduation Speech

  • Pick A Theme
  • Begin With Gratitude
  • Motivational Quotes
  • Get Personal
  • Add Your Personality
  • Avoid Cliches
  • Create A Call To Action

School is almost out, but for many students, there’s one more major task to complete before summer: graduation. Whether you’re graduating from high school or earning a college degree, a graduation ceremony is a huge milestone. And, if you’ve been asked to speak at graduation, you might be feeling the pressure right now.

Graduation speeches of all kinds date back to at least the 1600s, and though a lot has changed since then, these kinds of speeches still contain similar key elements that help make them effective, inspiring, and something every graduating student and their loved ones look forward to.

Public speaking can be nerve-racking in any setting, particularly when you know the audience is filled with people’s cousins and grandparents who are likely to remember this day forever, but fear not! We’re here to help with these 10 key steps to follow to write and deliver a truly unforgettable graduation speech.

1. Pick a theme.

If you want the audience to feel moved and inspired by your speech (Who doesn’t, right?), then it helps to build your speech around a central theme or message. Think about what’s important to you as the speaker and what you’d like others to take away from your words. Once you have a theme, it will be easier to select the quotes and anecdotes that tie back to that central idea and create a speech that leaves your audience in awe.

🎓 Here are some popular themes to consider:

  • Embracing failure.
  • Overcoming adversity.
  • The importance of having big dreams.
  • Facing change with grace.
  • Taking responsibility for your future.
  • Learning from past mistakes.
  • The importance of friendship.
  • Becoming a lifelong learner.

2. Begin with gratitude.

When you step up to the mic on graduation day, you’ll need to begin with a few formalities. First, thank the previous speakers, as well as everyone in attendance. Then, express your feelings about the privilege of being asked to address the audience on this momentous occasion. Go ahead and write this part down so you don’t forget to do it on the big day. Here are some examples:

Thank you, [name of previous speaker], and thank you, friends, family, faculty, and fellow graduates for being here today. It’s an honor to celebrate this milestone with you as your valedictorian.

Thank you, [name of previous speaker]. Graduates, loved ones, and distinguished faculty members, it is an honor to be here with you today. I’m so grateful to [name of school or university] for the privilege of being your [type of speaker].

3. Use a motivational quote.

The greatest commencement speeches typically include a motivational quote, whether it’s from a famous person, a beloved teacher, or something your grandfather taught you. The right motivational quote will tie into your theme and serve as a thesis statement for the message you hope the audience will take from your words. Consider these celebrity quotes from other powerful commencement speeches:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” — Steve Jobs , Stanford University, 2005

“You must lead. You’re never too young to lead. You’re never too old to lead. We need your leadership now more than ever before.” — John Lewis , Harvard, 2018

“The day you graduate, you do not arrive. This is not the end. This is the beginning for you. To graduate is to change gradually.” — Rita Moreno , Northeastern Illinois University, 2015

“Ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future.” — Jessica Lange , Sarah Lawrence College, 2008

“You are full of complexities and wonders that haven’t even begun to surface. Life’s unpredictability will draw these out and what defines you now will be mere shades and hues of a more vibrant you over the next five, 10, 50 years. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more liberating than that, knowing that life will look differently than you think it will.” — Octavia Spencer , Kent State University, 2017

4. Get personal.

When Conan O’Brien delivered the commencement speech at Dartmouth University in 2011, he talked about being fired from his dream job and what that failure taught him. Some lauded it as one of the best graduation speeches of all time.

Sharing personal anecdotes, even ones that mention failures or humiliations, is a powerful way to connect with your audience and drive your message home in a personal way. When writing your speech, draw on your experiences as a student and be clear about how those experiences shaped and prepared you for what lies ahead.

Learn how to a sensational graduation card here.

5. Infuse your personality.

Graduation speeches may follow a formula, but that doesn’t mean they need to be boring! Use your personal sense of humor, unique story, and life experiences to give the speech character and charm. What does this look like in action?

In 2016, author John Green brought levity to his commencement speech when shared with the graduating class at Kenyon College that the best life advice he ever got was, “You’re a good kid, but you need to learn when to stop talking.”

At the University of Virginia in 2016, late night host Stephen Colbert joked that people should leave their cell phones on because “I wouldn’t want you to miss a text or a tweet while I’m giving my speech.”

You may not be a famous comedian or author, but being uniquely yourself can help your speech shine.

6. Reflect, then look ahead.

You and the rest of your graduating class are sharing a major life milestone, and you’ve all worked hard to get to this point. What has life been like during your years in school? What experiences have you shared, and how have those shaped you as people moving forward into the next phase of your life?

In your speech, include real-life examples of the things you’ve faced in your time as students. Put those events in context in your life, and remind your audience that you have all learned so much more than just what was on the course syllabi.

7. Avoid clichés

The tricky part of writing a graduation speech is being inspiring without resorting to clichés. If you use personal anecdotes and weave personality into your speech, it’s unlikely that you’ll fall back on tired, overused statements. But, sometimes they still sneak in. If that’s the case, try to swap them out with a fresher take.

Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of talking about the “real world” as a future destination, talk about how you already live there and you’re ready for whatever life throws at you.
  • Instead of defining a typical graduation word (like courage or future ), talk about the words that come to mind when you think about school and what they mean to you.
  • Instead of talking about what you’re “leaving behind,” talk about what lessons and people you’re taking with you.

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8. Create a call to action.

Graduation speeches serve two important purposes: celebrating everything that came before graduation day and building excitement for everything that will come after it. The easiest way to leave people inspired is to include a call to action. This doesn’t mean providing strict instructions for some task they must complete. Think of it more as broad instructions for how to meet the challenges ahead.

Your call to action should restate the theme of your speech and give the audience a clear takeaway message to carry with them. Need some examples? We have a few:

“Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is.” — Gloria Steinem , Tufts University, 1987

“Let excellence be your brand.” — Oprah Winfrey , Spelman College, 2012

“Fight for the job you want, fight for the people who mean the most to you and fight for the kind of world you want to live in.” — Elizabeth Warren , Suffolk University, 2016

9. Keep it brief.

While you surely have a lot of great things to say, no one wants to sit through a 12-page speech. Graduation ceremonies are already long, and the audience is usually asked to listen to multiple speeches. Keep this in mind, and say what you’d like to say in the briefest way possible. Aim for a speech that falls between 500 and 750 words, and time yourself to make sure you don’t exceed 10 minutes during delivery.

10. Practice, practice, practice.

The only way to ensure your speech flows, makes sense, and holds people’s attention is to practice reading it out loud. Practice by yourself in front of a mirror, being careful to notice and edit any places where you trip over words or have awkward pauses. Once you’ve perfected the solo read-aloud, ask a parent or friend to serve as an audience. This will help you test out your jokes and polish your anecdotes based on their reactions. By graduation day, you’ll be ready to take to the stage like a pro.

Need more inspiration? These graduation quotes should do the trick.

a short graduation speech

Ways To Say

Synonym of the day

The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever

Looking for some new words of wisdom? Check out our hand-picked selection of commencement addresses, going back to 1774. Search over 350 speeches by name, school, date or theme — and find out what they have in common with pop songs — on our blog: n.pr/ed .

By Jeremy Bowers, Emily Davis, Danny DeBelius, Christopher Groskopf, Anya Kamenetz, Meredith Rizzo, Sami Yenigun

Thanks to Cristina Negrut, the creator of http://graduationwisdom.com/ where many of these speeches were first collected.

May 19, 2014, Last updated: July 2, 2015

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Harvard graduates this week will hear from two high-profile leaders, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Thursday and Sunday. Ahead of the ceremonies, we look back at Commencement addresses from recent years.

“My philosophy is very simple. When you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, stand up, say something, and speak out.”

U.S. Rep. John Lewis

2018 The Civil Rights icon delivers a powerful message on the importance of truth, justice, and equality at a time when those values have come under assault.

Thank you so much for those kind words of introduction. I must tell you that I’m delighted, very pleased and really happy to be here. You look good! The weather is good, rain stayed away. I’m happy. It’s good to see each and every one of you. Fellows of Harvard University, members of the Board of Overseers, members of the alumni board, distinguished deans, guests, faculty and all of the students, all of the wonderful graduates, and madam president, thank you. Thank you for your leadership, thank you for getting in good trouble! Necessary trouble. To lead this great University.

I want to take just a moment to honor the tenure of a great leader, who, through her courage and vision, worked to lead this historic university to even higher heights. Madam president, thank you for being a friend, but more importantly, thank you for using your office to move Harvard toward a more all-inclusive institution. Somewhere along the way, you realized that the brilliant mind is not confined to one discipline or one way of thinking.

In fact, true genius sees connections and relationships across barriers, to build a new understanding of the world around us. Creating one Harvard is much like the work I dedicated my life to. Ever since as a young girl you wrote a letter to President Eisenhower as a little girl, you have been responding to the cry for human dignity that rings out in our world. You used your vision and your talent, you used the great resources of this university to respond to that call, and I thank you. Thank you for your contribution to human unity in our world.

Today I say to each and every one of you who graduated from this University, you must lead. You’re never too young to lead, you’re never too old to lead! We need your leadership now more than ever before. We need it! We must save our country! We must save it! We must save our democracy. There are forces in America today and around the world trying to take us to some other place. Our foremothers and forefathers brought us to this place. Maybe our foremothers and our forefathers all came to this great land in different ships but as the late great A. Philip Randolph said “we are all in the same boat now” and we must look out for each other and care for each other. You’re never too young or too old to lead! To speak up! Speak out! And get in good trouble, necessary trouble. You cannot afford to stand on the sidelines.

Another generation of young people and people not so young are inspired to get in the way. Students from Harvard, Dr. Cole, who I have been knowing for many years came to Mississippi, came to the South and gave everything you had. During the 63 young men that I knew, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwermer, and James Chaney gave their very lives while they were helping people to register to vote. The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent instrument or tool we have in a democratic society and we must use t if we fail to use it, we will lose it.

So during this election year, I urge you, I plead with you to do what you can to save and rescue America. To do what you can to save the planet! Save this spaceship we call earth and leave it a little cleaner, a little greener, and a little more peaceful. For generations yet unborn. We have a mission and a mandate to go out there, play a role and play it so well as Dr. King would say, that no one else can play it any better. Some of you have heard me say from time to time that I grew up in rural Alabama on a farm, picking cotton, gathering peanuts, gathering corn. Sometimes I would be out there working and my mother would say, “boy, you’re falling behind! You need to catch up.” And I would say “this is hard work.” And she said “hard work never killed anybody.” And I said “well it’s about to kill me!” We need to work hard! There is work to be done. These smart graduates will lead us. High school students lead us, and guys, I say to you, if you’re not mindful, the women are going to lead us! It is my belief, it is my feeling as a traveler of America that the women and young. People, high school students, elementary school students and College students will lead us as part of a nonviolent revolution. We will create an America that is better, a little more humane and no one, but no one can deny us of that.

I just want to say one or two words to the graduates. Take a deep breath and take it all in. But tomorrow, I hope you roll up your sleeves, because the world is waiting for talented men and women to lead it to a better place. During the 60s, people literally put their bodies on the line! Many came from this University, came from Cambridge, from Boston, throughout the state and throughout America. Just think a few short years ago that Black people and white people couldn’t be seated together on a Greyhound business or trailway bus, leaving Washington, D.C., to travel through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi. We were on our way to New Orleans to test a decision of the United States Supreme Court. We were beaten, arrested, and more than 400 of us were jailed. My seatmate was a young white gentleman from Connecticut. We arrived in a small town in South Carolina. We were beaten, left bloody. But many years later, and this was May 1961, same year that Barack Obama was born, but many years later, one of the guys that beat us came to my office in Washington. He got information from a local reporter. He was in his 70s, his son came with him in his 40s. He said, “Mr. Lewis, I’m one of the people that beat you. Beat your seatmate. I’ve been a member of the Klan.” He said “will you forgive me? I want to apologize. Will you accept my apology? Will you forgive me?” His son started crying, he started crying and I said, “I forgive you. I accept your apology.” They hugged me, I hugged them back, and I cried with them. It is the power of the way of peace, the power of love, it is the power of the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. We need to create a society where we can be reconciled and lay down the burden of hath for hate is too heavy of a burden to bear.

Fifty years ago the man that I admired, the man that was like a brother, Martin Luther King Jr., was taken from us. When we heard that Dr. King had been assassinated I was in Indianapolis, Indiana, campaigning with Bobby Kennedy. I cried. Stopped crying and I said to myself “we still have bobby.” Two months later Bobby Kennedy was gone. And I cried some more. Today we’ve got to get rid of our are tears and not be down. And not get lost in the sea of despair. We’ve got to be hopeful and keep the faith and turn the ship around. We can do it and we must do it!

Here at Harvard you’ve been well trained. You must lead. You must get out there and as Dr. King would say, be a headlight, not a taillight! It’s your time, it’s your calling. During the 60s I got arrested a few times, 40 times! And since I’ve been in Congress another five times! And I’m probably going to get arrested again! My philosophy is very simple, when you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, stand up! Say something! Speak up and speak out!

When I was growing up as a young boy in rural Alabama, 50 miles from Montgomery, I had an aunt by the name of Seneva and my aunt lived in a shotgun house. Here at Harvard you never seen a shotgun house, you don’t even know what I’m talking about. One way in, one way out. What is a shotgun house? Old house, dirt yard. Sometimes my aunt Seneva would go out on the weekend, Friday or Saturday, and take a brush broom made from dogwood branches and sweep the yard very clean. One Saturday afternoon few of my brothers and sisters, cousins, about 15 of us young children were playing in her dirt yard. And an unbelievable storm came up. The wind started blowing, the thunder started rolling and the lightning started flashing and she told us to come in. We went in. The wind continued to blow, the thunder continued to roll, the lightning continued to flash, and the rain continued to beat on this old tin roof of the shotgun house. And we cried and cried. And in one corner of the old house appeared to be lifting up. And my aunt walked over to that side to hold the house down with her body. When the other corner appeared to be lifting she had us walk to that corner, we were children walking with the wind, but we never, ever left the house! I say to each of you, each and every one of us, the wind may blow, the thunder may roll, the lightning may flash, and the rain may beat down on an old house. Call it a house of Harvard, call it a house of Cambridge, call it a house of Boston, call it the house of Washington, or Alabama or Georgia, we all live in the same house. We all must hold our little house down. So I say to you: Walk with the wind. Let the spirit of history be your guide.

Thank you very much.

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

J.K. Rowling

2008 Drawing from her own life story, the “Harry Potter” author urges graduates not to fear failure but to learn from it and emphasized the power of empathy and imagination.

Read the speech.

“If we break down the walls that hem us in, if we step out into the open and have the courage to embrace new beginnings, everything is possible.”

Angela Merkel

2019 Like the Berlin Wall, “anything that seems set in stone or inalterable can indeed change,” Germany’s first woman chancellor said.

Herman Hesse wrote, “In all beginnings dwells a magic force for guarding us and helping us to live.” These words by Herman Hesse inspired me when I completed my physics degree at the age of 24. That was back in 1978. The world was divided into east and west, and it was in the grips of the Cold War. I grew up in East Germany, in the GDR, the part of my country which was not free at that time, in a dictatorship. People were oppressed and under state surveillance. Political dissidents were persecuted. The East German government was afraid that the people would flee to freedom. And that’s why it built the Berlin Wall, a wall made of concrete and steel. Anyone caught trying to overcome it was arrested or shot dead. This wall, which cut Berlin in half, divided a people and it divided families. My family was also divided.My first job after college was as a physicist at the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin. I lived near the Berlin Wall. I walked towards it every day on my way home from my institute. Behind it lay West Berlin, freedom. And every day, when I was very close to the wall, I had to turn away at the last minute in order to head towards my apartment. Every day, I had to turn away from freedom at the last minute. I don’t know how often I thought that I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was so frustrating.

Now, I was not a dissident. I didn’t run up and bang against the wall. Nor, however, did I deny its existence, for I didn’t want to lie to myself. The Berlin Wall limited my opportunities. It quite literally stood in my way. However, there was one thing which this wall couldn’t do during all those years. It couldn’t impose limits on my inner thoughts. My personality, my imagination, my dreams and desires, prohibitions or coercion couldn’t limit any of that. Then came 1989. A common desire for freedom unleashed incredible forces throughout Europe. In Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, as well as in East Germany, hundreds of thousands of people dared to take to the streets. The people demonstrated and brought down the wall. Something which many people, including myself, would not have believed possible became reality. Where there was once only a dark wall, a door suddenly opened. For me, too, the moment had come to walk through that door. I no longer had to turn away from freedom at the last minute. I was able to cross this border and venture out into the great wide open.

During these months, 30 years ago, I experienced firsthand that nothing has to stay the way it is. This experience, dear graduates, is the first thought I want to share with you today for your future. Anything that seems to be set in stone or inalterable can, indeed, change. In matters both large and small, it holds true that every change begins in the mind. My parents’ generation discovered this in a most painful way. My father and mother were born in 1926 and 1928.

When they weren’t as old as most of you here today, the betrayal of all civilized well values that was the Shoah and World War II had just ended. My country, Germany, had brought unimaginable suffering on Europe and the world. The victors and the defeated could easily have remained irreconcilable for many years, but instead, Europe overcame centuries old conflicts. A peaceful order based on common values rather than suppose at national strength emerged. Despite all the discussions and temporary setbacks, I firmly believe that we Europeans have United for the better. And the relationship between Germans and Americans, too, demonstrates how former wartime enemies can become friends.

It was George Marshall who gave a crucial contribution to this for the plan he announced at the commencement ceremonies in 1947 in this very place. The transatlantic partnership based on values, such as democracy and human rights, has given us an era of peace and prosperity of benefit to all sides, which has lasted for more than 70 years now. And today, it will not be long now before the politicians of my generation are no longer the subject of the exercising leadership program, and at most will be dealt with in leadership in history. Harvard class of 2019, your generation will be faced with the challenges of the 21st century in the coming decades. You are among those who will lead us into the future.

Protectionism and trade conflicts, jeopardize free international trade, and thus the very foundations of our prosperity. The digital transformation affects all facets of our lives, wars and terrorism lead to displacement and forced migration, climate change poses a threat to our planet’s natural resources, it and the resulting crises are caused by humans. Therefore, we can and must do everything humanly possible to truly master this challenge to humankind. It’s still possible. However, each and every one of us must play our part. And I say this with a measure of self criticism, get better. I will therefore do everything in my power to ensure that Germany, my country, will achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Changes for the better are possible if we tackle them together. If we were to go it alone, we could not achieve much. The second thought I want to share with you is therefore, more than ever our way of thinking and our actions have to be multilateral rather than unilateral, global rather than national, outward looking rather than isolationists. In short, we have to work together rather than alone.

You, dear graduates, will have quite different opportunities to do this in future than my generation did. After all, your smartphone probably has considerably more processing power than the copy of an IBM mainframe computer manufactured in the Soviet Union, which I was allowed to use for my dissertation in East Germany in 1986.

Today we use artificial intelligence, for example, to search through millions of images for symptoms of diseases.In order, among other things, to better diagnose cancer. In future, empathetic robots could help doctors and nurses to focus on the individual needs of patients. We cannot predict today which applications will be possible. However, the opportunities it brings are truly breathtaking.

Class of 2019, how we use these opportunities will be largely up to you as graduates. You are the ones who will be involved in deciding how our approach to how we work, communicate, get about, indeed, our entire way of life will develop. As federal chancellor, I often have to ask myself, “Am I doing the right thing?” “Am I doing something? Because it isn’t right? Or simply because it is possible.” That is something you two need to keep asking yourselves. And that is the third thought I wish to share with you today.

Are we laying down the rules for technology or is technology dictating how we interact? Do we prioritize people as individuals with their human dignity and all their many facets? Or do we see in them merely consumers, data sources, objects of surveyance. These are difficult questions.

I have learned that we can find good answers even to difficult questions if we always try to view the world through the eyes of others. If we respect other people’s history, traditions, religion, and identity. If we hold fast to our inalienable values and act in accordance with them. And if we don’t always act on our first impulses, even when there is pressure to make a snap decision.

But instead take a moment to stop. Be still. Think. Pause. Granted, that certainly takes courage. Above all it calls for truthfulness in our attitude towards others. And perhaps most importantly, it calls for us to be honest with ourselves.

What better place to begin to do so than here, in this place, where so many young people from all over the world come to learn, research, and discuss the issues of our time under the maxim of truth. That requires us not to describe lies as truth and truth as lies. It requires us not to accept shortcomings as our normality. Yet what, dear graduates, could stop you? What could stop us from doing that?

Once again, the answer is walls.

Walls in people’s minds. Walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They exist between family members, as well as between groups within the society, between people of different skin colors, nations, and religions. I would like us to break down these walls. Walls that keep preventing us from envisioning the world in which, together, we want to live.

Whether we manage to do that is up to us. That’s why my full thought for you, dear graduates, to consider is this. Nothing can be taken for granted. Our individual liberties are not givens. Democracy is not something we can take for granted. Neither is peace and neither is prosperity.

But if we break down… If we break down the walls that hem us in, if we step out into the open and have the courage to embrace new beginnings, everything is possible. Walls can collapse. Dictatorships can disappear. We can halt global warming. We can eradicate starvation. We can eliminate diseases. We can give people, especially girls, access to education. We can fight the causes of displacement and forced migration. We can do all of that. Let’s not start by asking what isn’t possible, or focusing on what has always been that way. Let’s start by asking what is possible and looking for things that have never been done like that before. This is exactly what I said to the Bundestag, the German Parliament, in 2005 in my first policy statement as newly elected Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and the first woman to hold this office. I want to use precisely these words to share with you my fifth thought. Let us surprise ourselves by showing what is possible. Let us surprise ourselves by showing what we are capable of. In my own life, it was the fall of the Berlin Wall that allowed me almost 30 years ago to step out into the open. At that point, I left my work as a scientist behind me and entered politics. That was an exciting and magical time, just as your lives will be exciting and magical.

I also experienced moments of doubt and worry, for at that time, we all knew what lay behind us, but not what might lie ahead. Perhaps that reflects a little how you, too, are feeling today, amidst all the joy of this occasion.

The six thought I also want to share with you is this. The moment when you step out into the open is also a moment of risk-taking. Letting go of the old is part of a new beginning. There is no beginning without an end, no day without night, no life without death. Our whole life consists of the difference, the space between beginning and ending.

It is what lies in between that we call life and experience. I believe at time and time again, we need to be prepared to keep bringing things to an end in order to feel the magic of new beginnings and to make the most of opportunities. That was what I learned as a student, and it is what I now in politics. Who knows what life will bring after my time as a politician? That, too, is completely open. Only one thing is clear. It will again be something different and something new.

That’s why I want to leave this wish with you. Tear down walls of ignorance and narrow mindedness for nothing has to stay as it is.

It’s six things. Take joint action in the interest of the moderate lateral global world. Keep asking yourselves, “Am I doing something because it is right, or simply because it’s possible?” Don’t forget that freedom is never something that can be taken for granted. Surprise yourself with what is possible. Remember that openness always involves risks. Letting go of the old is part of the new beginning. Above all, nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is possible. Thank you.

“In a two-hour movie, you get a handful of character-defining moments, but in real life, you face them every day. Life is one strong, long string of character-defining moments.”

Steven Spielberg

2016 Don’t shy away from the world’s pain, the filmmaker urged grads. Instead, examine it, challenge it and, while you’re at it, find “a villain to vanquish.”

Thank you, thank you, President Faust, and Paul Choi, thank you so much.

It’s an honor and a thrill to address this group of distinguished alumni and supportive friends and kvelling parents. We’ve all gathered to share in the joy of this day, so please join me in congratulating Harvard’s Class of 2016.

I can remember my own college graduation, which is easy, since it was only 14 years ago. How many of you took 37 years to graduate? Because, like most of you, I began college in my teens, but sophomore year, I was offered my dream job at Universal Studios, so I dropped out. I told my parents if my movie career didn’t go well, I’d re-enroll. It went all right.But eventually, I returned for one big reason. Most people go to college for an education, and some go for their parents, but I went for my kids. I’m the father of seven, and I kept insisting on the importance of going to college, but I hadn’t walked the walk. So, in my fifties, I re-enrolled at Cal State — Long Beach, and I earned my degree.I just have to add: It helped that they gave me course credit in paleontology for the work I did on Jurassic Park. That’s three units for Jurassic Park, thank you. Well I left college because I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and some of you know, too — but some of you don’t. Or maybe you thought you knew but are now questioning that choice. Maybe you’re sitting there trying to figure out how to tell your parents that you want to be a doctor and not a comedy writer.

Well, what you choose to do next is what we call in the movies the “character-defining moment.” Now, these are moments you’re very familiar with, like in the last “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” when Rey realizes the force is with her. Or Indiana Jones choosing mission over fear by jumping over a pile of snakes. Now in a two-hour movie, you get a handful of character-defining moments, but in real life, you face them every day. Life is one strong, long string of character-defining moments. And I was lucky that at 18 I knew what I exactly wanted to do. But I didn’t know who I was. How could I? And how could any of us? Because for the first 25 years of our lives, we are trained to listen to voices that are not our own. Parents and professors fill our heads with wisdom and information, and then employers and mentors take their place and explain how this world really works. And usually these voices of authority make sense, but sometimes, doubt starts to creep into our heads and into our hearts. And even when we think, “that’s not quite how I see the world,” it’s kind of easier to just to nod in agreement and go along, and for a while, I let that going along define my character. Because I was repressing my own point of view, because like in that Nilsson song, “Everybody was talkin’ at me, so I couldn’t hear the echoes of my mind.” And at first, the internal voice I needed to listen to was hardly audible, and it was hardly noticeable — kind of like me in high school.

But then I started paying more attention, and my intuition kicked in. And I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here’s the distinction: Your conscience shouts, “here’s what you should do,” while your intuition whispers, “here’s what you could do.” Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that. Because once I turned to my intuition, and I tuned into it, certain projects began to pull me into them, and others, I turned away from. And up until the 1980s, my movies were mostly, I guess what you could call “escapist.” And I don’t dismiss any of these movies — not even 1941. Not even that one. And many of these early films reflected the values that I cared deeply about, and I still do. But I was in a celluloid bubble, because I’d cut my education short, my worldview was limited to what I could dream up in my head, not what the world could teach me.

But then I directed “The Color Purple.” And this one film opened my eyes to experiences that I never could have imagined, and yet were all too real. This story was filled with deep pain and deeper truths, like when Shug Avery says, “Everything wants to be loved.” My gut, which was my intuition, told me that more people needed to meet these characters and experience these truths. And while making that film, I realized that a movie could also be a mission. I hope all of you find that sense of mission. Don’t turn away from what’s painful. Examine it. Challenge it. My job is to create a world that lasts two hours. Your job is to create a world that lasts forever. You are the future innovators, motivators, leaders and caretakers. And the way you create a better future is by studying the past.

“Jurassic Park” writer Michael Crichton, who graduated from both this college and this medical school, liked to quote a favorite professor of his who said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree. So history majors: Good choice, you’re in great shape…Not in the job market, but culturally. The rest of us have to make a little effort. Social media that we’re inundated and swarmed with is about the here and now. But I’ve been fighting and fighting inside my own family to get all my kids to look behind them, to look at what already has happened. Because to understand who they are is to understand who we were, and who their grandparents were, and then, what this country was like when they emigrated here. We are a nation of immigrants at least for now.

So to me, this means we all have to tell our own stories. We have so many stories to tell. Talk to your parents and your grandparents, if you can, and ask them about their stories. And I promise you, like I have promised my kids, you will not be bored. And that’s why I so often make movies based on real-life events. I look to history not to be didactic, cause that’s just a bonus, but I look because the past is filled with the greatest stories that have ever been told. Heroes and villains are not literary constructs, but they’re at the heart of all history.

And again, this is why it’s so important to listen to your internal whisper. It’s the same one that compelled Abraham Lincoln and Oskar Schindler to make the correct moral choices. In your defining moments, do not let your morals be swayed by convenience or expediency. Sticking to your character requires a lot of courage. And to be courageous, you’re going to need a lot of support.And if you’re lucky, you have parents like mine. I consider my mom my lucky charm. And when I was 12 years old, my father handed me a movie camera, the tool that allowed me to make sense of this world. And I am so grateful to him for that. And I am grateful that he’s here at Harvard, sitting right down there. My dad is 99 years old, which means he’s only one year younger than Widener Library. But unlike Widener, he’s had zero cosmetic work. And dad, there’s a lady behind you, also 99, and I’ll introduce you after this is over, okay? But look, if your family’s not always available, there’s backup. Near the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” — you remember that movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Clarence the Angel inscribes a book with this: “No man is a failure who has friends.” And I hope you hang on to the friendships you’ve made here at Harvard. And among your friends, I hope you find someone you want to share your life with.

I imagine some of you in this yard may be a tad cynical, but I want to be unapologetically sentimental. I spoke about the importance of intuition and how there’s no greater voice to follow. That is, until you meet the love of your life. And this is what happened when I met and married Kate, and that became the greatest character-defining moment of my life.Love, support, courage, intuition. All of these things are in your hero’s quiver, but still, a hero needs one more thing: A hero needs a villain to vanquish. And you’re all in luck. This world is full of monsters. And there’s racism, homophobia, ethnic hatred, class hatred, there’s political hatred, and there’s religious hatred.As a kid, I was bullied — for being Jewish. This was upsetting, but compared to what my parents and grandparents had faced, it felt tame. Because we truly believed that anti-Semitism was fading. And we were wrong. Over the last two years, nearly 20,000 Jews have left Europe to find higher ground. And earlier this year, I was at the Israeli embassy when President Obama stated the sad truth. He said: “We must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise. We cannot deny it.”

My own desire to confront that reality compelled me to start, in 1994, the Shoah Foundation. And since then, we’ve spoken to over 53,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses in 63 countries and taken all their video testimonies. And we’re now gathering testimonies from genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia and Nanking. Because we must never forget that the inconceivable doesn’t happen — it happens frequently. Atrocities are happening right now. And so we wonder not just, “When will this hatred end?” but, “How did it begin?”

Now, I don’t have to tell a crowd of Red Sox fans that we are wired for tribalism. But beyond rooting for the home team, tribalism has a much darker side. Instinctively and maybe even genetically, we divide the world into “us” and “them.” So the burning question must be: How do all of us together find the “we?” How do we do that? There’s still so much work to be done, and sometimes I feel the work hasn’t even begun. And it’s not just anti-Semitism that’s surging — Islamophobia’s on the rise, too. Because there’s no difference between anyone who is discriminated against, whether it’s the Muslims, or the Jews, or minorities on the border states, or the LGBT community — it is all big one hate.

And to me, and, I think, to all of you, the only answer to more hate is more humanity. We gotta repair — we have to replace fear with curiosity. “Us” and “them” — we’ll find the “we” by connecting with each other. And by believing that we’re members of the same tribe. And by feeling empathy for every soul — even Yalies.

My son graduated from Yale, thank you …

But make sure this empathy isn’t just something that you feel. Make it something you act upon. That means vote. Peaceably protest. Speak up for those who can’t and speak up for those who may be shouting but aren’t being hard. Let your conscience shout as loud as it wants if you’re using it in the service of others.

And as an example of action in service of others, you need to look no further than this Hollywood-worthy backdrop of Memorial Church. Its south wall bears the names of Harvard alumni — like President Faust has already mentioned — students and faculty members, who gave their lives in World War II. All told, 697 souls, who once tread the ground where stand now, were lost. And at a service in this church in late 1945, Harvard President James Conant — which President Faust also mentioned — honored the brave and called upon the community to “reflect the radiance of their deeds.”

Seventy years later, this message still holds true. Because their sacrifice is not a debt that can be repaid in a single generation. It must be repaid with every generation. Just as we must never forget the atrocities, we must never forget those who fought for freedom. So as you leave this college and head out into the world, continue please to ‘reflect the radiance of their deeds,’ or as Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan would say, “Earn this.”

And please stay connected. Please never lose eye contact. This may not be a lesson you want to hear from a person who creates media, but we are spending more time looking down at our devices than we are looking in each other’s eyes. So, forgive me, but let’s start right now. Everyone here, please find someone’s eyes to look into. Students, and alumni and you too, President Faust, all of you, turn to someone you don’t know or don’t know very well. They may be standing behind you, or a couple of rows ahead. Just let your eyes meet. That’s it. That emotion you’re feeling is our shared humanity mixed in with a little social discomfort.

But, if you remember nothing else from today, I hope you remember this moment of human connection. And I hope you all had a lot of that over the past four years. Because today you start down the path of becoming the generation on which the next generation stands. And I’ve imagined many possible futures in my films, but you will determine the actual future. And I hope that it’s filled with justice and peace.

And finally, I wish you all a true, Hollywood-style happy ending. I hope you outrun the T. rex, catch the criminal and for your parents’ sake, maybe every now and then, just like E.T.: Go home. Thank you.

“Facts and truth are matters of life and death. Misinformation, disinformation, delusions, and deceit can kill.”

Martin Baron

2020 “Imperfect though [it] may be” an independent press is key to ensuring that facts are presented and truth defended in society,” the Washington Post executive editor said.

Good morning from my home. Like you, I wish we were together on campus.There is so much now we can no longer take for granted. The air we breathe is first among them. So, those of us who are healthy have ample reason to be grateful. I am also grateful to Harvard and to President Bacow for inviting me to be with you. To the Harvard Class of 2020, congratulations. And congratulations to the parents, professors, mentors and friends who helped you along the way. Joining you for graduation is a high honor.

For me, this is an opportunity – an opportunity to speak about subjects that I believe are of real urgency. Especially now during a worldwide health emergency.

I would like to discuss with you the need for a commitment to facts and to truth. Only a few months ago, I would have settled for emphasizing that our democracy depends on facts and truth. And it surely does. But now, as we can plainly see, it is more elemental than that.

Facts and truth are matters of life and death. Misinformation, disinformation, delusions and deceit can kill. Here is what can move us forward: Science and medicine. Study and knowledge. Expertise and reason. In other words, fact and truth. I want to tell you why free expression by all of us and an independent press, imperfect though we may be, is essential to getting at the truth. And why we must hold government to account. And hold other powerful interests to account as well.When I began thinking about these remarks, I expected, of course, to be on Harvard’s campus. And I thought: Not a bad place to talk about a free press. Not a bad place to talk about our often-testy relationship with official power.

It was in Boston, after all, where the first newspaper of the American colonies was founded. Its first edition was published September 25th, 1690. The very next day, the governor and council of Massachusetts shut it down. So, the press of this country has long known what it means to face a government that aims to silence it. Fortunately, there has been progress. With the First Amendment, James Madison championed the right of “freely examining public characters and measures.”

But it took a very long time before we as a nation fully absorbed what Madison was talking about. We took many ominous turns. We had the Alien and Sedition acts under John Adams, the Sedition and Espionage Acts under Woodrow Wilson, the McCarthy era. It was not always clear where we as a nation would end up.

Finally, witnessing the authoritarianism of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, we began to secure a free press in this country. The Supreme Court would forcefully emphasize the press’ role in guaranteeing a democracy. Justice Hugo Black said it well decades later: “The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.” Not only the secrets of government, I would add. Our duty to inform the public does not stop there. Not by a long shot.

That was evident during my years as a journalist in Boston. Amid today’s crisis, it seems like another era. And I guess it is. But I want to tell you about it — because I think it remains instructive about what a strong, independent press must do.

I started as editor of the Boston Globe in the summer of 2001. One day prior to my start date, a Globe columnist wrote about a shocking case. A priest had been accused of abusing as many as 80 kids. A lawsuit alleged that the cardinal in Boston at the time knew about the serial abuse, didn’t do anything about it — and repeatedly reassigned this priest from parish to parish, warning no one, over decades. The Archdiocese called the accusations baseless and reckless. The Globe columnist wrote that the truth might never be known. Internal documents that might reveal it had been sealed by a judge. On my first day of work, we asked the question: How do we get at the truth? Because the public deserved to know.

That question led us to challenge the judge’s secrecy order. And our journalists launched an investigation of their own. In early 2002, we published what we had learned through reporting and by prevailing in court. We published the truth: The cardinal did know about the abuse by this priest. Yet he kept him in ministry, thus enabling further abuse. Dozens of clergy in the diocese had committed similar offenses. The cardinal had covered it all up.

And a bigger truth would emerge: Covering up such abuse had been practice and policy in the Church for decades. Only now the powerful were being held to account.

Late in 2002, after hundreds of stories on this subject, I received a letter from a Father Thomas P. Doyle. Father Doyle had struggled for years – in vain — to get the Church to confront the very issue we were writing about. He expressed deep gratitude for our work. “It is momentous,” he wrote, “and its good effects will reverberate for decades.” Father Doyle did not see journalists as the enemy. He saw us an ally when one was sorely needed. So did abuse survivors. I kept Father Doyle’s letter on my desk — a daily reminder of what journalists must do when we see evidence of wrongdoing.

Harvard’s commencement speaker two years ago, civil rights pioneer John Lewis, once said this: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” We as journalists have the capacity – along with the constitutional right — to say and do something. We also have the obligation. And we must have the will. So must you. Every one of you has a stake in this idea of free expression. You want to be free to express your views. You should be free to hear the views of others, the same or different. You want to be free to watch any movie. To read any book. To listen to any lyrics. You should be free to say what you know is true without threat of government reprisal.And you should acknowledge this if you value these freedoms that come with democracy: Democracy cannot exist without a free and independent press. It never has.

Leaders who crave more power for themselves always move quickly to crush an independent press. Next, they destroy free expression itself. Sadly, much of the world is on that worrisome path. And efforts in this country to demonize, delegitimize and dehumanize the press give license to other governments to do the same – and to do far worse.

By the end of last year, a near-record 250 journalists worldwide were sitting in prison. Thirty of them faced accusations of “false news,” a charge virtually unheard-of only seven years earlier.

Turkey has been trading places with China as No. 1 on the list of countries that jail the most journalists. The Turkish government has shut down more than 100 media outlets and charged many journalists as terrorists. Independent media have been largely extinguished. China, of course, imposes some of the world’s tightest censorship on what its citizens can see and hear.

In Hungary, the prime minister has waged war on independent media. Harvard Nieman fellow Andras Petho, who runs an investigative reporting center there, notes that the prime minister’s business allies are “taking over hundreds of outlets and turning them into propaganda machines.”

Like other heads of state, Hungary’s prime minister has exploited the pandemic to grab more power, suppress inconvenient facts, and escalate pressure on news outlets. A new law threatens up to five-year jail terms against those accused of spreading supposedly false information. Independent news outlets have questioned how the crisis was managed. And the fear now is that such accountability journalism will lead to harassment and arrests, as it has in other countries.

In the Philippines, the courageous Maria Ressa, who founded the country’s largest online-only news site, has been battling government harassment for years on other fronts. She now faces prosecution on bogus charges of violating foreign ownership laws. By the end of last year, she had posted bail eight times. Her real violation? She brought scrutiny to the president. In Myanmar, two Reuters journalists — Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo – were imprisoned for more than 500 days for investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys. Finally, a year ago, they were released. In 2018, an opinion writer for The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, walked into Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul to get documents he needed to marry. He was murdered there at the hands of a team sent by highest-level Saudi officials. His offense? He had sharply criticized the Saudi government. In Mexico, murderous vengeance against journalists is common. Last year, at least five were killed, more than in any other country. I think also of the risks that American journalists have taken to inform the public. Among them are colleagues I can never forget.

One is Elizabeth Neuffer. Seventeen years ago this month, I stood before her friends at the Boston Globe to report that she had died covering the war in Iraq. Elizabeth was 46, an experienced foreign correspondent, a mentor to others; vivacious and brave. Her Iraqi driver was traveling at high speed because of the risk of abductions. He lost control. Elizabeth died instantly; her translator, too. Elizabeth had a record of fearlessness in investigating war crimes and human rights abuses. Her goal: Reveal the world as it is — because someone might then make things better.

Another colleague was Anthony Shadid. In 2002, I visited Anthony, then a reporter for the Globe, after he was shot and wounded in Ramallah. Lying in a hospital in Jerusalem, it was clear that he had narrowly escaped being paralyzed. Anthony recovered and went on to report from Iraq, where he won two Pulitzer Prizes for The Washington Post. From Egypt, where he was harassed by police. From Libya, where he and three New York Times colleagues were detained by pro-government militias and physically abused. He died in 2012, at age 43, while reporting in Syria, apparently of an asthma attack. Anthony told the stories of ordinary people. Without him, their voices would have gone unheard.

And now I think constantly of reporters, photographers and videographers who risk their own well-being to be with heroic frontline health workers — frontline workers of every sort – to share their stories. Anthony, Elizabeth and my present-day colleagues sought to be eyewitnesses. To see the facts for themselves. To discover the truth and tell it. As a profession, we maintain there is such a thing as fact, there is such a thing as truth.

At Harvard, where the school’s motto is “Veritas,” presumably you do, too. Truth, we know, is not a matter of who wields power or who speaks loudest. It has nothing to do with who benefits or what is most popular. And ever since the Enlightenment, modern society has rejected the idea that truth derives from any single authority on Earth.

To determine what is factual and true, we rely on certain building blocks. Start with education. Then there is expertise. And experience. And, above all, we rely on evidence. We see that acutely now when people’s health can be jeopardized by false claims, wishful thinking and invented realities. The public’s safety requires the honest truth. Yet education, expertise, experience and evidence are being devalued, dismissed and denied. The goal is clear: to undermine the very idea of objective fact, all in pursuit of political gain. Along with that is a systematic effort to disqualify traditional independent arbiters of fact. The press tops the list of targets. But others populate the list, too: courts, historians, even scientists and medical professionals – subject-matter experts of every type.

And so today the government’s leading scientists find their motives questioned, their qualifications mocked — despite a lifetime of dedication and achievement that has made us all safer. In any democracy, we want vigorous debate about our challenges and the correct policies. But what becomes of democracy if we cannot agree on a common set of facts, if we can’t agree on what even constitutes a fact? Are we headed for extreme tribalism, believing only what our ideological soulmates say? Or do we become so cynical that we think everyone always lies for selfish reasons? Or so nihilistic that we conclude no one can ever really know what is true or false; so, no use trying to find out? Regardless, we risk entering dangerous territory. Hannah Arendt, in 1951, wrote of this in her first major work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” There, she observed “the possibility that gigantic lies and monstrous falsehoods can eventually be established as unquestioned facts … that the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and may become a mere matter of power and cleverness, of pressure and infinite repetition.”

One hundred years ago – in 1920 – a renowned journalist and leading thinker, Walter Lippmann, harbored similar worries. Lippmann, once a writer for the Harvard Crimson, warned of a society where people “cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions … what somebody asserts, not what actually is.” Lippmann wrote those words because of concerns about the press itself. He saw our defects and hoped we might fix them, thus improving how information got to the public.

Ours is a profession that still has many flaws. We make mistakes of fact, and we make mistakes of judgment. We are at times overly impressed with what we know when much remains for us to learn. In making mistakes, we are like people in every other profession. And we, too, must be held accountable. What frequently gets lost, though, is the contribution of a free and independent press to our communities and our country — and to the truth.

I think back to the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when the Miami Herald showed how lax zoning, inspection and building codes had contributed to the massive destruction. Homes and lives are safer today as a result. In 2016, the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia exposed how opioids had flooded the state’s depressed communities, contributing to the highest death rates in the country. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana’s newspapers were indispensable sources of reliable information for residents. The Washington Post in 2007 revealed the shameful neglect and mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital. Corrective action was immediate. The Associated Press in 2015 documented a slave trade behind our seafood supply. Two thousand slaves were freed as a result. The New York Times and The New Yorker in 2017 exposed sexual predators in elite boardrooms. A movement of accountability for abuses against women took root. The New York Times in 1971 was the first to publish the Pentagon Papers, revealing a pattern of official deceit in a war that killed more than 58,000 Americans and countless others. The Washington Post broke open the Watergate scandal in 1972. That led ultimately to the president’s resignation.Those news organizations searched for the truth and told it, undeterred by pushback or pressure or vilification.Facing the truth can cause extreme discomfort. But history shows that we as a nation become better for that reckoning. It is in the spirit of the preamble to our Constitution: “to form a more perfect union.” Toward that end, it is an act of patriotism.

W.E.B. Du Bois, the great scholar and African American activist — and the first African American to graduate with a PhD from Harvard – cautioned against the falsification of events in relating our nation’s history. In 1935, distressed at how deceitfully America’s Reconstruction period was being taught, Du Bois assailed the propaganda of the era. “Nations reel and stagger on their way,” he wrote. “They make hideous mistakes; they commit frightful wrongs; they do great and beautiful things. And shall we not best guide humanity by telling the truth about all this, so far as the truth be ascertainable?”

At this university, you answer that question with your motto — “Veritas.” You seek the truth — with scholarship, teaching and dialogue – knowing that it really matters.My profession shares with you that mission — the always arduous, often tortuous and yet essential pursuit of truth. It is the demand that democracy makes upon us. It is the work we must do. We will keep at it. You should, too. None of us should ever stop.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for honoring me. Good luck to you all. And please, stay well.

“While the legacy of enslavement, racism, discrimination, and exclusion still influences so much of contemporary attitudes, we must never conclude that it is too late to overcome such a legacy. For it is never too late to do justice.”

Ruth J. Simmons

2021 The president of Prairie View A&M University and former president of Brown University and Smith College exhorted graduates to fight inequality and foster diversity and inclusion.

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Good day and congratulations to the Harvard University Class of 2021.

It is a singular honor to be invited to address you on this important milestone occasion. To all completing their studies today, I offer my best wishes as you undertake the next exciting phase of your lives. That you have succeeded so well during such a time as this is commendable and augurs well for the years to come when the world will rely greatly on your knowledge, your discernment, and your empathy for those less fortunate than you.

When first approached about delivering this Commencement address, I was, frankly, taken aback. I did not immediately feel up to the task. Recalling occasions when I sat in Tercentenary Theatre looking across the expanse of graduates to the steps of Widener Library, I could not picture myself confidently delivering remarks from a dais where so many more eminent figures had stood and, indeed, made history. Growing up on a constant Jim Crow diet that offered assertions of my inferiority, I’m always that same little Black girl trying to believe in and demonstrate her worthiness. Further, I thought about the challenge of what I might impart in such a pivotal national moment when social gains seem more like losses, when clarity gives way so easily to confusion, and when much heralded progress recedes like a trompe l’oeil that was never real.

I extend greetings from the faculty, administration and students of our 145 year old institution, Prairie View A&M University. And, though I have not been anointed to do so, I also bring greetings from the collection of Historically Black and Minority Serving institutions that have the weight and privilege of advancing access, equity and opportunity for so many communities across the world. Our university, like many others HBCUs, was founded at the end of Reconstruction when Blacks were thought to be unable to perform the highest level academic study. I speak to you, in fact, from the Prairie View campus whose 1500 acres were once the site of the Alta Vista Plantation. That plantation, before being sold to the State of Texas, was the site where 400 human beings were held in slavery. Thus, our very steps as they daily tread upon vestiges of the suffering of our ancestors, call to us constantly to do our duty as full citizens. Painful as such memories are, they are a powerful force that calls us to action when challenges arise.

During the 145 years following our 1876 founding, it would take many years for most universities in our nation to grant access to Blacks. So, universities like Prairie View, designed with limited resources, served the state and nation by admitting students to whom full access to the fruits of liberty was intentionally blocked. We are therefore proud of our legacy of endurance and even prouder of the fact that we converted an assertion of the inferiority of African Americans into a triumph of human capacity. Like other HBCUs, we made a place to empower rather than disparage, to open minds rather than imprison them, to create pathways to promise rather than to stifle opportunity.

Such is the task of every true university. Those of you graduating today can well attest to that. When you first arrived at Harvard as undergraduate or post-graduate students, you most likely could not have imagined the many ways that your ability would be tested, your insights sharpened and expanded, and your prospects in life improved by studying at the University. I certainly didn’t expect such results when I arrived at Harvard and yet I know now that it is likely primarily because I studied at Harvard that I have had the deeply rich and satisfying career that I’ve enjoyed for so many years.

A product of a segregated upbringing in Houston and undergraduate study at an HBCU, I am ashamed to say that in my youth, I secretly bought into the prevailing racial assumptions of the day: that someone like me would be ill-prepared to benefit from and contribute to study at a university of Harvard’s stature. I expected to be flatfooted if not oafish in the company of well-heeled and urbane students who had the advantage of the best education and a wealth of experiences. While not outwardly immobilized by fear of failing the biggest test of my life, I was inwardly terrified that I would fail to measure up. Uncertainty and malaise governed my early days at the university.

Harvard was, you see, a place steeped in other peoples’ traditions—traditions that I could not easily access. My reaction was very much akin to the French expression denoting window shopping: “lécher les vitrines.” Those of us who are outsiders are often as mere observers looking through windows, salivating and wondering how we might ever be able to attain a sense of inclusion, acceptance and respect. Just as when, as a child, I was banned from white establishments, I identified as the outsider looking enviously at others who not only had full access to Harvard’s history and traditions but who also could so easily see themselves reflected in them. Few things that I could see at Harvard at the time represented me. Perhaps it is the memory of that feeling that moved me to remain in university life to make that experience easier for others who felt excluded.

The need to make universities more aware of how first generation and underserved communities reacted to the stultified tradition in many universities shaped my conviction about the importance of individuals feeling fully embraced and respected as learners, erasing vestiges of disparagement that inevitably accrue in an unequal society. Having been profiled and racially isolated and having carried within me for so many years the weight of that sentence, I understood that to change our country, we had to insist that everyone’s humanity, everyone’s traditions and history, everyone’s identity contributes to our learning about the world we must live in together. I came to believe what Harvard expressed in its admission philosophy: that such human differences, intentionally engaged in the educational context, are as much a resource to our intellectual growth as the magnificent tomes that we build libraries to protect and the state of the art equipment proudly arrayed in our laboratories. The encounter with difference rocks!

I believe that each of us has a solemn duty to learn about and embrace that difference. That undertaking takes not a month or a year but a lifetime of concerted action to ensure that we are equipped to play a role in caring for and improving the world we inhabit together. This responsibility should encourage us to commit to our individual as well as professional role in advancing access, equality and mutual respect.

Thus, I believe that the task of a great university is not merely to test the mettle and stamina of brilliant minds but to guide them toward enlightenment, enabling thereby the most fruitful and holistic use of their students’ intelligence and humanity. That enlightenment suggests the need for improving upon students’ self-knowledge but it also means helping them judge others fairly, using the full measure of their empathy and intelligence to do so. In an environment rich in differences of background, experience and perspectives, learning is turbo charged and intensified by the juxtaposition of these differences. Those open minded enough to benefit fully from the power of this learning opportunity are bound for leadership in this time of confusion and division. The Harvard model intentionally and successfully provides to students a head start in understanding how to mediate difference in an ever more complex reality in which some exploit those differences for corrupt purposes.

Today, irrational hatred of targeted groups is seemingly on the rise, stoked by opportunists seeking advantage for themselves and their profits. What stands between such malefactors and the destruction of our common purpose are people like you who, having experienced learning through difference, courageously stand up for the rights of those who are targeted. Your Harvard education, if you were paying close attention here, should have encouraged you to commit willingly to playing such a role. If you follow through on this commitment, in addition to anything else you accomplish in life, you will be saving lives, stanching the flow of hatred and the dissolution of our national bond. You will be serving the mighty cause of justice. If we are to thrive on this orb that we share, our schools and universities must contribute deliberately to increasing our understanding of the ways to interact meaningfully with others.

Harvard is, in some ways, the most powerful university bully pulpit in the nation. It did not achieve that status merely through its age and wealth; it attained that status principally through the efforts of its faculty and graduates’ scholarly and professional output. Through its gates have come generations of scholars with immense intelligence and passionate purpose to whom fate bequeathed the laurels of success. But it is important that universities model in their own values and actions the high purpose that they hope to see in the actions of their scholars.

In that vein, Harvard has a special responsibility as both a prod and steward of the national conscience. It could sit on the hill and congratulate itself on its prowess but it could also use its immense stature to address the widening gaps in how different groups experience freedom and justice. I spoke earlier about the heroic work of HBCUs and minority serving institutions that keep our country open and advancing the cause of equality and access. Yet, many of them have been starved for much of their history by the legacy of underfunding and isolation from the mainstream of higher education.

I call on universities like Harvard to acknowledge the limitations imposed on these institutions over the past decades. While universities like Harvard had the wind at their back, flourishing from endowments, strong enrollments, constant curricular expansion, massive infrastructure improvements, and significant endowment growth, HBCUs often had gale force winds impeding their development. Our nation is finally coming to terms with the consequences of the underfunding of HBCUs but we are far from where we need to be if we are to be assured continued progress in the fight for equal educational benefits.

I ask the university that did so much for me to add to its luster by embracing the opportunity to stand alongside these historic and other minority serving institutions to build stronger partnerships, advocate for greater funding, and elevate the fight for parity and justice to the level it deserves. Let us not complain in a hundred years that those historically excluded from access and opportunity continue to ask how much longer it will take to gain the respect, inclusion and support that their service to the nation deserves.

Many minority serving institutions accept students from impoverished underserved communities where educational preparation often lacks the pre-requisites needed for certain careers. Children in those communities may experience the same or a worse fate than I and my peers did during the pre-Civil Rights era. Consigned to underfunded schools and alienating curricula, they must wonder as I did what will befall them in life. ublic schools saved me and they have the burden still of saving millions of children across this land. In so very many cases, these institutions are the only hope for many children and their families. Support for public education in this moment is as important as it was in the early days of the country when Horace Mann first called for universal education. For Mann, it was a matter of what our young country would need; it still is today as Mann’s emphasis on civic virtue continues to ring true.

Further, in such a moment, universities and all of you must play a leadership role in reversing the designation of the teaching profession as less intellectually worthy, less glamorous, and less important than the high-flying careers of financiers and technologists. Attention to and investment in K-12 teacher preparation and curricular content remains one of the most important ways for universities and the average citizen to contribute to the civic good.

None of us is exempt from responsibility for the future we give our children. Harvard has its role and so do all of you. I have come to ask you who graduate today what you are prepared to do to acknowledge and address the historic biases and inequities that so many continue to experience. Will your actions point us in a more uplifting direction? For, just as we recount the moral bankruptcy of those who cruelly enslaved others, we also tell the story of those who were equally guilty because they refused to challenge the practice of slavery. In the future, the history of these times will reveal both what we do and what we fail to do to address the unjust treatment of marginalized groups. Among all that you will have learned at Harvard, I hope that the consciousness of your responsibility in the struggle for equality remains with you. While the legacy of enslavement, racism, discrimination and exclusion still influences so much of contemporary attitudes, we must never conclude that it is too late to overcome such a legacy. For it is never too late to do justice.

Today, I call on all of you to declare that you will not give sanction to discriminatory actions that hold some groups back to the advantage of others. I call on you to be a force for inclusion by not choosing enclaves of wealth, privilege and tribalism such that you abandon the lessons you learned from your Harvard experience of diversity. I call on you to do your part to ensure that generations to come will no longer be standing on the outside fighting for fairness, respect and inclusion.

Today, after decades in the academy, my path has taken me back to a place where students are waging the same battles that were so hard fought when I was a teenager: safe passage in the face of bigotry, the right to vote, and equal access to educational and professional opportunities. Sandra Bland, a Prairie View alumna, was stopped for a minor traffic offense at the entrance to our campus. Jailed for this offense, she was found deceased in her cell three days later. Must every generation add more tragic evidence of the racial hatred that has troubled the world? Our work is not done as long as there are young people growing up with the thought that they matter less than others. As long as they have fewer and narrower educational opportunities. As long as they must fear for their safety every moment of every day of their lives. As long as their full participation in society is circumscribed by policies that willfully chip away at or block their rights.

Just as I ask Harvard to use its voice on behalf of minority institutions that have been unfairly treated across time, I ask you to add your voice to the cause of justice wherever you go. Help the children of need wherever they are: in underfunded public schools, in neighborhoods bereft of resources, in search of a way to belong. If they do not hear your voices advocating for them and their worth, what must they conclude about their place in the world?

If you take up the cause of these children, you are taking up the greatest cause—that of justice. Today, you earn your laurels as a scholar. Taking up the cause of justice, you will earn your laurels as a human being.

Congratulations, once again, and God speed.

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Graduation Speech Samples and Ideas to Inspire You

Delivering a graduation speech is a great honor. So, congratulations if you have been selected as a valedictorian speaker. Here are a few graduation speeches you can draw inspiration from.

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Graduation Speeches

Graduation can be one of the most memorable moments in a person’s life. It is a moment when you celebrate your accomplishments with your peers. The graduation ceremony is a melange of emotions, along with pride and satisfaction there is this anxiety about future and a sinking feeling about bidding farewell to friends and alma mater. If you are a valedictorian or a salutatorian, then you also have to deal with the nervousness of delivering a graduation speech. Speeches by luminaries and students are often the most important part of a graduation ceremony.

Graduation Speech Ideas

Oftentimes, graduation speeches are tremendously boring as the new graduates are rarely proficient orators. Since, these speakers are often students excelling in academics, they may not be always great writers or rhetoricians. However, if you avoid unsurprising cliches and the common drab topics, you can indeed make your graduation speech interesting. You can draw inspiration from commencement speeches delivered by eminent personalities on graduation. Add personal touches to your speech by narrating funny anecdotes or exemplary achievements of your class during graduation years. You may also express your views regarding the current affairs or political situation.

Delivering inspirational quotes is a good idea, but again avoid cliches. Brevity is the most important factor to be considered while delivering graduation speeches. Since, audience would be most interested in the commencement speech, it would make sense to keep your speech short and sweet. Remember, it is your personal experience and genuine feelings about your school, friends that will keep your audience captivated and not some heavy duty stuff, loaded with social, political jargon. Graduation party speeches can be a bit playful and informal, but make sure you do not offend anyone with snide remarks in your speech.

Sample Valedictorian Speeches

Good evening honored guests, ladies and gentlemen and the Graduating Class of [year]. Robert Gallagher said that change is inevitable – except from a vending machine. As you stand on the brink of moving into life beyond [name of educational institution], change will be inevitable! It is inevitable and indeed gratifying to see that our Graduating Class of [year] matured and became skills proficient ready to tackle and further their life-long education. It is inevitable that structures and processes and relationships will change in their day-to-day lives. It is inevitable that they will face new challenges and it is inevitable that things may seem a little different in the year ahead. Yes, life is definitely going to become a little ‘shaken up and stirred’. Speech Example

Good Evening, ladies and gentlemen, friends and family, teachers and administrators. We stand, gathered together to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2001 Class of Mattawan High School. To my fellow classmates, we’ve made it. We’ve finally made it. We are graduating. Congratulations. Congratulations not only to us graduates, but also congratulations to our teachers, parents, friends, families and administrators. Our success is your success, for you have given us the freedom to dare, the courage to excel and the belief that we can achieve our best. Together for the last time, we stand poised at the very edge of graduation, looking towards a bright future. Soon each of us will go forth, in his or her unique direction, seeking to make a mark upon the world. Our adulthood, so long anticipated, has now arrived. We have grown up. We must seize our future and taking it into our own hands, do with it what we will, striving towards excellence. Excerpts from Valedictorian Speech, Mattawan H.S. 2001

Graduation Commencement Speeches

What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time. – John Kennedy, American University 1963

Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary… Stay hungry, stay foolish. – Steve Jobs, Stanford 2005

Graduation speeches are all about being yourself and expressing your genuine feelings of gratitude towards all those who made your achievement possible for you. So, prepare well and get ready to stir emotions in those with whom you spent the most important years of your life.

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High School Graduation Speech Samples

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Writing a speech for a high school graduation is a big responsibility, and the task can be a little intimidating. With a few tips and some sample graduation speeches to look at, you could quickly be on your way to writing a very engaging speech of your own.

Sample Speeches for High School Graduation

The following speeches are samples meant to help inspire your own creativity. You can click to download them and edit for your own use. If you like the style or sentiment of a particular speech, think of how it applies to your own high school experience, and use that as the basis for an original speech of your own. If you have any trouble downloading, please review the troubleshooting guide .

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Sample One: How We'll Measure These Years

The first sample is a speech that talks about how things have changed over the high school years.

Sample Two: The Future Is in Our Hands

The second example focuses more on what the future holds for a high school graduate.

Sample Three: A Debt of Gratitude

The third sample is about giving thanks and recognizing those who have helped everyone successfully graduate from high school.

Sample Four: Inspirational Moments for Life

This last sample speech is an inspirational high school graduation speech that asks each student to look back on some of the moments from high school that will inspire them forever.

Example of a Humorous Valedictorian Speech

The following video offers a great example of a graduation speech that really speaks to the graduates while being humorous, appropriate and entertaining. If you have a natural gift for humor, a funny speech like this will be remembered long after other graduation memories have begun to fade.

Tips for Writing a Graduation Speech

Whether you're writing a speech for your homeschool graduation, as the class Valedictorian, or a graduation thank you speech , there are a few tips for speech writing that can make your talk meaningful and memorable.

Know Your Audience

Even though parents, faculty, and members of the community will be on hand, the focus of your speech should be your classmates. Speak to them!

Grab Their Attention

A good speech grabs the audience's attention and never lets that attention go. Start off with an attention grabbing question, or make a strong statement that provokes curiosity about where the speech is going. Don't be afraid to use humor in your speech. Having a theme for the speech is also helpful.

Tell Stories

Don't just read your speech. Tell your speech by interspersing emotional stories that tug at the heartstrings or inspire positive actions for the future. You might even want to include an original poem to help express your feelings.

Include Everyone

Don't just speak to the academic achievers, the sports stars, or the popular crowd. Your topic should be all inclusive of your graduating class.

Keep It Short, But Not Too Short

Knowing how long a high school graduation speech should be is important before you start writing. Student speeches at high school graduations are generally between five and 10 minutes long, but closer to five is ideal.

End With a Memorable Message

High school graduation speeches by students and special guests often end with a memorable, and actionable sentence that encourages the audience to do something great. It is customary to end by saying "Thank you" in your graduation speech , which you can do after your memorable one-liner.

Don't Wear Out Your Welcome

A really great commencement speech is enjoyed, not simply endured. Put some serious thought into your speech, say something meaningful, and stick to your topic so your message doesn't get lost. Above all, don't talk too long. Remember that everyone wants to receive their diplomas, shed those caps and gowns , and get on with the celebration.

5 Inspiring (And Unexpected) High School Commencement Speeches (And More)


Whether you’re looking for inspiration to write your own speech or want to be inspired in life, these commencement speeches fit the bill. We love their humor, their vision, their vulnerability and humility, and their love of life. We hope you do too!

Asash Salam, 2013

“I only believe in a few things. The American Dream is one of them. I’m not that smart. I’m not athletic. I can’t sing or dance. And I didn’t even have the guts to ask a girl to prom this year. Every day I try to remind myself how lucky I am to be living in this land of opportunity. I have food, clothing, and shelter. These thoughts kept me going 10 years ago (since immigrating to the US), and they keep me going today. If you are lucky you will live an ordinary life. You have opportunities that others around the world would die for. I truly believe in the American Dream because I have lived it for the past 10 years.” More.

Chase Dahl, 2015

“The world we live in is plagued with dangers: Ebola, ISIS, global warming, facial acne (and now COVID-19) Despite all the odds, we still managed to graduate. Keep in mind that many of our social and political leaders and heroes started their lives as an average person, just one of you and me. Despite the failures and mistakes we will make and although we may be average, we find that the average can achieve greatness whether recognized by their world or just a few. Remember that to leave a legacy or achieve greatness is not to have money or recognition. It’s to leave those with whom we cross paths with a little more happiness and hope.” More.

Madeleine Meldrum, 2017

So we press through the pain

And we dance in the rain

And we change and we grow

We learn how to let go

And it’s these times we show

That we’re more than we know.

Sef Scott, 2018

“Unexpected. That is what I want you to remember. I imagine that to the seniors that know who I am it is entirely unexpected that I would be standing here giving a speech. I have autism and a social communication disorder. It is not a normal thing for me to elect to speak … Don’t fear the future. Don’t fear the unknown. Be the unexpected like me. Do the unexpected to the benefit of others. Live the unexpected for your own happiness.”  More.

Alex Li, 2020

Never be a sheep. The world and society will often tell you what you can and cannot do. But very often these rules and expectations will hold you back. Now that you are out of high school there’s no one to tell you what to do. You don’t have to do anything. Which means that you can do anything. So, choose your own path. Have faith in yourself, the person next to you, and the people of the world. Everything around us has been built by people barely different than ourselves. Our DNA is basically the same as every other person on earth. Humanity has created amazing things. So, the next time you think your dreams are too big, remember the potential that lies within being human.” More.

Check out more high school commencement addresses here.

Quick Study: 10 Quotes for Graduates from the Famous (And Not So Famous)

Even a single quote can be meaningful and thought provoking. Here are 10 that are just that.

  • “A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that individuality is the key to success.”  – Robert Orben
  • “Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated; you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”   – David Lloyd George
  • “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”  – Nelson Henderson
  • “Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”   – Art Linkletter
  • “Everything’s always ending. But everything’s always beginning, too.”   – Patrick Ness
  • “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”   – Babe Ruth
  • “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”   – A. A. Milne
  • “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”   – Lupita Nyong’o
  • “Keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.”   – Roger Babson
  • “It’s always a good move to listen to that inner voice… if it doesn’t lead to a crime.” – Lisa Kudrow

For more, visit “110+ Inspirational High School Graduation Quotes” and “125+ Inspirational Quotes for Graduates.”  

So, congratulations graduates! You made it through some tough times. We salute you!

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