Graduations—whether elementary, high school, or college—are milestone events that deserve special speeches suited to the occasion. After all, how many times will those in your audience graduate from a certain educational level? Just once—so you must make a graduation speech as memorable as it can be.
Lest you become discouraged and reject the offer of your alma mater to address the new batch of graduating students, do remember that a graduation speech is meant to achieve one thing—to inspire the new generation. You were chosen to deliver the graduation speech because the school administration saw you as someone who can inspire their graduates. With your professional achievements and community contributions, indeed, you can inspire.
The trick is in preparing a speech that will touch the hearts and minds of the graduates in such a way as to motivate them to reach for higher aspirations in life. This may not be as easy as making your college application essay, but it is definitely not an impossible goal to achieve once you have set your mind to it. Here then are tips to make the seemingly difficult become easy.
Use Common Language
First and foremost, leave your language snobbery behind in the confines of the library. Graduations may be the time to inspire the students to believe that, indeed, they can soar to new heights, but this is not the proper occasion to try to impress anyone with your vast grasp of the vocabulary. The best graduation speeches most often use the simplest of words to convey the most profound of thoughts.
Besides, who wants to listen to a graduation speech filled with intricate words that require searching through one’s mental dictionary? Place yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask yourself if you would like to listen to such a pompous speech on a day that will be marked by celebration.
Set a Message
Then, like writing an essay, you should choose a central topic for the graduation speech. This way, your speech can achieve a unified structure instead of being a strike-anywhere kind of message—not to mention that the latter type of speech will not inspire the graduates so much as confuse them with too many ideas vying for attention.
The following are a few of the central ideas suitable for graduation messages. Choose one and then develop your graduation speech around it. Or better yet, ask for the theme of the graduation class and build your speech around that. Central ideas include:
• Essential values for success in life;
• Lessons learned in your alma mater, and how these were later applied;
• Responsibilities in society, including facing up to the challenges and helping provide solutions for problems;
• Experiences, places, and people that helped shaped you as an individual.
The most important thing when choosing the central idea in a graduation speech is that you “own” it. You must actually have experienced the stories, met the people, and learned the lessons included in the graduation speech so that you come across as a credible source of inspiration.
Structure the Speech
Once the central message has been chosen, you can then start on the development of the graduation speech from the introduction to its conclusion. It’s best to follow a basic structure when first writing the draft for any kind of speech. In this way, it is possible to organize the many ideas coming into your head into a cohesive structure that will captivate the audience with its smooth flow from one idea to the next. You can use the following basic structure, particularly when it is your first time to do so:
• Open with an attention-grabbing quotation, anecdote, or experience that already contains the germ of your central message.
• Recount your memories of being a student in the school, and acknowledge the people who have influenced your studies and your life then and now.
• Convey your sense of gratitude to the people who have helped you along the way. The graduates may even be advised to find their own mentors to help them achieve success.
• Express your hopes for a bright future, share a few words of wisdom, and offer congratulations for the graduates.
Your graduation speech need not follow this basic structure. So long as you are comfortable with the speech, and your audience appears to appreciate it, then you will have done a good job. You may even have truly inspired the students, which is the main purpose of the graduation speech in the first place.