Graduation SpeechEvery year at my school the Seniors get to pick a teacher to give a speech at their graduation. This year, this somewhat poisoned chalice has passed to me. The only thing is I have...

Graduation Speech

Every year at my school the Seniors get to pick a teacher to give a speech at their graduation. This year, this somewhat poisoned chalice has passed to me. The only thing is I have never done this before, and have no idea where to begin. Anybody else done this? What should a graduation speech contain apart from the old hackneyed "Go conquer the world" line? As I come from Britain where you don't graduate when you leave school, this is all a bit of a mystery to me. Any help/suggestions gratefully received!

16 Answers

creativethinking's profile pic

creativethinking | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted on

To me, the greatest pitfall of graduation speeches is how riddled with cliches they can be. It seems like every single graduation speech goes something like, "This class has truly been special. The amount of talent, hard work, and potential in these students is amazing. They can truly be anything they want to be. Go out and conquer the world!" I've just said a whole not of nothing new right there.

To be memorable, a graduation speech has to enter some new territory. I think that an awesome way to do that is to focus on a key image or metaphor that links up with one main message that you're trying to send to the graduating class. For instance, maybe you want to send the message "There are many different potential futures out there for you, but you determine the one you will fulfill." Ok, that's a pretty good graduation message, but it's still abstract and (admittedly) often seen. So let's use an image-based metaphor to create a memorable, concrete picture-idea in our audience's mind. Maybe you could start out with something like this. "Imagine, as you sit here in your cap and gown today, that there are dozens of ghosts--white, beautiful, and glowing, swirling around you. These are the ghosts of the future you. Envision the different ways they are dressed, the varied expressions on their faces. Any one of them could represent the person you will become. The question is: which wispy garment will you snatch the edge of? Which ghost will you breathe into being, as you look to your future?"

It doesn't have to be ghosts--it could be a pond full of multicolored koi or different forms of candy--the image could be anything that fits with the message. But it should be something the graduates can envision. This will make the message memorable and... lo and behold... unique!

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I agree with several posts here: tell them some of the important things that you have learned; encourage them to never give up; prepare them for the fact that life changes you, but sometimes it's a very good thing; that age is less and less important, as people can reinvent themselves as needed, and the world welcomes it. I think I would also encourage them to find their sense of self and their accomplishments by their own "ruler," or at the least from people who they really trust. Lastly, I would endeavor to promote life-long learning, whatever it is that they choose to read about.

I listened to Conan O'Brien's commencement address at Dartmouth, which at twenty-three minutes, I couldn't believe I took the time to do. I'm not a real fan, and you can imagine that a great deal of it was stand-up comedy. However, I very much enjoyed the last ten minutes or so where he explained what his dream used to be (The Tonight Show), how he messed up, thought he had lost it all, and then found a way to learn and grow from his mistakes, and find more happiness than he has ever known. The idea that good things can come from bad times or decisions, was uplifting. I was surprised to find that he had that kind of depth, but I guess I shouldn't be. He makes more money than most of us in education, but he faces the same human experiences we face. And he offered truly valuable advice.

Good luck!!

docent5353's profile pic

docent5353 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

Graduation Speech

Every year at my school the Seniors get to pick a teacher to give a speech at their graduation. This year, this somewhat poisoned chalice has passed to me. The only thing is I have never done this before, and have no idea where to begin. Anybody else done this? What should a graduation speech contain apart from the old hackneyed "Go conquer the world" line? As I come from Britain where you don't graduate when you leave school, this is all a bit of a mystery to me. Any help/suggestions gratefully received!

Give your students yourself.  Share your truths and your honesty with them.  You mentioned that you are British; the fact that you live here in America is incredible.  You might share two great stories with them; one of your most devastating failure and two, your proudest moment.

Then you can deliver the "usual graduation" fodder.  Mentioning the reality of the present job market as well as being their own "unique" creation and what they have to offer the world.  While our kids today are more technologically sophistocated; they still seem to need so much more tact, respect and polish.

Hold up a mirror of their greatness and utilize your British wit to inspire them to be even greater.

Congratulations on receiving this honor.  Your students will never forget your heart or your speech.

bigdreams1's profile pic

bigdreams1 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I agree with many of the comments of the previous posters about brevity and connection to the graduation class.

As a speech teacher, I instruct my students to start with something that will get audience attention (like a humorous line or a meaningful quote). Don't start with something mundane like, "I've been asked to speak to you today..." or " I am so blessed to be asked to speak..."

Then I would move on to something that connects you with this class...a humourous incident that happened that made all of you learn a life lesson or a discovery or major victory some part of the class experienced.

Then get serious for a moment and tell them what teaching them through the years has meant to you, what life lessons you hope they learned in their time at the school, and what your wishes for them for the future might be.

And I would end with an inspirational quote or push from you for them to "be all that they can be".

Good Luck.

stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Writing this on June 4, my guess is that the speech has already been delivered. Congratulations upon being asked to do so - although it headaches for you during the preparation process, I agree with the others that this was an indication of the respect your students felt for you. It's a way for them to recognize your position in their minds as an educator with something worthwhile to say!

I hope you included in your speech some of the lessons you have learned as a British teacher in the American education system and as a Brit living in the United States culture. Sharing some of the lessons you have gained the hard way and some of the rewards you have (hopefully) found from venturing into a very new situation should have helped to set the stage for your encouragement to the graduates to keep learning as they venture into the new stage of their lives.

askteacherz's profile pic

askteacherz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

First and foremost do what you do every single day... "inspire." Having provided several speeches I am of the opinion that you can craft something that is short (less than 5 minutes) but effective. Students will be able to remember the MAIN objective or point you wanted to get across, but nor more. It is your challenge to ensure that is what is remembered. So be selective in what your thesis is and ensure it stands out in the speech. As already mentioned use subtle, yet professional humor or sarcasm but make sure that the "inspiration" of the speech does not take a back seat to anything else. You have been selected for a reason, students admire and enjoy your instruction; so be yourself but make sure an appropriate impression is made. I wish you the best; You WILL BE GREAT!
howesk's profile pic

howesk | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

The best graduation speeches I have heard were specific to their audiences, included some humor, and were brief. I definitely agree with the above posts. Frank Warren gave an excellent graduation speech at St. Mary's in 2009, I will link to the text here:  This speech includes both personal experience and brief, relatable advice.

If the students chose you to speak, know that they must want to hear what you have to say. This should automatically give you a boost in confidence!

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I agree with the above posts.  Personalize it to the class that is graduating.  Think about the advice you'd like to give them and what hopes you have for them in this uncertain world.  What do you hope they will accomplish?  How do you hope they will affect the world, thus changing it?  What are the special gifts and talents that this class has?  Check out the link below for some ideas and inspiration, and best of all, Good Luck!

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One comment from students that prevails each year is "He/She talked too long."  So, brevity is yet the "soul of wit."  Perhaps a humorous story about someone's perseverence may be an apt beginning to encourage the graduates to be persistent in pursuring their goals and to "never, never, never surrender!" as Winston Churchill urged when London was being so heavily bombed.  Instilling some of the British tenacity will surely be an excellent aid to them in life. 

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that a good graduation speech from a teacher would reflect on the class that's graduating.  I would include the personality of the class, as general, and some of the meaningful and significant things that have happened during their time at the school.  I would possibly reflect on how the world has changed in the past 4 years, and what kind of world they are entering.  Maybe instead of giving them advice, you could mention what they taught you?

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I have found the best graduation speeches by teachers are those that are personalized with stories about members of that graduating class, interspersed with some humor.  In this way, you can still include bits of the hackneyed message, delivered on the tails of laughter, and I find that tends to be more effective and memorable for all involved.  Have fun.

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I am a big fan of personalizing and making it meaningful.  Yet, I have always liked the Tennyson ending to "Ulysses" as a way to conclude any commencement speech.  The idea of "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" is something that is nearly universal to anyone closing one door and opening another.

trophyhunter1's profile pic

trophyhunter1 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Definitely personalize it and tailor it to the graduating class. Do not, by any means sound "self-serving" as many people do. Try to give some words of motivation and maybe speak about a person or event that has motivated you. Most of all, don't ramble on.

User Comments

sanskritibookbound's profile pic

sanskritibookbound | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted on

short and simple... including a few happy hours you spent with the studes and then conclude... well, being a studen, that is hoe i would like my teacher's graduation speech to be...

pixiedust925's profile pic

pixiedust925 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted on

I think such speeches shouldn't follow any certain rules. You should be honest. You should mention the good, the bad and the ugly. But in the end everyone knows that you love your students. Don't try and be some comedian or some monotonous judge. Be yourself. Give sincere advice. Don't put too many big words in the middle of everything. One of my professors says that it's better to appeal to the "people" and not to the "intellectuals" out there. Oh by the way don't mention names. The problem with mentioning names is that you might end up leaving someone out which is something you do not want to do for a graduation speech!

But good luck with it!!

Be yourself!

Be honest and sincere!