19 Tips for Writing a Memorable Graduation Speech

Last Updated: 03 February 2024

Choosing to give a graduation speech is a wonderful honour most people would like to have. This opportunity allows you to make a lasting impression while inspiring your fellow students to start a new chapter of their lives. Your speech needs to be reflective of your college career. It should also be consistent and sincere. These important features will ensure you earn the admiration of the audience. With that said, here is a guide to writing a great graduation speech.

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19 Tips for Writing a Graduation Speech

The following points should help you write a great speech for graduation day.

1.     Choose the Right Theme

The purpose of any graduation speech is to inspire your audience and move them with your words. For this reason, you should build your speech around a central message. If you want them to look forward to the possibilities of the future despite the current challenge, then pick a theme such as taking responsibility for the future. You want to inspire them to have courage and know that all their efforts have gotten them to where they are now.

Ideally, you should settle for a theme that fits that particular occasion. Other examples to consider include the following:

Once you have selected a theme, selecting words and phrases linking them to your main theme will be easier.

2.     Create a List of Everyone to Thank

Thanking those who have helped you in your journey is a great move. Therefore, you should create a list of everyone to thank before you get on the podium. Do not be afraid to be vague when addressing a large audience. For instance, you can say, "I would like to thank the dean of the school, my instructors, friends and family." This is important when you only have a few minutes and do not want anyone to feel left out. If you are addressing a small gathering, you can thank people and mention their names.

First, thank the speaker who introduced you and everyone else in attendance. Then say what an honor it is to have been invited to give the speech.

3.     Write Any Other Thought You Have About the Topic

Write everything that comes to mind about the graduation and the speech you will give. Jot down any other thing that you are grateful for. This is where brainstorming comes in. You will realize there are other ideas you had not thought of before. You can do this for about 30 minutes until you run out of new thoughts and ideas.

4.     Write Your Reasons for Thanking Those People

Now that you have a list of everyone you want to thank say why you are thankful. Your reasons here could be straightforward. You could thank them for all their support or anything else they did to make your life easier.

As you write, make sure all the reasons you provide are truthful. The more heartfelt your gratitude is, the more likely it is to have an impact.

5.     Know Your Audience

When giving your graduation speech, you will address your fellow students and their families, friends, faculty members, staff and others. All these people come from diverse backgrounds and have been through different experiences. So, any slip-up or wrong choice of words could upset them.

As a rule of thumb, avoid talking about the following:

Understanding who your audience is will help you to carefully choose your words, know what to talk about and how to convey your message.

6.     Know What the Graduation Speech is and is Not About

Just because you have been asked to give, graduation does not mean the occasion is about you. It is about the graduates and their achievements.

It is about all their sacrifices to get to where they are now. Knowing this will help you give an uplifting message about education, wisdom and the future. So, focus on what is important and relevant to the graduates and their families. If your speech has many words like "I, me, my, mine, etc." then you are focusing too much on yourself.

7.     Write the Introduction

Once you have identified your theme, people and what you are thankful for, go ahead and write the introduction.

An introduction is the opening lines of a speech. This part is extremely important; how you present will determine your speech's effectiveness. Your audience will likely remember your beginning even if you provide a crappy body.

The introduction gives your audience a reason to listen to the rest of the speech. A good introduction should grab your audience's attention from the word go. It should acknowledge the occasion, offer thanks, and lead to the main idea.

You can begin the introduction with a saying, a famous quote, a story, and a rhetorical question. Any strategy is okay; just remember to refer to the speech's theme.

In addition, make sure the introduction is not more than five sentences long, depending on the time allocated to you. The introduction should be two paragraphs long if it is a five-minute speech.

8.     Avoid talking About the Webster's Dictionary

Have you ever heard of a speech in which the speaker talks about certain words and how the dictionary defines them? Think about how bored or annoyed you felt at that moment. Whatever you do, avoid discussing how Webster's dictionary defines certain words central to your speech. This writing style has become common in so many speeches that it is now a cliché.

Generally, you want your graduation speech to be original, so avoid words that are considered clichés.

9.     Talk about What You've Learnt

Despite your success in class, most people are willing to believe you did not learn all the important lessons from it.

Therefore, talk about how the lessons you learned in your extracurricular activities, such as drama or football club, influenced your success.

Consider talking about what your friends and teachers taught you outside the classroom that has led you to where you are now.

10. Make Jokes

If you truly want to make your speech memorable, come up with funny jokes. Do not just walk up to the podium and read a written speech from beginning to end. Even as you talk about the lessons and success, throw in some humor to lighten everybody up. Make them laugh by sharing a funny thing that happened in your four years in school.

11. Balance Your Speech

Just because you must include jokes in your speech does not mean you should stray from the main topic. All the greatest speakers have learnt how to balance what is important and what is not.

12. Inspire the Students

Graduation speeches are not all about celebrating that you have achieved your degree or diploma. It is also about looking forward to all the possibilities that the future will bring and the direction you want to take after graduation. You want the students to feel motivated to take over the world once they leave school. They should feel like they can do anything now that they have graduated.

13. Use Quotes

Some of the greatest graduation speeches include motivational quotes. If you want to uplift your fellow graduates, use quotes in your speech. You need to read widely to get more ideas on inspirational quotes to use in your speech. However, the quotes do not have to be from a famous person. The quotes can be from your favorite professor, mother, or a subordinate staff member who influenced your life.

Consider the following quote from Steve Jobs when he gave his speech at Stanford University in 2005, "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 other's opinions drown out your inner voice."

There are other motivational quotes for graduation; just make sure you link them to the theme of your speech.

14. Get Personal in Your Speech

Write your speech to show your personality if you want the audience to relate to the speech. When Conan Christopher O'Brien gave a commencement speech 2011 at Dartmouth College, he shared stories about his career and disappointments. He shared what failure taught him after he was fired from his dream job. The speech was so great that it was lauded as the greatest commencement ever.

15. Allocate Enough to Write, Edit and Rehearse the Speech

If you want an effective speech that moves your audience, consider taking time to develop and practice it.

Start working on the speech at least two weeks prior. Then, once you have written it, please read through and edit it to remove any mistakes, be they punctuation, grammar, or awkwardly written phrases. Then, once you are sure everything is okay, rehearse how you will present it to your audience. You will need enough time to do this, not rush and disappoint your audience.

16. Rehearse the Speech

Public speaking can be a nightmare for most people, and the first few minutes on the podium are nerve-wracking. Practising your speech before the main day will help calm some nerves. You will walk to the stage knowing that you know the speech from the beginning to the end. With this, you can speak in confidence and deliver a perfect speech.

Rehearsing will also help you pick and replace boring points with interesting ones. Remember that practicing alone is not enough, particularly for a long speech. If you do not like how the speech sounds, then there is no way your audience will like it either.

However, the biggest question is how long you should rehearse. Well, one expert recommends researching 30 hours if your speech is 1 hour long.

17. Keep the Speech Short and Sweet

Remember that your graduation speech is important; otherwise, you would not have been asked to give it. Give your a speech, but don't go overboard. All those in attendance are there to hear what you have to say and celebrate the accomplishments of the graduates. The worst thing for anyone giving a speech is those in attendance constantly checking their watches or asking you to wrap it up. Therefore, avoid rambling on. Make sure your speech is not more than 10 minutes.

18. Speak to Your Fellow Students

When you are asked to give a graduation speech, do not just lock yourself in a room crafting it. You need to go out there talking with your fellow students to learn what to talk about. Ask the students what they are interested in and what they have learnt in their years in school. Ask them what they will remember most about their time in college.

19. Create a Call to Action

What is your takeaway message? What do you want the students to leave with after hearing your speech?

A call to action tells your audience what you want them to do after hearing your speech. All the words you have spoken should lead up to the last points. These should be the points that your audience remembers.

Every great speech has an effective call to action that inspires the audience. The CTA should give your audience something to tackle. These tasks should be completed to bring all your themes to fruition.

Think of a CTA as a set of instructions that will allow the graduates to tackle any challenges they may face. You should restate your theme and then provide a takeaway message.

Things to Avoid When Giving a Speech

Now that you know how to write a graduation speech, there are things you need to avoid to make your speech great.

Closed Body Language

Not everything you say in your speech is conveyed through your words and body language. Body language is about reflective and non-reflective of some parts or your whole body. It is hard to notice yourself, but others can easily notice your behavior.

When giving a speech, bringing the audience to your side is crucial. When you have closed body language, it will hinder this. Crossing your hands, covering your mouth, and sudden timid movements show that you would rather be elsewhere.

Fast Pacing

When giving a speech, you must communicate at a conversational pace. At this rate, you are speaking words between 140-170 per minute. Speaking words less than 140 words, you are speaking much slower and will bore your audience. In contrast, anything above 170 means you speak too fast, and your audience will have difficulty understanding you.

Example of a Graduation Speech

Below is an example of a graduation speech that should guide you as you write your own.

The guest of honor, the Chancellor of Chicago College, Professor Martin, all faculty members, my fellow graduates, parents, friends, ladies, and gentlemen, Good morning. First, I would like to say what an honor it is to have been given this opportunity to present this speech.

To family and friends, I would like to thank all of you for making this day possible. All the support, encouragement, love, resources and sacrifices. I also want to thank the administration and faculty of the Chicago College for all their hard work and dedication on our behalf. Above all, I want to thank the graduating class for their efforts and hard work. You are the ones that have made this college what it is. In so many ways that you have not even thought of, you give the college its vitality, spark, edge, purpose and mission. You leave Chicago College today much better than you did yesterday. All your hard work, curiosity, ambition and talents have improved the school. So, my thanks go to each of you as we celebrate this day.

As you graduate today, keep in mind that you are doing so at a time when the century is still in its infancy. You are graduating when the world is facing all sorts of problems, including global warming, war, economic meltdown, hunger and famine. However, you are also leaving this college at a time when the said problems present various opportunities.

You will take today's technology to new dimensions, using it to fix most of the problems the world is facing. Who knows, one of you could live in the space station, circling the earth. Some of you could find cures for some of the chronic illnesses we face today, like cancer.

So, this morning, you are expected to start a new chapter in your life. Armed with all that you have learnt in your years in school, I believe you are eager to tackle this chapter, whatever it is. For some, technical schools will be your next stop, and some could have chosen to serve the country in the armed forces. Others will choose to join the workforce. Whatever you choose, make sure you are proud of yourself and all you have achieved.

As we celebrate your academic accomplishment, I want to challenge everyone to continue with the quest for knowledge. Make sure you find your unique way to contribute to society.

Even though, for some of you, your next steps may have been determined, for others, you may not know which direction your life will take. You may find your calling in the next chapter or further along the road. For some of you, the direction you have chosen may not seem so great later on or isn't working, and you will begin to work on a new journey. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, in her speech at Harvard, said,

". . . 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."

Do not live cautiously. Take as many risks as you can. Take detours and write down your goals. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. They will teach you more than you know.

I was overwhelmed by the joy I felt when you were preparing for this ceremony. I saw the huge smiles, the high fives, the hugging and all the love you showed each other. Therefore, I challenge you this day to take that enthusiasm into the world and use it to conquer whatever life may throw at you.

In final remarks, I would like to ask everyone to stand up and give a round of applause to the graduation class of 2024.

Final Word

Even though it is a huge honor, giving any kind of speech, including graduation, can be nerve-racking. These speeches are meant to inspire the graduates as they leave to face the world. For this reason, you have to know the words to write and how to speak them before the audience. The steps above should guide you in properly writing a speech that will leave an impact.

Also Read:

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How Do You Start a Graduation Speech?

Your graduation speech should begin with an introduction. How you begin, the introduction will determine whether you will have a great speech. Therefore, you need to grab your audience's attention first. Consider telling a joke or speaking loudly to command your presence and involve them in your speech.

What Do You Say in a Graduation Speech?

Some of the things you can talk about in your graduation speech include:

What Makes a Good Graduation Speech?

A good graduation speech should contain information about education, wisdom, accomplishments and the future. It should talk about all the sacrifices you, as those close to you, have made to reach that point.

How long should a Graduation Speech Be?

The ideal length of any graduation speech should be 5-10 minutes. However, you should not exceed 20 minutes, as this will bore your audience. Your aim should be to create an impact with your speech.