Youhavefoundone Uncategorized How to Pull Off a Good Graduation Speech

How to Pull Off a Good Graduation Speech

Ever attended a graduation? If not, here’s the low-down: You get up early, queue up for your mortar board, sit next to the course mate you like least, watch the arrival of The Dons, receive a fake scroll, have some photos taken, and drink champagne. Oh, and of course there’s the guest speaker…and if you’re lucky he/she may well save you from tedium with a rip-roaring speech about their respective careers beyond university. If you’re lucky! If you’re even luckier, there may come a time later in life when you yourself may be given the opportunity to be this saviour. So what makes a good graduation speech?

Humour is a sure-fire way to re-boost morale among the academic troops. Take, for example, Will Ferrell’s speech at the Harvard Class Day on June 4th 2003. After arriving, and rifling through a pile of speeches for such diverse organizations as Microsoft, The National Rifle Association and DOW Chemical, he proceeds to introduce his speech as being ‘a little unorthodox’. ‘As most of you are probably aware, I didn’t graduate from Harvard. In fact, I never even got a call back from Admissions. Damn you, Harvard! Damn you! I told myself I would not get emotional today. But damn it, I’m here, and sometimes it’s just good to cry.’

Blatant honesty can also be the best policy, as exemplified by the saint of satire Jon Stewart at his commencement address at The College of William and Mary on May 20th 2004. ‘Thank you Mr. President,’ he begins. ‘I had forgotten how crushingly dull these ceremonies are. Thank you.’ After wishing the graduates good luck with the War On Terror (‘that’s not even a noun!’) and fixing the broken world which they have inherited, he goes on to impart some wisdom with the subtle aim of easing their transition ‘from college back to their parents’ basement.’

During her commencement at Wellesley College, Oprah Winfrey, on the other hand, chose to focus her speech on the classic notion: The Journey of Life. ‘It took me a long time to realize I was never going to have Diana Ross’ thighs, no matter how many diets I went on, and I was not going to have her hair neither unless I bought some.’ After this admittance to the assembled young women, she then throws in another tried and tested speech winner – a poem, Phenomenal Women by Maya Angelou, before finishing with the tear-jerking line, ‘that’s you, Wellesley!’

Aside from comedy and references from Basement Finishing Wellesley MA elsewhere, good graduation speeches can also be made all the more interesting via a displayed and genuine respect for the institution that is being celebrated. Author, Salman Rushdie, succeeded in such a way with his speech at Bard College on 25th May 1996. Quite amazingly, during 1989, whilst Rushdie was in hiding due to a fatwa received after the publication of The Satanic Verses – the Bard president at the time, unperturbed by his reputation, offered him a position on the faculty. ‘Bard College did the opposite…it moved towards me, in intellectual solidarity and human concern, and made, not lofty speeches, but a concrete offer of help. I hope you will all feel proud that Bard, quietly, without fanfares, made such a principled gesture at such a time.’

Here you have four prime examples of good graduation speeches and with more universities, more courses, and increased accessibility for students to obtain degrees by other means such as online, you too may one day be invited to speak at a graduation. And anyway, even though you’re more likely to be hearing the speech than saying it – at least now you’ve got something to compare it to.


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