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How to Write a Graduation Speech

Crafting the Valedictory or the Inspirational Speech


Young man giving graduation speech
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Congratulations! You have been chosen to make a valedictory speech, which means you have accomplished great things in your school career. So how do you start? Before you begin writing your speech, you may want to get familiar with Parts of a Written Speech.

A valedictory is a speech that is delivered at the graduation ceremony. The speech is usually performed by the valedictorian, although many colleges and high schools have moved away from the practice of naming a valedictorian. The terms "valedictory" and "valedictorian" come from the Latin valedicere, which means (or pertains to) a formal farewell.

The valedictory should fulfill two goals: it should convey a "sending off" message to the members of a graduating class; but it should also inspire graduating students to leave the comfort and security of their school with a full heart, and to embark on an exciting new adventure.


Know Your Purpose

You have been chosen to deliver this speech because you have proven that you are an excellent student who can live up to adult responsibilities. Congratulations for that! Now your goal is to make every student in your class feel special.

As a valedictorian or class speaker, you have a responsibility to inspire your classmates and send them off feeling good about the future.

As you prepare your speech, you will need to think about all the events of your shared experience and all the people who participated. That includes popular students, unpopular students, teachers, principals, professors, deans, and other school employees.


Compile a List of Highlights

You’ll start by making a list of benchmarks and highlights from the year:

  • Who received awards, scholarships?
  • Were any sports records broken?
  • Is a teacher retiring after this year?
  • Did your class have a reputation with teachers, good or bad?
  • How many students remain from freshman year?
  • Was there a dramatic event in the world?
  • Was there a dramatic event within your school?
  • Was there a funny moment?

You might need to conduct personal interviews to gain insight and a sense of depth about some of these events.


Writing the Speech

Your speech should contain an interesting introduction. First, greet your audience and then provide a brief introduction to your speech and its tone. For example, you could say "the senior year has been full of surprises" or "we're leaving the faculty with lots of interesting memories" or "we enjoyed much success and overcame our few disappointments."

Divide your speech into topics according to the highlights you came up with. For example, you may start with your senior trip aboard a bumpy plane ride or rolling cruise ship and say "We are gathered today as one body—although it's rumored that some of us left our stomachs behind somewhere in the Caribbean."


Use Anecdotes and Quotes

Come up with a few anecdotes from your shared experience. Anecdotes are brief stories about an interesting incident. They can be funny or poignant. For example, "When the newspaper printed a story about the family who lost their home to a fire, my classmates rallied and organized a series of fund raisers."

Mix up your speech by sprinkling in a quote or two. A quote works best in the introduction or the conclusion, and it should reflect the tone or theme of your speech. For example:

  • "The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again," Charles Dickens
  • "You will find the key to success under the alarm clock," Benjamin Franklin
  • "There is only one success-to be able to spend your life in your own way," Christopher Morley

Plan for Time

Be mindful of the appropriate length of your speech to give yourself an idea of how long the speech should be. You can speak about 175 per minute, so a ten-minute speech should contain 1500-1750 words. You'll fit about 250 words on a page that is double-spaced. That translates to five to seven pages of double-spaced text for ten minutes of speaking time.


Tips for Preparing to Speak

  • Practice reading your speech out loud to see how it sounds.
  • Time yourself to check your length, but remember you may speak faster when you're nervous.
  • Review tips for calming your nerves.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before your (morning) speech.
  • Eat well before your (evening) speech.
  • Don’t try to be funny if it feels unnatural.
  • Treat any tragic event delicately. If your class experienced a loss, you may need to address it (if not addressing it would be awkward). But if you address it, make sure you do so in a tactful way. Consult a trusted teacher if you have any doubts or discomforts.
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