Commencement Speech Examples (PDF)

As they say, inspiration can be drawn from anything, anywhere. You can be inspired by pretty skies, beautiful faces, heartwarming words – by anything really. It’s all a matter of perspective. When you’re done with one matter at hand, you need new inspiration to push through and succeed another goal.

Graduates from colleges or universities gets to start a new journey in their lives. They journey on the path to the real world also known as adulthood. They work jobs that may or may not be related to the course they took in university, but for some, they continue on their academic journey through masters or additional degrees.

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It just means that the road to the professional world is just beginning. Most of them struggle to balance their professional and personal life. And some of them seem like they have things already figured out. And you may ask how? Well, maybe they have already mapped out their future or they use their inspiration as fuel to continue on with their life after university. You may also see Student Goals to Achieve Before Graduating College

Why is it Called a Commencement Speech?

By definition commence means “To begin or start,” but why is the end of a school year is called commencement?

Some may think it is an official welcome to their new life after university. A gentle reminder that their professional life is beginning. But if you look at it historically, during the medieval times a student entered the university as an apprentice and emerged as commenced university master of doctor.

According to the book The Founding of Harvard College, the initiation of apprentices in the masters of art guild were initiated by teachers during the middle ages. Candidates or apprentices having received a license to teach were ceremonially admitted the masters’ or teachers’ guild. They were then confirmed with a new title: Master of Art.

So technically, it is called a commencement because it marked the beginning of a person’s career as a master of arts at the university, meaning, the beginning of a career as a university teacher.

Therefore, we still call the end of the university years of a student a commencement because of the above mentioned reason. It is the ceremony in which degrees or diplomas are conferred upon graduating students. Now, the speech made during the said event is called a commencement speech in honor of the students’ ceremonial admission to the professional world.

A commencement speech is commonly given by notable figures in the society. Colleges or universities usually invite politicians, experts in a specific field, important citizens and other noted speakers to be their commencement speaker. Also see Narrative Speech Examples & PDF.

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How to Write a Commencement Speech

1. Acknowledge notable people

Start by acknowledging notable people such as top university officials, local politicians and maybe even the student class president. However, the downside to this is it can become a missed opportunity to mention someone.

According to Daniel Benaim, a professor from New York University and also a speechwriter for former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, you need to find a way to make your acknowledgement personal. “If you know people, don’t give them a compliment anyone could find on a Hallmark card. If you can, say something specific and uniquely true about them. If you’re not sure, start Googling,” says Benaim.

2. Congratulate the students

Congratulate the students on their achievements. They deserve a decent acknowledgment of the fruits of their hard work. Recognize the fact that because they worked extraordinarily hard, they are now able to graduate and harbor the fruits of their labor.

In case you don’t have a personal connection with the school, it’s okay. “Researching (students’) experience is a sign of respect, and when someone outside their community knows their favorite bars and inside jokes, that can be an easy source of humor and a way to connect,” Benaim said.

At the same time, congratulate the parents of the graduates. They, too, have worked really hard in order to support and encourage their children to finish their studies.

3. Share some wisdom

Wise words you’re about to share will either greatly impact the students or they forget it right after you share them. You can share some wisdom through personal stories of success and defeat. Share something the students can relate to when they venture out there in the real world, how you found hope amidst the adversities and how you came up victorious or how you handled loss. Give them something to remember through your experiences. Let them live through those moments with you in just a short span of time, give them something remarkable.

4. Leave them with a challenge

Lastly, you challenge the students do something specific. Challenge them to something they can be proud but remind them that it is okay to take baby steps– small steps that can still make a difference. This can also be something you wish you’d known before when you were in their shoes.

Commencement Speech Example

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How to Give a Great Commencement Speech

  • It is important that before you write and deliver your speech, you must first know your audience. The audience in the commencement ceremony is comprised of professionals and lay persons. With it’s diversity comes a large threat of offending someone with the words you say. Always get to know who are you talking to to avoid offending and becoming an awful commencement speaker.
  • You should be able to fully understand what the ceremony is about and what it’s not. Your speech must be uplifting and inspiring to the students. Do not talk about yourself too much; it’s okay to use your experiences as reference for some words of wisdom but don’t overdo it. The ceremony is not about you, but it’s about the graduates and their guests.
  •  Avoid controversial topics such as religion, race, creed, sexual orientation, political opinions, negative view of other professions etc. These topics and so much more can cause conflict and controversy. Different people have different opinions about these topics, so it is much better to leave it as is. Like how you normally avoid it in normal conversations, it is more likely if you don’t talk about it in your speech as well.
  • Balance the serious with the humorous. Don’t overdo by sounding like a hip and happy person as forcing it can easily can become annoying. Plus, the main goal of your speech is to inspire and challenge the graduates in their new journey.
  • Don’t dwell in the past and don’t get too technical. A little bit of history about the university and profession is acceptable but too much of it, as of everything else, blurs the message. If you want to share some technicalities, make sure you use terms that lay persons can understand.
  •  It is distasteful and inappropriate to talk about success in terms of money or high volume practices. Such talk contradicts the virtue that success is not measured by material things but how others react and respond to a person.
  • Finally, keep it short and simple. Long speeches end up being forgotten; short but insightful speeches are remembered even after the ceremony itself. Five to 10 minutes is just about the right duration for a speech. Speakers who carefully choose their words, who quickly gets to the point, and concludes enthusiastically are greatly appreciated during times like this.
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A commencement speech is not meant to give lecture or sound preachy, it is meant to sound like a normal conversation where you share a little about yourself. The main goal is to deliver a speech that can captivate the hearts of the audience. The moral of the stories you share should ultimately be how to become a better human being.

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