Commencement Speech

Last Updated: May 17, 2024

Commencement Speech

A commencement speech is a powerful address given during graduation ceremonies, drawing inspiration from diverse sources such as beautiful landscapes, kind words, or even life’s challenges. It marks a pivotal moment as graduates transition from academia to adulthood, embarking on new journeys. Whether pursuing careers, further education, or personal growth, graduates use inspiration to navigate their paths. This speech celebrates achievements, offers wisdom, and provides motivation to balance professional and personal life, guiding graduates as they begin their journey into the real world.

What is a Commencement Speech?

A commencement speech is a motivational address given during graduation ceremonies to inspire graduates. It reflects on achievements, acknowledges challenges, and encourages embracing the future with resilience, gratitude, and purpose.

20 All Time Great Commencement Speeches

1. Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address


Steve Jobs, in his speech at Stanford, reflects on his personal life experiences and the lessons he learned from them. He structures his address around three stories from his life, each highlighting different lessons that are pivotal to his personal and professional growth. These stories revolve around the themes of ‘connecting the dots’, ‘love and loss’, and ‘death’.

Main Points:

  1. Connecting the Dots:
    • Jobs discusses his decision to drop out of Reed College, which initially seemed like a failure but allowed him to drop in on classes he was interested in, such as calligraphy. This, he explains, was crucial in developing the distinctive aesthetics of Apple products. He emphasizes that while one cannot predict the future, the dots will somehow connect down the road.
  2. Love and Loss:
    • He narrates his journey with Apple, from starting it in his parents’ garage to being fired from it after it had grown into a multi-billion dollar company. Despite the painful experience of being ousted, Jobs shares how this led him to enter one of the most creative periods of his life, leading to the creation of NeXT and Pixar, and eventually bringing him back to Apple. This story underscores the importance of finding what you love and persevering through challenges.
  3. Death:
    • Jobs talks about his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and facing the reality of death. This confrontation with mortality served as a crucial reminder to live fully and to not waste time living someone else’s life. He stresses the importance of following one’s own heart and intuition.

2. Jeff Bezos, Princeton University, 2010


Jeff Bezos’ speech at Princeton revolved around a series of questions he learned to ask from his grandfather, emphasizing the impact of our choices. He shared anecdotes from his life, including his decision to start Amazon, to illuzstrate how these choices shape our futures. He urged graduates to be adventurous, bold, and kind in their life choices.

Main Points:

  1. Childhood Lesson:
    • Bezos recounts a story from his childhood, where his grandmother was upset about his grandfather’s smoking habit. Instead of scolding him, his grandfather imparted a lesson about how we choose to react to situations, teaching young Bezos about kindness and perception.
  2. Gifts vs. Choices:
    • He distinguished between gifts (talents we are born with) and choices (decisions we make that reflect our character). Bezos emphasized that while we may have natural talents, our choices are far more important in shaping our lives.
  3. Challenging Norms:
    • He described his decision to start Amazon, highlighting how he left a comfortable job to pursue what was then just an idea. This move was driven by a desire to avoid regret for not having tried something new and challenging.
  4. Life’s Hardest Questions:
    • Bezos introduced a series of questions to challenge the graduates, including whether they would choose a life of ease or a life of service and adventure. These questions aimed to provoke thoughts on integrity, regret, and personal responsibility.
  5. Kindness and Integrity:
    • Throughout his speech, Bezos stressed the importance of being kind and maintaining integrity. He posited that these qualities are choices that define who we truly are beyond our innate abilities.
  6. Framework for Making Decisions:
    • He offered a decision-making framework focused on minimizing future regrets. Bezos advocated for a bold approach to life’s choices, suggesting that our most significant regrets tend to be acts of omission rather than commission—things we did not do rather than things we did.

3. J.K. Rowling Harvard Commencement Speech, 2008


In her address, Rowling described her own early failures and how these setbacks paved the way for her success as an author. She spoke about the benefits of failing and how hitting rock bottom was foundational in allowing her to focus on what she truly valued. Rowling also emphasized the power of imagination not just in storytelling but in fostering empathy and making impactful changes in society.

Main Points:

  1. Value of Failure:
    • Rowling discussed her own post-college failures, including a short-lived marriage and a career that didn’t meet her expectations. These experiences, she said, stripped away the inessential, leaving her to pursue her true passion—writing. She considered her early adult failure as liberating rather than defining.
  2. Benefits of Hitting Rock Bottom:
    • She described rock bottom as the solid foundation on which she rebuilt her life. This part of her life was crucial because it freed her to focus on writing, the only work that truly mattered to her, without distraction.
  3. Importance of Imagination:
    • Beyond its role in creating fictional worlds, Rowling highlighted imagination’s power to foster empathy. She urged graduates to use their capacity to envision other people’s lives, particularly those who are suffering, to drive change and make better ethical decisions.
  4. Personal Anecdotes of Helping Others:
    • Drawing from her experiences working at Amnesty International, Rowling shared stories of people who endured incredible hardships and used their imaginations not to escape but to empathize with others and to change their circumstances.
  5. Living a Meaningful Life:
    • She encouraged the graduates to not just strive for a successful life in conventional terms but to consider the importance of living a meaningful life. This, according to Rowling, involves introspection, ethical living, and compassion towards others.
  6. Courage to Follow One’s Beliefs:
    • Rowling stressed the importance of having the courage to follow one’s beliefs against the odds. This could mean standing up for what is right, even when it is not easy, and making decisions that reflect one’s values and moral compass.

4. David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College, 2005


Wallace opened his speech with a short parable about two young fish who do not understand what water is. He used this story to illustrate the point that the most obvious and important realities are often the hardest to see. His address then focused on the day-to-day choices that define a life and the default settings of thinking that everyone battles against.

Main Points:

  1. Automatic, Default Setting:
    • Wallace argued that a default setting of how we construct meaning from experiences often goes unquestioned. This setting dictates that we interpret everything in the world as it relates to ourselves, often leading to a narrow, self-centered point of view.
  2. Conscious Decision-Making:
    • The core of his message was the importance of being well-adjusted to think critically and consciously choose how to perceive and respond to others. He emphasized that the real value of education isn’t just about learning how to think, but learning how to exercise control over what you think about and how.
  3. Empathy and Self-Awareness:
    • Wallace discussed the significance of stepping outside oneself to empathize with others, especially in mundane and frustrating life scenarios. He highlighted that true freedom involves attention, awareness, discipline, and effort—not just the capacity to think, but the choice of what to think about.
  4. Living Compassionately:
    • He pushed the graduates to be aware of others, to exercise patience, and to maintain a conscious awareness of the world around them, even in the most ordinary moments. He suggested that the default human settings lead to loneliness and isolation, but being aware can lead to a more fulfilling and compassionate life.
  5. Worship and Awareness:
    • Wallace warned against unconscious living where people end up worshipping the wrong things like money, power, or beauty—things that will not fulfill the deeper need for purpose and meaning. He stressed that the kind of freedom that really matters involves being critically aware and making informed, moral choices.

5. Barack Obama, Howard University, 2016


Obama’s speech celebrated the achievements and progress of black Americans, acknowledged the challenges that still persist, and emphasized the responsibilities that come with being a beneficiary of the civil rights movement. He provided guidance on how to navigate the complexities of modern society and contribute positively to the country.

Main Points:

  1. Acknowledging Progress:
    • Obama highlighted the progress made in America in terms of race relations and civil rights. He cited examples like the increase in black elected officials and improvements in educational attainment for minority students as indicators of positive change.
  2. Importance of Engagement and Voting:
    • He stressed the importance of political engagement and the power of voting. Obama argued that disengagement from the political process leads to a vacuum that does not help in making changes necessary for progress.
  3. Facing Racism and Inequality:
    • While acknowledging progress, Obama also discussed the persistent problems of systemic racism, economic inequality, and mass incarceration. He emphasized that these issues require continuous effort and innovative solutions.
  4. Responsibility to Community and Country:
    • Obama called on the graduates to take responsibility not just for themselves but for their community and country as well. He inspired them to be role models and leaders who can uplift others and fight for justice and equality.
  5. Critique Constructively:
    • He advised the graduates to engage in constructive criticism. Obama noted that change requires listening, compromise, and reconciliation with those who have different views. He encouraged thoughtful discourse and engagement, even with opponents.
  6. Empathy and Understanding:
    • A recurring theme in his speech was the importance of empathy. Obama urged the graduates to understand and relate to the experiences and hardships of others, both within and outside their own communities.
  7. Pursuing Justice through Action:
    • Finally, he emphasized that achieving justice and equality requires persistent action and optimism. Obama inspired the graduates to lead the way in making America a better place for future generations.

6. Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University, 2013


Oprah’s speech wove together her personal experiences of setbacks and comebacks, emphasizing the lessons learned from failures. She encouraged the graduates to face challenges head-on, embrace the inevitable failures, and use them as stepping stones for growth. Oprah also highlighted the importance of living a life of substance that contributes positively to the lives of others.

Main Points:

  1. Embracing Failure:
    • Oprah discussed her own professional setbacks, particularly the initial struggles of launching her cable network, OWN. She talked about how these failures were instrumental in teaching her valuable lessons about resilience and perseverance.
  2. Finding Purpose:
    • She urged the graduates to find their purpose and align it with service to others. Oprah stressed that personal success becomes more meaningful when it positively impacts others and contributes to a greater good.
  3. Power of Belief:
    • A major theme of her speech was the power of belief in oneself. Oprah emphasized the importance of maintaining self-belief in the face of challenges and setbacks. She encouraged the graduates to hold onto their convictions and to always trust their gut.
  4. Learning from Every Experience:
    • Oprah advised the audience to learn from every experience, good or bad. She highlighted that every encounter and every incident provides a learning opportunity that should be valued.
  5. Giving Back:
    • Reflecting on her personal and career achievements, Oprah highlighted the fulfillment she derives from giving back to the community and making a difference in others’ lives. She encouraged the graduates to look for ways to give back and to always extend a helping hand.
  6. Cultivating Inner Strength:
    • Oprah spoke about cultivating inner strength and resilience. She stressed that while it is impossible to avoid difficulties, the ability to get back up and continue forward is crucial.
  7. Living with Integrity:
    • She closed with a call to live life with integrity and to ensure that one’s personal values align with their actions, making a point that integrity is the cornerstone of a life well-lived.

7. Sheryl Sandberg, UC Berkeley, 2016


Sandberg shared her personal journey of coping with her husband’s unexpected death, and how this tragic event taught her lessons about resilience, gratitude, and finding joy in the face of adversity. She used her own experiences to inspire the graduates to persevere through their own challenges, and to build resilience for the difficult moments they would inevitably face in life.

Main Points:

  1. Personal Vulnerability:
    • Sandberg opened up about the depth of her grief following her husband’s death, describing it as a challenge that initially seemed insurmountable. She shared these personal details to connect with the audience on a very human level.
  2. The ‘Three P’s’ of Resilience:
    • She discussed psychologist Martin Seligman’s theory that resilience can be built by addressing personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence. She emphasized not taking setbacks personally, not allowing setbacks to affect unrelated areas of life, and remembering that hardships may not last forever.
  3. Gratitude in Times of Despair:
    • Sandberg spoke about the importance of gratitude even in the darkest times. She shared how consciously counting her blessings each day helped her find deeper appreciation for life, even amidst her grief.
  4. Finding Joy and Meaning:
    • She encouraged the graduates to find joy and meaning in their lives, stressing that it is possible to find growth and happiness after great loss. Sandberg quoted a psychologist who found that people who were able to find meaning in terrible times were more resilient.
  5. Kicking the Elephant Out of the Room:
    • Sandberg talked about the importance of communication in overcoming adversity. She described her own experiences returning to work at Facebook, where addressing her pain openly with colleagues helped to alleviate it.
  6. Supporting Others in Adversity:
    • She advised the graduates on how they could support others facing adversity, emphasizing the importance of showing up, acknowledging others’ pain, and offering personal and heartfelt support.
  7. Building Collective Resilience:
    • Sandberg concluded with a call for collective resilience, urging the audience to lean on and support each other. She highlighted the importance of community and shared strength in overcoming personal and collective challenges.

8. Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth College, 2011


O’Brien addressed the graduates by reflecting on his public departure from NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” using his own experiences to discuss the broader themes of disappointment and recovery. He emphasized the transformative power of setbacks and the importance of perseverance, while interlacing his message with humor and wit.

Main Points:

  1. Embracing Failure:
    • O’Brien shared his own story of perceived failure when he lost “The Tonight Show.” He discussed how this setback, while initially devastating, taught him invaluable lessons about resilience and the unexpected paths life can take.
  2. The Value of a Hard-Earned Plan B:
    • He advised the graduates that while their Plan A might not always work out, there is great value in a Plan B that is often hard-earned through adversity. O’Brien emphasized that adapting to changes can lead to even better outcomes.
  3. Cynicism vs. Optimism:
    • O’Brien cautioned against cynicism, describing it as a choice that can negatively impact one’s perspective on life. He encouraged the graduates to remain optimistic and open to possibilities, regardless of the challenges they face.
  4. Finding Clarity in Disappointment:
    • He shared how his career upheaval provided him with unexpected clarity and focus, helping him to identify what was truly important in his life and career, beyond fame and conventional success.
  5. The Importance of Being Kind:
    • Beyond just achieving personal success, O’Brien stressed the importance of being kind and considerate. He highlighted that true achievement includes how one treats others and impacts the world positively.
  6. Joy in the Journey:
    • He concluded by reminding the graduates to find joy in the journey, not just the destination. O’Brien emphasized that success is not just about reaching a set goal but also about the experiences and growth along the way.

9. Michelle Obama, City College of New York, 2016


Michelle Obama’s speech focused on the historical significance of City College as a beacon of opportunity for immigrants and students from all walks of life. She shared stories of students who overcame significant obstacles to achieve their educational goals. The First Lady encouraged graduates to take pride in their heritage and background, and to use their education to effect positive change in their communities and beyond.

Main Points:

  1. Embracing Diversity:
    • Michelle Obama highlighted the strength found in diversity, noting how City College’s legacy of inclusivity has contributed to its vibrant community. She urged graduates to continue embracing and celebrating diversity in their future endeavors.
  2. Acknowledging Challenges:
    • She acknowledged the societal and personal challenges that students had to overcome to graduate, such as financial hardship and discrimination. Her message was one of resilience—encouraging students to continue overcoming barriers and to support others facing similar challenges.
  3. Role of Education:
    • The First Lady emphasized the transformative power of education, not just as a personal achievement but as a tool for societal change. She inspired graduates to use their education to challenge injustices and contribute to their communities.
  4. Active Participation in Democracy:
    • Michelle Obama called on graduates to actively participate in democracy and to not be bystanders. She stressed the importance of voting, engaging in community service, and standing up against discrimination and inequality.
  5. Moral Responsibility:
    • She spoke about the moral responsibility of the graduates to take on challenges bigger than themselves, to aim for high ideals, and to strive for honesty, integrity, and a commitment to justice.
  6. Hope and Optimism:
    • Despite acknowledging the complexities and challenges of the world, Michelle Obama delivered a message of hope and optimism. She encouraged the graduates to remain hopeful and to believe in their ability to make a difference.

10. Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009


Ellen DeGeneres’ speech focused on her personal journey of self-acceptance and the courage to be true to oneself. She shared her struggles and successes, highlighting the importance of staying true to one’s values and finding one’s own path in life. Ellen’s speech encouraged graduates to embrace who they are, face challenges with humor, and impact the world positively.

Main Points:

  1. Personal Journey and Authenticity:
    • Ellen shared her experiences of coming out as gay in the mid-90s when it was less accepted, emphasizing how difficult yet liberating it was to embrace her true self. She stressed the importance of authenticity and the courage it takes to live openly.
  2. Resilience and Recovery:
    • Reflecting on the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina, Ellen praised the resilience of the students and the city of New Orleans. She highlighted how adversity can lead to strength and renewal, and used this as a metaphor for personal challenges.
  3. Importance of Joy and Humor:
    • Throughout her speech, Ellen emphasized the importance of finding joy and humor even in difficult times. She encouraged the graduates to approach life’s challenges with a positive attitude and laughter.
  4. Making a Difference:
    • Ellen urged the graduates to use their lives to make a difference in whatever way they can. She spoke about the impact of small acts of kindness and the importance of contributing to the community and the world.
  5. Non-traditional Path to Success:
    • She discussed her unconventional path to success, which included various odd jobs and setbacks before finding her true calling in comedy and television. This highlighted her message that there is no set path to success and that each person must find their own way.
  6. Embrace Change:
    • Ellen encouraged the graduates to be open to change and to be willing to take risks for what they believe in. She mentioned that embracing change is crucial for growth and can lead to unexpected opportunities.

11. Neil Gaiman, University of the Arts, 2012


Neil Gaiman’s speech centered on his experiences as a young writer who ventured into the world with no formal education in writing or plan, but with a clear goal of becoming a professional author. He discussed the virtues of making mistakes, learning from them, and using imagination and creativity to forge one’s own path. His address was both a celebration of creative life and a practical guide to navigating the challenges associated with a career in the arts.

Main Points:

  1. Making Good Art:
    • Gaiman’s central message was to encourage the graduates to “make good art.” He advised using the creation of art as a response to both good and bad times—whether experiencing success or failure, the answer should always be to make good art.
  2. The Value of Ignorance:
    • He recounted how his ignorance of the rules and norms of the publishing industry was a blessing in disguise. It allowed him to explore creative paths and opportunities that might otherwise have seemed impossible or inappropriate.
  3. Freelance Life:
    • Gaiman provided insights into the life of a freelancer, stressing the importance of delivering work on time and being easy to get along with. He noted that even if one’s work isn’t the best, being pleasant and punctual can significantly boost a career.
  4. Importance of Experiences:
    • He emphasized the importance of living a life that provides material for art. Gaiman encouraged the graduates to say yes to opportunities that would help them gather experiences to feed their creative processes.
  5. Learning from Failure:
    • Gaiman shared his belief that mistakes are inevitable and essential. He highlighted that failures are often where one learns the most, and therefore, should not be feared but embraced as valuable learning opportunities.
  6. Be Bold and Take Risks:
    • Reflecting on his own career, Gaiman urged the graduates to take risks and be bold. He pointed out that some of his greatest successes came from projects that initially seemed like they might be disastrous.
  7. Imposter Syndrome:
    • He touched on the feeling of impostor syndrome, which many creatives experience, and discussed the importance of overcoming these doubts and continuing to create regardless of them.

12. Bill Gates, Harvard University, 2007


In his speech, Gates spoke about how his exposure to global health disparities profoundly affected him. He urged the graduates to consider how they could use their education, skills, and energies to tackle global issues such as poverty, disease, and inequity. Gates emphasized the power of technology and innovation in making a significant impact and highlighted the need for a more equitable distribution of health and educational resources worldwide.

Main Points:

  1. Awareness of Global Inequities:
    • Gates shared his and his wife Melinda’s experiences with global health crises and poverty, which shifted their focus towards global philanthropy. He stressed how his travels and the data he encountered expanded his worldview, making him more aware of stark global inequalities.
  2. Responsibility of the Privileged:
    • He pointed out that with privilege comes responsibility, particularly for those who have benefited from excellent educations and resources. Gates challenged the graduates to think about how they could use their advantages to effect positive change in the world.
  3. Call for Innovation and Action:
    • Gates encouraged the new graduates to innovate and take action against global issues. He emphasized that many of the greatest challenges in health and education do not receive enough attention and should be the focus of their efforts to apply their knowledge and skills.
  4. Technology as a Tool for Equity:
    • Reflecting on his background in technology, Gates discussed how innovations could lead to solutions for global problems. He highlighted the role of new technologies in improving health outcomes and educational access across the world.
  5. Moral Imperative to Help:
    • He expressed a strong moral imperative for helping those less fortunate, stating that inequity should be offensive to all who have the means to help. Gates implored the graduates to not turn away from suffering and to act to alleviate it.
  6. Optimism about the Future:
    • Despite the daunting challenges he described, Gates remained optimistic about the ability to make a difference. He inspired the graduates with hope that each person could change the world, drawing from his own experiences of seeing impactful results from his foundation’s work.

13. Admiral William H. McRaven, University of Texas at Austin, 2014


McRaven’s speech revolved around the concept that small actions and moments of discipline and resilience can have a massive impact on the world. He used vivid anecdotes from his SEAL training to illustrate these points, delivering a powerful message of leadership, perseverance, and the influence of individual actions on a larger scale.

Main Points:

  1. Start Your Day with a Task Completed:
    • McRaven emphasized the importance of starting the day with a completed task, such as making your bed. He argued that this small achievement sets a positive tone for the day and can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment.
  2. Find Someone to Help You Paddle:
    • He highlighted the necessity of teamwork and collaboration. During SEAL training, paddling exercises require precise coordination and mutual support, underscoring the idea that you cannot go through life alone.
  3. Respect Everyone:
    • McRaven recounted lessons about the importance of respecting everyone regardless of their size or position. In training, smaller, seemingly weaker recruits often had the most heart—teaching him that the measure of a person is not based on physical attributes.
  4. Life Is Not Fair—Drive On:
    • He shared stories of “circus” punishments—extra challenges for failures—which taught him perseverance. The lesson was that life isn’t always fair, but one must keep moving forward regardless of the setbacks.
  5. Failure Can Make You Stronger:
    • McRaven discussed the inevitability of failure and the importance of embracing the lessons that come from it. He pointed out that every failure is a step toward success if you learn from it.
  6. Dare Greatly:
    • Drawing from a harrowing training exercise called “The Mud Flats,” where trainees endured harsh conditions, McRaven spoke about the power of hope and fighting spirit when facing the most difficult challenges.
  7. Stand Up to Bullies:
    • He urged graduates to confront injustices and stand up for what is right, drawing parallels to training exercises where standing up to the “shark” was a literal challenge.
  8. Rise to the Occasion:
    • McRaven emphasized that one should be their very best in the darkest moments. He shared how critical operations often occur under the worst conditions and how true character is revealed in such times.
  9. Give People Hope:
    • He spoke about the importance of giving hope to others, using an example from SEAL training where a simple song lifted spirits during a grueling test.
  10. Never Give Up:
  • Concluding his speech, McRaven reiterated the importance of never giving up, no matter the odds. This was a recurring theme in every story and lesson he shared from SEAL training.

14. George Saunders, Syracuse University, 2013


Saunders’ speech explored the idea that the things we regret most in life are failures of kindness—those moments when we could have been nicer, more generous, or more compassionate but chose not to be. He argued that kindness becomes increasingly important as we age, and he encouraged the graduates to strive towards becoming kinder over time. His address was both a personal reflection and a universal call to action, urging the graduates to value kindness above all else in their interactions.

Main Points:

  1. Regrets of Unkindness:
    • Saunders shared personal anecdotes from his own life, particularly from his youth, where he failed to extend kindness to others. These memories, he noted, linger as his most significant regrets, not professional or material failures.
  2. Kindness Over Time:
    • He discussed the notion that as we get older, our desire for wealth or fame tends to diminish, but our appreciation for moments of kindness grows. Saunders suggested that kindness enriches our lives and the lives of those around us, making it the most valuable attribute to cultivate.
  3. The Process of Becoming Kinder:
    • Saunders pointed out that kindness is often something we grow into. He proposed that it is achieved through a series of decisions and efforts to be more loving and generous, particularly when it’s difficult.
  4. Empathy and Understanding:
    • The speech highlighted the importance of empathy as a way to foster kindness. Saunders encouraged the graduates to strive to understand others, to imagine their lives and their struggles, as a pathway to caring more deeply about them.
  5. Barriers to Kindness:
    • Saunders discussed the various barriers that prevent kindness, such as fear, prejudice, and the pressure to conform to unkind behaviors. He emphasized the importance of overcoming these barriers to lead a more fulfilled life.
  6. The Rewards of Kindness:
    • Reflecting on the rewards of being kind, Saunders mentioned not only the impact on others but also how acts of kindness enrich and give meaning to our own lives. He stressed that kindness returns to us, enhancing our sense of connection and happiness.
  7. Call to Action:
    • Saunders concluded with a call to action, urging the graduates to begin immediately to increase their kindness, suggesting that even small increments matter. He advocated for a deliberate effort to be kinder as a daily practice.

15. Tim Minchin, University of Western Australia, 2013


Minchin’s speech was a mix of personal anecdotes, humorous observations, and serious life lessons. He used his platform to challenge traditional narratives about success and happiness, advocating for a more thoughtful and scientifically-minded approach to life. His speech was both an entertaining performance and a deep, meaningful set of guidelines for living a fulfilling life.

Main Points:

  1. You Don’t Have to Have a Dream:
    • Minchin advised against the common notion that you need a big, lifelong dream. Instead, he suggested having a broad set of passionate interests and pursuing short-term goals passionately, which can lead to an equally fulfilling life.
  2. Be Micro-Ambitious:
    • He encouraged the graduates to focus on short-term goals and to work hard at whatever is in front of them, arguing that excellence in small tasks leads to potential major achievements.
  3. You Are Lucky and So is Everyone Else:
    • Minchin highlighted the importance of understanding that luck plays a significant role in success. Recognizing one’s luck can foster gratitude and a humble perspective.
  4. Exercise:
    • He stressed the importance of physical exercise, not just for health, but for its psychological benefits, including its impact on creativity and mental health.
  5. Be Hard on Your Opinions:
    • Minchin encouraged the audience to regularly question and reassess their opinions. He warned against the human tendency to look for evidence that supports pre-existing beliefs, a cognitive bias known as confirmation bias.
  6. Be a Teacher:
    • He emphasized the nobility and importance of teaching, urging everyone to share knowledge and enthusiasm and to be proud if they choose to be educators.
  7. Define Yourself by What You Love:
    • Minchin advised defining oneself by the things one loves rather than the things one opposes. He suggested listing the things you love in conversations and embracing positivity.
  8. Respect People with Less Power Than You:
    • He reminded the graduates to respect and be kind to those who have less power, suggesting that how one treats subordinate individuals is a true measure of character.
  9. Don’t Rush:
    • Finally, Minchin warned against the urgency and pressure of the modern world, advocating for taking life slowly to ensure making thoughtful decisions and appreciating everyday experiences.

16. Andy Samberg, Harvard University, 2012


Samberg’s address at Harvard was predominantly comedic, aiming to entertain the audience with impersonations, playful jabs at prominent figures, and humorous reflections on his own career. Despite the jests, he managed to subtly incorporate advice about embracing life’s unpredictability and the importance of pursuing one’s passions with a sense of humor.

Main Points:

  1. Embrace Humor:
    • Samberg encouraged the graduates to maintain a sense of humor regardless of the life path they choose. He emphasized that humor can be a valuable tool for coping with life’s challenges and for connecting with others.
  2. Celebrate Your Achievements:
    • In his unique way, Samberg reminded the graduates to take pride in their accomplishments at Harvard, one of the world’s most prestigious universities, and to remember the hard work that got them there.
  3. Pursue Passion with Persistence:
    • While his speech was less direct about career advice, his own career trajectory—transitioning from comedy sketches on the internet to becoming a celebrated comedian and actor—served as an implicit example of pursuing one’s passion relentlessly and finding success through perseverance.
  4. Importance of Flexibility:
    • Samberg’s humorous anecdotes about his own experiences in the entertainment industry subtly highlighted the importance of adaptability and staying open to where life might lead you, especially in fields as volatile as the arts.
  5. Making an Impact:
    • He touched on the idea that everyone has the potential to make an impact, whether through their career, personal life, or by simply spreading joy and laughter, as he has chosen to do.
  6. Value of Kindness:
    • Between jokes, Samberg alluded to the importance of kindness and decency, which can often be overlooked but are crucial for building meaningful relationships and a fulfilling life.

17. Stephen Colbert, Northwestern University, 2011


Colbert used his time on stage to entertain and enlighten the graduating class, intertwining jokes with serious reflections on his personal journey and broader life lessons. He drew from his experiences in improv comedy to emphasize the importance of saying “yes” to life’s opportunities and adapting to change with optimism and creativity.

Main Points:

  1. Embrace Change:
    • Colbert stressed the importance of embracing change and uncertainty. He shared how his career in improvisational comedy taught him the value of adapting to unexpected situations and turning them into opportunities.
  2. The Power of Saying “Yes”:
    • He urged graduates to say “yes” as much as possible, drawing parallels between improv scenes, where progress is made by building on each other’s ideas, and life, where saying “yes” opens up new possibilities.
  3. Stay Informed and Engaged:
    • Reflecting his role as a political satirist, Colbert encouraged the graduates to stay informed about the world and actively engage with issues that matter. He emphasized the importance of understanding one’s role in a larger community and participating in civic life.
  4. Humor and Resilience:
    • Colbert highlighted how humor can be a powerful tool for resilience. He discussed how finding the humorous side of challenging situations can provide relief and a way to cope with difficulties.
  5. Love What You Do:
    • He advised the graduates to find what they love doing and pursue it with passion. Colbert shared his own experiences of following his passion for comedy, despite initial uncertainties and challenges.
  6. Impact of Technology:
    • Colbert also touched on the impact of technology and social media on contemporary life, urging the graduates to use these tools wisely but not let them replace genuine human interactions.
  7. Value of Hard Work:
    • Finally, Colbert commended the value of hard work and perseverance. He reminded the graduates that while luck plays a role in success, consistent effort and dedication are crucial to achieving long-term goals.

18. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wellesley College, 2015


Adichie’s speech focused on the importance of feminism, the complexities of gender equality, and the broader social issues affecting women worldwide. She shared personal anecdotes and reflections on identity and culture, urging the graduates to think critically about their roles in the world and to strive for a deeper understanding of issues related to gender and social justice.

Main Points:

  1. Feminism and Gender Equality:
    • Adichie highlighted the importance of feminism, defining it in simple terms as the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. She encouraged the graduates to embrace and advocate for feminism and to challenge the structures that propagate gender inequality.
  2. Cultural Critique and Self-Awareness:
    • She discussed the need for cultural awareness and self-reflection. Adichie urged the audience to understand their own positions within various cultural contexts and to critique societal norms and expectations that reinforce inequality.
  3. The Importance of Storytelling:
    • Drawing on her background as a writer, Adichie emphasized the power of storytelling in shaping views and changing opinions. She encouraged the graduates to tell their own stories and to seek out and listen to the stories of others, especially those who are marginalized.
  4. Challenging the Status Quo:
    • Adichie advised the graduates to be willing to challenge the status quo and to take risks for the sake of building a more just society. She emphasized that real change often comes from not simply doing what is expected, but from questioning and revising established norms.
  5. Personal Responsibility:
    • She spoke about personal responsibility and the importance of making deliberate choices that reflect one’s values and aspirations. Adichie encouraged the graduates to think critically about the impact of their actions and to live intentionally.
  6. Empathy and Open-mindedness:
    • Adichie also touched on the need for empathy and the willingness to understand perspectives different from one’s own. She stressed that true progress in issues of gender and equality requires a deep empathy for the experiences and challenges of others.
  7. Call to Action:
    • Finally, Adichie called on the graduates to be agents of change in whatever capacity they can. She urged them to apply their education and privilege towards advocating for and implementing changes that advance equality and justice.

19. Robert De Niro, Tisch School of the Arts, 2015


De Niro opened his speech with a humorous but blunt statement: “You made it — and you’re f*cked,” highlighting the uncertain and competitive nature of the arts. He used this direct approach to both amuse and prepare the graduates for the real world. The speech was a realistic portrayal of the difficulties artists face, but it also conveyed encouragement and the value of persistence.

Main Points:

  1. Realistic Outlook on Arts Careers:
    • De Niro didn’t sugarcoat the challenges of pursuing a career in the arts. He pointed out that unlike more conventional career paths, the arts require navigating a landscape filled with intense competition and frequent rejection.
  2. Value of an Arts Education:
    • Despite the harsh realities, De Niro affirmed the value of an arts education. He emphasized that the skills and experiences gained at Tisch would serve graduates not only in artistic pursuits but in life in general.
  3. Importance of Passion and Commitment:
    • He stressed that passion and commitment are essential for success in the arts. De Niro encouraged graduates to stay true to their art, regardless of the obstacles they might face.
  4. Resilience and Adaptability:
    • Reflecting on his own experiences, De Niro spoke about resilience and the necessity of adapting to overcome setbacks. He shared that setbacks and failures could be profound learning experiences.
  5. Embrace the Journey:
    • He advised the graduates to embrace the journey of their careers, including the highs and lows. De Niro highlighted the importance of enjoying the process and finding satisfaction in the work itself, rather than just the outcomes.
  6. Encouragement and Support:
    • De Niro assured the graduates of the support they would always have from their community at Tisch. He reminded them that they were not alone in their journeys and that their peers and faculty would continue to be a source of strength and inspiration.

20. NYU’s 2022 Commencement Speaker Taylor Swift


Swift’s address celebrated the graduates’ achievements and resilience, particularly noting the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared lessons from her own career, emphasizing the importance of embracing one’s uniqueness, handling criticism, and the value of making mistakes. Her speech was both an encouragement to the young graduates and a reflection on the universal challenges and triumphs that define personal growth and success.

Main Points:

  1. Embracing Imperfections:
    • Taylor stressed the importance of embracing one’s quirks and imperfections, suggesting that what makes each person different is what makes them brilliantly themselves. She encouraged the graduates to accept both their strengths and vulnerabilities.
  2. Dealing with Criticism:
    • Drawing from her own experiences in the spotlight, Swift discussed handling criticism constructively. She advised the graduates to differentiate between feedback that is helpful and criticism that is merely noise.
  3. Resilience and Learning from Mistakes:
    • She emphasized the value of resilience and the lessons learned from making mistakes. Swift shared how each setback has been a pivotal part of her growth and urged the audience to not fear failure but to learn from it.
  4. The Importance of Passion and Hard Work:
    • Swift highlighted the importance of passion in pursuing one’s goals. She reminded the graduates that hard work is essential, and that pursuing what one loves requires both dedication and resilience.
  5. Self-Acceptance and Growth:
    • She spoke about the importance of self-acceptance and continuously working on oneself. Swift encouraged the graduates to keep evolving and to embrace change as a constant.
  6. Celebrating Achievements:
    • Taylor acknowledged the significant achievement of graduating, especially after the students navigated the complexities of completing their degrees during a global pandemic. She celebrated their hard work and perseverance.

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 Format

1. Introduction

Greeting and Acknowledgments

Good morning, graduates, faculty, families, and friends. It is an honor to be here today to celebrate this significant milestone with all of you. I would like to acknowledge President Smith, the esteemed board members, and our distinguished guests for their presence today.

Personal Introduction

For those who don’t know me, my name is Dr. John Doe. As an alumnus of this institution and a lifelong advocate for education, I feel a deep connection to today’s ceremony and the incredible journey you’ve all undertaken.

2. Opening Remarks


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” These words by Winston Churchill resonate deeply today as we gather to celebrate your achievements and look forward to your bright futures.


Today, we are here to honor your hard work, celebrate your achievements, and prepare you for the exciting journey that lies ahead.

3. Body


During my time at this university, I faced many challenges, from rigorous exams to personal setbacks. One story that stands out is when I failed my first major exam. It was a humbling experience, but it taught me resilience and the importance of perseverance. I hope my story inspires you to face your future with the same determination.

Celebration of Achievements

You have all worked incredibly hard to get to this point. From late-night study sessions to group projects, you have shown dedication and commitment. Today, we celebrate your success and the countless hours you’ve invested in reaching this milestone.

Reflection on the Past

Think back to your first day here. You were filled with a mix of excitement and nerves, unsure of what lay ahead. Over the years, you’ve faced challenges, made lifelong friends, and grown both academically and personally. Reflect on those moments and be proud of how far you’ve come.

Guidance for the Future

As you step into the next chapter of your life, remember that learning doesn’t stop here. Embrace new opportunities, seek out challenges, and never stop growing. One piece of advice I hold dear is to always stay curious and open-minded. This mindset will serve you well in both your personal and professional lives.

Emphasis on Values

As you move forward, remember the values that have been instilled in you: integrity, empathy, and a commitment to community service. These values will guide you and help you make a positive impact in the world.

4. Connection with the Audience

Relatable Content

I remember sitting where you are now, feeling a mix of excitement and uncertainty. It’s a shared experience that binds us all together. Use this bond and the friendships you’ve formed here to support each other as you move forward.

Acknowledgment of Support Systems

None of us achieve success alone. Take a moment to thank your parents, teachers, mentors, and friends who have supported you throughout this journey. Their encouragement and support have been invaluable.

5. Vision for the Future


Imagine the impact you can have on the world. Whether you become leaders in your fields, innovators, or compassionate community members, you have the potential to make a significant difference. Pursue your dreams with passion and dedication.

Challenges and Opportunities

You will face challenges, but remember that each obstacle is an opportunity to grow and learn. Embrace these moments and use them to build a stronger, more resilient version of yourself.

6. Conclusion


In summary, today we celebrate your achievements, reflect on your journey, and look forward to your future. Remember the inspirational stories, the values you’ve learned, and the support systems that have helped you along the way.

Closing Remarks

As you step into the next phase of your life, carry with you the courage to pursue your dreams, the wisdom to learn from your experiences, and the strength to overcome any challenges.

Well Wishes

Congratulations, Class of 2024! I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. May you find success, happiness, and fulfillment in everything you do.

High school Commencement Speech Examples

High school commencement speech examples offer inspiration and guidance for delivering memorable graduation speeches. These examples highlight key themes such as perseverance, growth, and future aspirations. They often include personal anecdotes, motivational quotes, and heartfelt messages. Reviewing these speeches can help you craft a speech that resonates with your audience, leaving a lasting impact on graduates and attendees.

College Commencement Speech Examples

College commencement speech examples provide inspiration and guidance for delivering memorable graduation speeches. These speeches often emphasize themes like resilience, opportunity, and kindness. Reviewing examples from influential speakers like Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, and David Foster Wallace can help you craft a speech that resonates with graduates and leaves a lasting impact.

Short Commencement Speech Examples

Here top short commencement speech examples that inspire graduates with themes of change, kindness, and resilience. Perfect for leaving a lasting impact, these speeches are concise yet powerful, motivating students to embrace their future with confidence and purpose.

1. “Embrace Change and Opportunity”

Ladies and Gentlemen, esteemed faculty, proud parents, and, most importantly, the remarkable graduating class of 2024,
Today, we gather to celebrate your incredible achievements and the bright future that lies ahead. This moment marks both an end and a beginning—a time to reflect on the past and to embrace the future with open arms.
As you step out into the world, remember that life is full of change and opportunity. Don’t fear the unknown; instead, welcome it. The world needs your energy, your passion, and your unique perspectives. Use the knowledge and skills you’ve gained here to navigate through challenges and create new paths.
Stay curious, stay passionate, and never stop learning. Believe in yourself, and always strive to make a positive impact on the world around you. The future is yours to shape. Go out and make it extraordinary.
Congratulations, Class of 2024! The world awaits your brilliance.
Thank you.

2. “The Power of Kindness”

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you to the faculty, parents, and the extraordinary Class of 2024.
As you leave this institution and embark on your new journeys, I want to share a simple yet powerful message: kindness matters. In every interaction, every decision, choose kindness. It’s a strength that will guide you through life’s ups and downs and build bridges where there are divides.
Your education has given you knowledge, but it’s your compassion that will make a difference. Carry kindness with you in all you do. Treat others with respect and empathy, and you will find success in ways you never imagined.
Congratulations, graduates! Go out and make the world a better place.
Thank you.

3. “The Importance of Resilience”

Hello, everyone. It’s an honor to address the resilient and brilliant Class of 2024.
Life is filled with unexpected challenges and opportunities. What defines your journey is not how many times you fall, but how many times you rise. Resilience is the key to overcoming obstacles and achieving your dreams.
Remember, setbacks are not failures but lessons. Each challenge you face is an opportunity to grow stronger and wiser. Keep pushing forward, no matter how tough things get. Your resilience will be your greatest asset.
As you step into your future, be resilient, stay hopeful, and never give up on your dreams. Believe in your ability to overcome and to thrive.
Congratulations, and may you always find the strength to rise.
Thank you.

More Commencement Speech Templates & Samples

Sample Commencement Speech

College Commencement Speech

Standard Commencement Speech

Superintendent Commencement Speech

Commencement Speech Format

Student Reflection Commencement Speech

Graduation Commencement Speech

Commencement Speech for the Math Department

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.

Purpose of a Commencement Speech

A commencement speech serves several key purposes, marking the end of an educational journey and the beginning of a new chapter. Here are the primary purposes of a commencement speech:

1. Inspire Graduates

A commencement speech aims to inspire graduates as they embark on their future endeavors. The speaker shares motivational stories, lessons learned, and valuable advice to encourage graduates to pursue their dreams and face challenges with confidence.

2. Celebrate Achievements

Commencement speeches celebrate the achievements of the graduates. They acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and perseverance required to reach this milestone. This celebration instills a sense of pride and accomplishment among graduates and their families.

3. Reflect on the Journey

Reflecting on the educational journey is another important purpose. The speaker often recalls significant moments, challenges overcome, and growth experiences that have shaped the graduates. This reflection helps graduates appreciate their journey and the personal and academic development they have undergone.

4. Offer Guidance

Commencement speeches provide guidance for the future. Speakers often share practical advice and wisdom that can help graduates navigate their personal and professional lives. This guidance is aimed at helping graduates make informed decisions and approach their futures with a positive mindset.

5. Emphasize Values

A key purpose of a commencement speech is to emphasize important values such as integrity, perseverance, and community. Speakers highlight these values to encourage graduates to lead lives of purpose and contribute positively to society.

6. Foster a Sense of Community

Commencement speeches foster a sense of community and belonging. They remind graduates that they are part of a larger network of alumni and that their connections with their peers and institution will continue to be valuable throughout their lives.

7. Provide Closure

Finally, commencement speeches provide closure to the educational chapter of the graduates’ lives. They mark the end of one phase and the beginning of another, helping graduates transition smoothly from student life to the next stage of their journey.

Features of a Commencement Speech

A commencement speech is a significant part of graduation ceremonies, encapsulating the essence of the occasion. Here are the key features of a commencement speech:

1. Inspirational Message

A core feature of a commencement speech is its inspirational message. The speaker often shares personal anecdotes, motivational stories, and wisdom that inspire graduates to pursue their goals with determination and optimism.

2. Celebration of Achievements

Celebrating the achievements of the graduates is essential. The speech highlights the hard work, dedication, and accomplishments of the students, acknowledging their journey and the milestones they have reached.

3. Reflection on the Past

Reflecting on the past is another important feature. The speaker reminisces about significant moments, challenges, and triumphs experienced by the graduates during their educational journey. This reflection helps graduates appreciate their growth and development.

4. Guidance for the Future

Providing guidance for the future is crucial in a commencement speech. Speakers offer practical advice, share lessons learned, and provide insights to help graduates navigate their upcoming personal and professional lives.

5. Emphasis on Values

Commencement speeches often emphasize core values such as integrity, perseverance, empathy, and community service. These values are highlighted to encourage graduates to lead meaningful and impactful lives.

6. Connection with the Audience

A strong connection with the audience is vital. The speaker engages with graduates, faculty, families, and friends, making the speech relatable and inclusive. This connection fosters a sense of unity and shared celebration.

7. Humorous Elements

Incorporating humor can make the speech more engaging and memorable. Light-hearted anecdotes, jokes, and humorous reflections help to balance the serious and celebratory tones of the speech.

8. Acknowledgment of Support Systems

Acknowledging the support systems that have helped graduates succeed is important. This includes thanking parents, teachers, mentors, and friends who have provided guidance, encouragement, and support throughout the educational journey.

9. Vision for the Future

A commencement speech often paints a vision for the future, encouraging graduates to envision their potential impact on the world. This vision inspires graduates to think ambitiously and embrace the opportunities ahead.

10. Concluding Remarks

The speech typically concludes with powerful and memorable remarks. These closing words aim to leave a lasting impression, reinforcing the key messages and inspiring graduates as they move forward.

Tips on How to Start a Commencement Speech

Starting a commencement speech effectively sets the tone for the rest of your address. Here are some tips to help you begin your speech in a memorable and engaging way:

1. Begin with a Strong Hook


  • Use an inspirational or thought-provoking quote related to the theme of your speech.
  • Example: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela


  • Share a personal story or experience that relates to the graduates’ journey.
  • Example: “When I first walked onto this campus, I was filled with excitement and a bit of trepidation, much like many of you. One moment that stands out is my first exam failure, which taught me resilience and the importance of perseverance.”


  • Pose a question to the audience to engage their curiosity.
  • Example: “Have you ever wondered what defines success and how we measure it in our lives?”

2. Greet the Audience

  • Acknowledge and greet the graduates, faculty, families, and friends.
  • Example: “Good morning, graduates, faculty, families, and friends. It is an honor to stand before you today.”

3. Acknowledge the Occasion

  • Recognize the significance of the day and the hard work of the graduates.
  • Example: “Today, we gather to celebrate the incredible achievements of the Class of 2024, who have worked tirelessly to reach this milestone.”

4. Introduce Yourself

  • Briefly introduce yourself and mention any relevant connection to the institution or graduates.
  • Example: “For those who don’t know me, my name is Dr. John Doe, an alumnus of this esteemed university, and a lifelong advocate for education.”

5. Set the Tone

  • Clearly state the purpose and theme of your speech.
  • Example: “Today, I want to share some lessons I’ve learned along my journey and offer a few words of wisdom as you embark on the next chapter of your lives.”

6. Use Humor Wisely

  • Incorporate a light-hearted joke or humorous observation to relax the audience.
  • Example: “I remember sitting where you are now, thinking, ‘How many more speeches do I have to sit through before I get my diploma?’ Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief!”

7. Express Gratitude

  • Thank the institution, faculty, and support systems that have helped the graduates succeed.
  • Example: “Let’s take a moment to thank the dedicated professors, supportive families, and loyal friends who have been instrumental in your journey to this day.”

Example Opening

“Good morning, graduates, faculty, families, and friends. It is an honor to stand before you today. ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,’ Nelson Mandela once said. This quote resonates deeply as we gather to celebrate the incredible achievements of the Class of 2024, who have worked tirelessly to reach this milestone. For those who don’t know me, my name is Dr. John Doe, an alumnus of this esteemed university, and a lifelong advocate for education. Today, I want to share some lessons I’ve learned along my journey and offer a few words of wisdom as you embark on the next chapter of your lives. I remember sitting where you are now, thinking, ‘How many more speeches do I have to sit through before I get my diploma?’ Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief! Let’s take a moment to thank the dedicated professors, supportive families, and loyal friends who have been instrumental in your journey to this day.”

Tips on How to End a Commencement Speech

Ending a commencement speech effectively is crucial for leaving a lasting impression on the graduates and audience. Here are some tips to help you conclude your speech memorably:

1. Summarize Key Points

Recap Main Themes

  • Briefly summarize the main points of your speech to reinforce your message.
  • Example: “Today, we’ve talked about the importance of perseverance, the value of integrity, and the power of community.”

2. Offer Encouragement

Inspire Confidence

  • Provide words of encouragement that inspire confidence and hope for the future.
  • Example: “Believe in yourselves, embrace the challenges ahead, and know that you have the strength to overcome any obstacle.”

3. Share a Final Anecdote or Quote

Relatable Story or Inspirational Quote

  • End with a personal anecdote or a powerful quote that ties together the themes of your speech.
  • Example: “As you move forward, remember the words of Maya Angelou: ‘You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.’”

4. Call to Action

Motivate Graduates to Take Action

  • Encourage the graduates to apply what they have learned and make a difference in the world.
  • Example: “Go out into the world and make your mark. Use your education, your passion, and your determination to create positive change.”

5. Express Well Wishes

Best Wishes for the Future

  • Extend your best wishes to the graduates for their future endeavors.
  • Example: “Congratulations, Class of 2024! I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. May you find success, happiness, and fulfillment in everything you do.”

6. End with a Memorable Closing Statement

Powerful Closing

  • Conclude with a memorable and powerful statement that resonates with the audience.
  • Example: “As you leave here today, remember that the future is yours to shape. Dream big, work hard, and never stop believing in yourselves.”

7. Express Gratitude

Thank the Audience

  • Thank the audience for their time and attention.
  • Example: “Thank you for allowing me to share this special day with you. It has been an honor and a privilege.”

Example Closing

“In summary, we’ve reflected on the importance of perseverance, integrity, and community. As you move forward, remember the words of Maya Angelou: ‘You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.’ Go out into the world and make your mark. Use your education, your passion, and your determination to create positive change. Congratulations, Class of 2024! I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. May you find success, happiness, and fulfillment in everything you do. As you leave here today, remember that the future is yours to shape. Dream big, work hard, and never stop believing in yourselves.”

Commencement Speech vs. Graduation Speech

Commencement Speech vs. Graduation Speech
AspectCommencement SpeechGraduation Speech
DefinitionA formal speech delivered during the commencement ceremony, often by a notable guest.A speech delivered during the graduation ceremony, typically by a student or faculty member.
PurposeTo inspire, motivate, and provide wisdom to graduates as they transition to the next phase of their lives.To celebrate and reflect on the graduates’ experiences and achievements.
SpeakerOften a distinguished guest, such as a successful alumnus, celebrity, or public figure.Typically a valedictorian, class president, or a chosen faculty member.
Content FocusBroader life lessons, inspirational messages, and future guidance.Specific memories, achievements, and experiences of the graduating class.
ToneInspirational, motivational, and aspirational.Celebratory, reflective, and personal.
AudiencePrimarily the graduates, but also includes families, friends, faculty, and guests.The graduating class, families, friends, and school community.
LengthUsually longer, around 15-20 minutes.Typically shorter, around 5-10 minutes.
StructureFormal, often with a clear beginning, middle, and end, including anecdotes and quotes.Less formal, more personal and anecdotal, often with humor and specific references to the class.
Key ElementsInspirational stories, quotes, life advice, acknowledgment of support systems.Personal experiences, class achievements, future hopes, and thanks to supporters.
TimingUsually the highlight of the commencement ceremony, often toward the end.Delivered during the graduation ceremony, can be either at the beginning or end.
Examples of SpeakersInfluential figures like politicians, successful business people, or notable alumni.Top-performing students, class leaders, or respected teachers/professors.
GoalTo leave a lasting, positive impact and motivate graduates for their future endeavors.To celebrate the class’s journey and share memorable moments and achie

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.

A commencement speech is not meant to give a 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.

What is a commencement speech?

A commencement speech is a speech given during graduation ceremonies, aiming to inspire and motivate graduates as they embark on their next life chapter.

Who typically gives a commencement speech?

Commencement speeches are often delivered by notable figures such as successful alumni, celebrities, politicians, or other influential individuals.

What is the purpose of a commencement speech?

The purpose of a commencement speech is to celebrate graduates’ achievements, offer wisdom and advice, and inspire them for future challenges.

How long should a commencement speech be?

A commencement speech typically lasts between 10 to 20 minutes, ensuring it is engaging and concise.

What are common themes in commencement speeches?

Common themes include perseverance, lifelong learning, embracing failure, pursuing passions, and making a positive impact on the world.

How should I start a commencement speech?

Conclude with a powerful message or call to action, and express best wishes for the graduates’ future endeavors.

How do you conclude a commencement speech?

Conclude with a powerful message or call to action, and express best wishes for the graduates’ future endeavors.

Can a student give a commencement speech?

Yes, valedictorians, class presidents, or other selected students often give commencement speeches to represent their peers.

How do I write a memorable commencement speech?

Focus on authenticity, personal stories, clear structure, and a strong, inspiring message that resonates with the audience.

What should I avoid in a commencement speech?

Avoid controversial topics, overly long speeches, and clichés. Stay positive, relevant, and respectful to the graduating class.

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