Select Page

In my last post encouraging students and their friends and family to attend commencement ceremonies, I forgot to mention a key aspect of the big event: THE speech.

Whether the speaker is internationally famous (e.g., Jay Leno, First Lady Michelle Obama, Peyton Manning or Bill & Melinda Gates) or a more local role model, the task is both clear cut and daunting. THE speech must connect with the graduates’ experience and be engaging, inspirational and not too long. After all, the real stars of this show are the graduates.

Even with a “clear” blueprint, actual THE speeches vary in their levels of success. I have attended dozens of commencement ceremonies, including three last weekend. I only remember the speech from my undergraduate ceremony (a great experience by Roger Mudd, famed journalist) and the last three (one of which was not so great). I have seen many attempts to meet all of the criteria, and most don’t quite make it.

As columnist Petula Dvorak noted at the end of her May 2014 post, “Commencement speakers struggle to say something memorable at graduation:” …that’s okay….It’s a day for reflecting on the journey, however difficulty, to get there and the adventure ahead.

That posted, here is some reminder of THE big day and what was said to inspire (or at the very least prompt) reflection and celebration.

BTW, these are not necessarily my choices for THE top 10 speeches. My list would include a lot more diversity, starting with more women.