After reading the mini lecture and model speeches, set about writing your commencement speech. Refer to theHow You will Be Evaluated section for the specifics of the speechwriting assignments.
Each speech you write will be 7-12 minutes long (when read aloud). The speechwriting process will be emphasized by requiring you to post a first draft of each speech to your classmates & me using the “Save for Class” function. Then, you will rewrite each speech if you believe you should (based on feedback). The second time you submit your speech it must be ready for grading–the second submission will be considered your final draft. All speeches must be submitted twice. The second submission should be made solely to me for grading. Each manuscript’s draft (first and final) should be speaker-ready.
For all of your speeches, you will choose your “clients” and then invent the venues/events where they will be speaking. You should choose public figures you have an interest in and do some research on their interests/backgrounds, other speeches they may have given, and get a sense of their “voices.” For example, for your dedication speech you may “invent” a new museum of architecture opening in London, England and have Prince Charles give the dedication speech. Make sure you choose a different client for each of your speeches. You may choose yourself as the client for one of the speeches.
Along with each speaker-ready manuscript, you will include a cover page that gives the speaker’s name, the title of the speech, the event/venue, and the goal you expect the speech to achieve. For the apologia, make sure you declare in your cover page the “charge” made against your client.
The commencement speech is designed to celebrate the day when the graduating students will be receiving their diplomas. Commencement is the formal end-point of years of endeavorâ€”it marks a significant goal set andachieved.
The speech should say something about the occasion and its significance. Also, the speech should explicitly congratulate the graduating class and possibly give thanks to the appropriate persons for being invited to give the speech. In addition to commenting on the occasion and its significance, the speech should usually engage a vision of the future circumscribed by some term or terms of virtue for the students and their assembled loved-ones to contemplate and gather inspiration from as they prepare to go out into life (e.g., community service, love). The speech may also focus on some dialectical tension they may have to overcome or surmount as they go through life’s trials (e.g., family vs. career, materialism vs. spiritualism).
The future vision’s theme should be rooted in some way in the distinctive life-experiences of the speakerâ€”her or his ethosâ€”and their relevance to the audience’s immediate interests and concerns. In a way, it can keynote the assembly’s future by providing a few memorable orienting phrases (maxims or aphorisms) that may be repeated/echoed throughout the speech. In addition, given the speaker’s reputation and position, it is quite possible that multiple audiences may hear the speech or read quotations from it. It is important, therefore, to realize that sometimes a commencement speech must address both the immediate and mediated audiences. The ideal situation is when both audiences share common commitments and interests. For example, Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech was a commencement address that touched on themes and interests that were relevant to the particular occasion and immediate audience and to widespread existing hopes, fears, and interests extending beyond the time and place of the speech’s delivery. “Iron curtain” became a catch-phrase that was echoed around the world until the Berlin Wall was demolished near the end of the twentieth century.
It is not usually a good idea to say something negative about the speech itself or the occasion such as “I won’t keep you sitting here any longer than necessary,” or “I know you’re anxious to get on with commencement so I’ll keep it short”. People want to hear a good speech and expect that the speaker will deliver. Any ‘talk about talk’ that downplays the speech’s and the occasion’s significance actually may diminish the significance of the event as-a-whole, alienate the listeners, or miss an opportunity to make a genuine positive contribution to peoples’ lives.
Commencement is an event that students and loved ones have been anticipating for years. Commencement speeches are serious business. Consequently, they present great opportunities for speakers. They should never be taken lightly.
- “Humor Makes Us Free”, Bob Newhart
- “Bequeath to Future Generations a Proud Legacy: Shape History”, Madeleine K. Albright
- Graduation Speech at CNY, Joseph Moore
- “Commencement Address”, Oprah Winfrey