Commencement Speech Research

For my remediation project, I plan to write an article for the Huffington Post on how to write the best commencement speech. My senior year of high school I gave my class commencement speech at graduation and completely fell in love with public speaking, despite how shy I am.

This week I have begun my research on how to give the best commencement speech, looking into previous speeches given by well-known speakers. I have looked at speeches given this past year, all the back to 1932. From Amy Poehler (who I am currently binge watching on Parks and Recreation), to Steve Jobs, to even John F. Kennedy, the number of influential commencement speakers has been endless. All over the country, all over the world, commencement speeches are given every year. Opinions are voiced and thoughts are proclaimed.

As I continue my research on how to give the best commencement speech, I plan to interview my fellow peers (like my friends Caroline (freshman) and Gabby (junior)) at the University of Michigan who have also given commencement speeches at their high schools. I think that it will be interesting to see different perspectives of those giving commencement speeches.

I have noticed that many of the speakers I have read about have opened with a funny line, or something that catches the audience’s attention. For me, I began with a thought-provoking question, followed by a quote from Albert Einstein. For president Barack Obama, he began with “Go Blue!”

3 thoughts to “Commencement Speech Research”

  1. It sounds like you have a great start on your research. It’s good that you are already noticing patterns among your research such as catchy opening lines. I am curious to know, are you going to focus solely on how to write a speech, or also how to deliver one? Also, are you focusing on high school commencement speeches, college commencement speeches, or both?

    Good luck as you continue!

  2. Hey Allyson! This seems like a great start to your research. I’m also a huge Amy Poehler/ Parks and Rec fan, so I’m excited to hear about the take these celebrities bring to their speeches. I think it will be really cool to interview a freshman and a senior, since one has just recently given their speech and one has had more time pass, so they will probably have different feelings and memories about it. A lot of commencement type speeches follow a similar structure— kind of like what you were talking about with opening with a funny line— they often contain very similar messages and sections. I think it would be cool to pull one part of each section from a variety of people, maybe combine the thought provoking question with a quote and a shoutout to U of M in order to show the similarities in these speeches without having to outright state it.

  3. Hey Allyson,
    It seems like you have a pretty clear structure to everything you want to do, which is great. I think the Huffington Post is a good choice of where to publish this, so I’d say stick with that and see if you can somehow recreate the way their online articles look. The choice to examine a variety of speakers (celebrity like Amy Poehler compared to JFK) from multiple time periods is a really smart choice. I think that will really allow you to pinpoint commencement speech strategies that are consistent throughout history, and others that seem to be specific to certain eras.

    If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Denzel Washington’s commencement speech at UPenn. He made it in 2011, and I remember it seeming pretty awesome to me at the time (maybe I was too young and am wrong, but it’s worth a shot haha).

Leave a Reply