How to Rock a Commencement Speech

Graduating is one of the most important moments of our life. It is the day that we can leave the college or university life behind us. It is the time we can join the workforce, to get to the ‘real’ life. Or as it was in my case, the time to say goodbye to the bachelor years and study one more year in the master programme. During the graduation as BSc in Psychology it was my honour and great pleasure to give a commencement speech. In my speech I spoke about achieving greatness, making the most out of life and reaching your maximal potential. This post will be about the dynamics of preparing, writing and delivering such a speech.


To prepare for something of this much importance it is vital to begin a long time in advance. It will take time to study how it is done, but maybe even more time to let the messages sink in. A good preparation starts of quite passive. First it is up to you to sit back and listen to great speakers that have come before you. Presented here is a very short selection of speeches that have given me amazing input into my speech:

When you have finished listening to these, and other, speeches you will want to take some time. Let the messages sink in and consider which speeches had the most profound impact on you. Really think about why this or that speech has impacted you personally. It is about giving your own story, about stating your mission, your vision, towards your peers.


After the preparation comes the writing. I will skip the lessons on writing a speech (see the further reading) and focus on what you should write about. Pick one topic, and only one. Write about the topic that has impacted your life in a truly significant way, that has made you become the person you are today. Some examples would be teamwork, dealing with failure, overcoming obstacles, finding love, or feeling alone. Be personal, give your fellow students a peek into your life, into your reality. You should not only state what you have experienced but also what you felt, what you feel and how you have come to think about it on reflection. Include examples, analogies or metaphors, bring your story to life.


With a finished speech it will most probably be one more week until you will have to address your fellow students. Practice, practice, practice. Get to know your speech from back to front, know when to pause, speak up, or slow down. Test your speech with friends and family, ask them for feedback and see what works on your audience. Be open to changes concerning delivery, but never make concessions on your content.

When the big day is there, you are totally prepared. Get to bed early and preferably also rise early. Get in some exercise if you can. Then relax, accept the tension and let it flow away again. When you are strong on both content and delivery there is no way that you can go wrong. Remember that it is your time to shine and inspire your fellow students. Take the stage and own it!

An awesome commencement speech is 50% content and 50% delivery, with the right preparation you can inspire 110%!

References & Further Reading:

I have written my own commencement speech when graduation as BSc in Psychology, read it here (Dutch!)