It is truly an honor to be named as class valedictorian. But with the award comes the pressure of writing your valedictorian speech. Writing this speech can be a challenge, especially if public speaking isn't your strong suit. Not to worry. The comprehensive 6-step process below will guide you toward creating a polished product well in advance of commencement day.
There might be no greater honor on graduation day than being named valedictorian. It is a privilege to speak in front of your peers, teachers, family, and friends on your special day. The experience can also be a nightmare for a number of reasons: too little planning, too much planning, parental pressure, or peer interest (or lack thereof). Therefore, our first tip…
- Breathe: This is the easy part. The hard part? That was the years of constant studying and exam stress. You did it. Revel in it.
- Exude Confident Humility: A valedictory is formalized bragging, and you have every right to enjoy it. At the same time, just talking about how awesome you are probably isn't going to engage the audience. A good valedictory is all about hitting the balance between talking about your amazing accomplishments, sharing the lessons you learned, and crediting the people you learned them from.
- Keep It Short: Graduation ceremonies can drag, even when you're part of them. Keep it concise, then let people celebrate. Keep it to ten minutes, tops. Five minutes would be better. We've got tips for how to keep a persuasive speech short and punchy.
- Look Back, Write Forward: If you're struggling to find a thesis, look at old graduation speeches from your school. See what kinds of themes have already been discussed and inspect the general format of the other speeches. Read up on the rules of public speaking, too. Something is sure to spark an idea.
- Memories: Think about memories your class has a whole, significant quotes or songs that are meaningful to your class' experience, and other material to talk about that would pique the interest of your peers. Identify topics you can tackle in a concise but meaningful way.
Sitting down to write a speech at the end of years of study can be difficult. Don't worry. Your valedictorian speech should max out at about 750 words. And shorter is better. By now, you're sure to have written lots of papers longer than that. Follow the six steps below and you'll have a workable speech ready to be delivered with plenty of time to party afterward.
- Start Early: Create an outline during your finals. You're spending all your time studying anyway; you may as well throw in one more comparatively easy assignment. Having an outline will make writing the actual speech a million times easier.
- Write From the Heart: The best and easiest way to get a first draft is just to let your feelings and thoughts spill onto the page. Don't worry about how it sounds just yet. The purpose of a first draft is to get it down, not to get it right. Pick a thesis you care about, something that inspires you, and just write.
- Rewrite From the Head: The best and easiest way to get a solid final result is to rewrite the devil out of it. As you've probably learned in the process of becoming valedictorian, writing isn't writing. Editing is writing. Streamline. Cut. Isolate the core thesis and make sure every single word backs it up.
- Baby Steps: If you start during finals, you'll have plenty of time to go through a few drafts. Pinpoint things that work. Ditch things that don't. Take your time.
- Edit Out Loud: Once you've got some text you're pretty happy with, read it aloud. Don't work out loud until you've got the complete speech. The rhythms of a speech affect how you read. You don't want that influence until you've got a mostly finished product. Listen to yourself and make edits. If you can, give the speech to family and friends and listen to their edits.
- Relax: Once you've got a tight, well-edited, thoroughly tested text, just chill. Read it out loud a few more times, make a few more quick edits, but mostly, enjoy the fact that it's done and dusted.
This is a basic, workable skeleton outline for a good valedictorian speech. Add your experiences and make changes that suit your speech style. We've included some sample text for each section of the speech to demonstrate what your valedictory might contain.
- Introductory Statement: "Looking at our whole class in the same place, maybe for the last time, I'm reminded of a quote by Pearl Buck: 'The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.' That's what I feel when I think about our class."
- Thesis: "We are at our best when we break boundaries and challenge expectations. As long as we make that our goal, we will gain wisdom but remain young at heart."
- Supporting Statement 1: "When our class raised more than $25,000 for the Kwan Foundation's malaria eradication program, we beat our projected numbers by almost 200 percent. That was only possible because we didn't settle for easy, predictable results. We chose to excel."
- Supporting Statement 2: "The toughest challenge I personally took on at Morrison High wasn't academic. It was working with our youth counseling center. It's also the most valuable experience I had here, because it showed me something important. Every person in here had a 'toughest challenge.' We all took on things when, if we'd been 'prudent', we'd have given up. But we persisted, and because we're here, because we've all made it, we know we've won."
- Supporting Statement 3: "Of course, our real toughest challenges are coming up. I certainly hope they are, anyway: if our hardest, most interesting challenges were in high school, we've got a boring life ahead! That's the most important takeaway I hope you all get from today."
- Conclusion: "Putting prudence aside, going beyond what is easy and predictable, is what makes life worth living."
You're the valedictorian. You can brag a little. But only a little, because this is an important, memorable day for all your friends (and indeed all your foes) in your graduating class.
Crafting an inspirational valedictorian speech includes everyone in the shared success of the day. Valedictorian speech themes should focus on your successes as a class, not as a person. Your goal is to create a memorable speech, something that people will recall as a high point of graduation day.
The more effectively you can include everybody in the room, the more successful your speech will be.
Writing your valedictorian speech might seem like a daunting task, but with enough time, energy, and help from others, you'll be able to write a beautiful speech for graduation day.
For more advice, check out our list of tips for giving a great speech. Remember that how you deliver your speech is almost as important as what you write! Read up and you're sure to lay down some successful oratory.