Commencement speeches are meant to be inspiring, but unfortunately are sometimes a bore, something to be dreaded and endured while we wait to celebrate the graduation of either ourselves or an important person in our lives.
I vividly remember being bored stiff during the commencement speech of my own graduation from high school.
Several years later I was teaching at a school that required all teachers to attend the graduation ceremony, all dressed up in our own graduation gowns and colors.
You will never guess who was the speaker that first year I was teaching! It was the same man who spoke at my high school graduation and he gave the very same boring speech at the school where I was teaching as he had given at the school from which I graduated.
Then there are the delightful exceptions, the speeches that use glorious prose to teach us life lessons that are important and an enriching experience to hear over and over again.
Perhaps the most famous of these is that one that Steve Jobs gave to the Stanford 2005 graduating class, encouraging graduates to find jobs they can truly love, to indulge their curiosity, to trust their intuition, and to pursue their passion.
Another speech that went viral, with over 19 million views as of now, was given in 2014 by Admiral William H. McRaven at the University of Texas at Austin graduation ceremony. The gist of his surprising and inspiring message is that if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. It is one of the 10 lessons he learned in SEAL training.
The #1 New York Times best selling book expands on the lessons he shares in his speech. It is well worth your time, both to read the book and to hear him deliver his speech.
In fact, it “should be read by every leader in America” (Wall Street Journal).
And by the way, Admiral McRaven was the man who oversaw the raid on Bin Laden, definitely a man to take very seriously.
Here’s the link. Enjoy!
Commencement speeches are more often boring and too long. A teacher I respected once told me to consider the topic and audience. Unless needed, a speech like a commencement speech should last about 7 minutes and not more than 10 because after that you have lost most of the audience.
Thanks for sharing that advice, Mike. It makes a great deal of sense.
What a great speech! Thank you for sharing, Marjorie. I have forwarded it to my children. I wish I still had the text of two graduation speeches I gave (high school and business school). They weren’t this powerful, but I think they were pretty good – for a young person – and I had to memorize one of them.
I am so glad that you found this speech to be as powerful as I did; and that you chose to share it with your children. What a great idea!