Commencement addresses are momentous for graduates, their families, and the speakers who deliver them.
In addition to the message of the graduation speech, delivery is a key factor. The delivery requires a unique blend of passion, humor, and sincerity to resonate with the audience. A great speaker will engage the audience with their words and tone and capture the attention of the graduates from start to finish.
While commencement addresses often focus on the graduates, speakers may reflect on their journey and share insights into their successes and failures — providing the graduates with lessons they can apply to their lives. Ultimately, a great commencement speech should offer valuable advice with moments of humor and inspiration. The speech should profoundly impact graduates and their future aspirations, whether delivered by a celebrity or an everyday person.
The earliest commencement speakers are said to have been graduating students who delivered speeches for their schools in Latin. In 1642, Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop was documented as the first notable presenter — giving Harvard’s commencement to a class of just nine graduates. Today, graduating classes like Arizona State University can fill an arena with over 12,000 undergraduates! Although in 2021, eighth-grader Gwen Lynch graduated from her one-room schoolhouse on Cuttyhunk Island in Massachusetts and was the only student in her class. Nevertheless, she still got a notable commencement speaker — actor, stand-up comic, and writer Jenny Slate.
To entertain and engage students and guests, educational institutions are very competitive with who they secure to give their commencement addresses. Many pay top dollar in the range of $5,000 to half a million! Most famously is the University of Houston, which in 2015 paid Matthew McConaughey $135,000 for his 45-minute address (McConaughey is said to have donated that money). That said, only 30 percent of universities pay their speakers; others rely on alums or famous friends who will do it for free.
The title of the best commencement speech ever is a relative concept. But, if you’re looking for inspiration, NPR created an archive of more than 350 commencement addresses dating back from 1774 called “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.” One of the most universally favored addresses is often attributed to Kurt Vonnegut for MIT’s class of ’97. Yet, it was actually written by Mary Schmich as a column for the Chicago Tribune for a speech she wanted to give to a graduating class in ’97 had she been asked. It includes the famous line, “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.” Somebody posted it on the internet as a Vonnegut speech, and a year later, Australian film director Baz Luhrmann used it on his album Something for Everybody. The message behind Schmich’s now quarter-century-old advice is timeless; still valid today!
So, whether you’re attending a graduation ceremony as a graduate or a guest, sit back, relax, and enjoy the wisdom, humor, and inspiration offered by the commencement speaker!
Kimberly Evering, aka Gal on the Go, life has been a wild ride filled with many unforgettable adventures, like cycling more than 550 miles across New York State in seven days (two times) for cancer research! She also proudly served as a U.S. ambassador reporting at Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Paralympic Games for Alpine skiing and the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi for ice hockey. However, Kimberly is most passionate about hosting Gal on the Go Unplugged™, a bi-weekly award-winning podcast series featuring interviews with women from all walks of life to empower others.
Life adventurer, cyclist, and podcaster Kimberly discusses experiences that influenced her and others and expected and unexpected life lessons. Her persona, Gal on the Go, organically grew from a blog she created to share her adventures in the hope of breaking down others’ barriers of intimidation in life. The blog evolved into a podcast aimed at empowering women through shared stories by women from all walks and stages of life.
Kimberly Evering is a winner of a Silver Award for her podcast Gal on the Go Unplugged from Davey Awards for General Interview | Talk Show!
You can find out more about Kimberly at https://galotgo.com/. Or you can follow her free Gal on the Go Unplugged podcast at https://galotgo.com/gal-on-the-go-unplugged-podcast/.