A commencement speech or commencement address is a speech given to graduating students, generally at a university, generally in the US, although the term is also used for secondary education institutions. The "commencement" is a ceremony in which degrees or diplomas are conferred upon graduating students. A commencement speech is typically given by a notable figure in the community, during the commencement exercise. The person giving such a speech is known as a commencement speaker. Very commonly, colleges or universities will invite politicians, important citizens, or other noted speakers to come and address the graduating class.
A commencement speech is less bound by the structure found in other forms of public address, like eulogies or wedding speeches. The speaker accordingly enjoys a unique freedom to express him or herself. Executive speechwriter Anthony Trendl writes
A commencement speech, simply, is an opportunity to share your experience, values and advice. The precise form is up to you. This affords the speaker a platform to say amazing, unlimited things.
Some notable speeches
- Winston Churchill at Harrow School in 1941
- John F. Kennedy's American University speech in 1963
- Richard Feynman at the California Institute of Technology in 1974 : "Cargo cult science"
- Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005
- David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005: "This Is Water"
- J. K. Rowling at Harvard University in 2008: The Fringe Benefits of Failure
- Neil Gaiman at University of the Arts in 2012
- Rainn Wilson at University of Southern California in 2014: "Why Happiness is like Cotton Candy" (Huffington Post)
- Trendl, Anthony. "What Makes a Commencement Speech?".
- "Top 10 Commencement Speeches". Time magazine. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
- "The 10 Best Graduation Speeches of All Time: Winston Churchill, Former UK PM". CNBC. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
- "'You've got to find what you love,' Jobs says". Stanford Report. June 14, 2005. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
- J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement (YouTube). Harvard Magazine. Transcript
- "Neil Gaiman: Keynote Address 2012". University of the Arts. May 17, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
- The art of the commencement speech, an archive
- Excerpts from commencement speeches by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and J.K. Rowling
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