A commencement speech or commencement address is a speech given to graduating students, generally at a university, generally in the United States, 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.
Dianne Pleuss, from Toastmasters International, emphasizes that the speech "should not be a lecture, but rather a personal, engaging story the audience can relate to”.
Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, Ramona J. Smith, identifies six elements in a good commencement speech:
- “authenticity (being yourself)
- transparency (sharing a story of failure)
- wisdom (having failed, picked yourself back up, failed again, hit reset, and used the lessons learned from the previous failures to become successful)
- humor (comic relief, keep their attention, make that connection)
- credibility (Are you somebody?)
- preparation (practicing the speech or hiring an exceptional speech writer)"
Despite meaning "beginning", commencement may be mistaken to mean "ending" due to its association with the end of college. Its usage originated with students finishing their studies and being awarded a degree, thus commencing as bachelors or masters in a subject and enjoying new privileges within academia.
Some notable commencement speeches
- Winston Churchill at Harrow School in 1941
- John F. Kennedy's American University speech in 1963
- Hillary Rodham Clinton at Wellesley College in 1969
- 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
- Barack Obama, Howard University
- Steven Spielberg, Harvard
- Peter Thiel, Hamilton College
- Michael Bloomberg, University of Michigan
- Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University
- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at Hillsdale College's
- Donald Trump, Liberty University in 2017
- Hillary Rodham Clinton, Wellesley College in 2017
- Christine Lagarde, Illinois Institute of Technology in 2015 
- Angela Merkel, Harvard University in 2019
- Janet Yellen, University of Baltimore in 2016
- Arianna Huffington, Smith College in 2013
- DeVries, Henry. "Learn How To Give Great Speeches From Commencement Speakers Like Robert Smith". Forbes. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
- Online etymology dictionary. "commencement (n.)". Retrieved 2020-01-26.
- "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.
- "Student Speech". Wellesley College. Retrieved 2016-03-02.
- Feynman, Richard P. (June 1974). "Cargo Cult Science" (PDF). California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2015-10-25.
- "'You've got to find what you love,' Jobs says". Stanford Report. June 14, 2005. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
- Levine, Sam (2016-05-20). "David Foster Wallace's Famous Commencement Speech Almost Didn't Happen". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
- J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement. 15 September 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2016 – via YouTube.
- The Obama White House (7 May 2016). "President Obama Delivers the Commencement Address at Howard University". Retrieved 18 April 2018 – via YouTube.
- "Steven Spielberg Selected as 2016 Commencement Speaker - News - The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
- "Harvard Live - Harvard University". Harvard University. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
- Staff, Entrepreneur (23 May 2016). "Peter Thiel Commencement Speech, Hamilton College, May 2016 (Transcript)". entrepreneur.com. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
- Holly Foster (May 22, 2016). "PayPal Co-Founder Peter Thiel Urges Class of 2016 to "Do What Hasn't Been Done"". Hamilton.edu. Retrieved December 28, 2016.
- University of Michigan (2 May 2016). "Michael Bloomberg's 2016 Commencement Speech - University of Michigan". Retrieved 18 April 2018 – via YouTube.
- Duke University (15 May 2016). "Coach Mike Krzyzewski's 2016 Commencement Speech at Duke University". Retrieved 18 April 2018 – via YouTube.
- "Hillsdale College's 164th Commencement Ceremony". www.hillsdale.edu. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
- "Trump at Liberty University commencement: 'In America, we don't worship government; we worship God'". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-05-15.
- Bidgood, Jess; Seelye, Katharine Q. (2017-05-26). "At Wellesley, Hillary Clinton Criticizes Trump and Invokes Nixon Resignation". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
- Diamond, Anna. "What Hillary Clinton Said to the Wellesley Class of 2017". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
- "Commencement Address". Wellesley College. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
- "Commencement Address at the Illinois Institute of Technology by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF". IMF. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
- "Angela Merkel - Harvard University Commencement Address (English)". www.americanrhetoric.com. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
- "Commencement remarks by Chair Yellen". Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
- "College Events - Commencement Speech - 2013". Smith College. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
- 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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