The Power of Commencement Speeches

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

  • J.K Rowlling

Since we are little kids just beginning our school education we daydream about the day when uniforms and subjects we don’t like stay behind us and our college years begin. College years are said to be the ones you enjoy the most throughout your life and there are lots of reasons that support this statement. But everything comes to an end, and the time will come when college is just a memory in our heads, a photograph album in our shelves, or computer, a bunch of books and copybooks piled up somewhere in our room, or a huge loan still waiting to be paid. But what’s most interesting about college it’s its graduation speeches. They have become so essential in their graduation ceremonies that universities are putting a lot of effort into finding the right speaker; since said person has a major task ahead of him, which is to encourage graduates.

We believe that what makes a good encouragement speech is telling a story students can relate to, using rhetorical techniques to show confidence in what you are saying and inspire that same confidence in others, and having a lot of hope for the future and optimism as well.

Let’s take Steve Job’s speech for Stanford University as an example. He starts his speech by saying he is only going to tell three stories. But those stories surprise us, and gives us a sense of relief by letting us know that this huge icon has achieve success by making a lot of mistakes first and having chosen paths which led him to places he hadn’t dreamt of ending up in. But in the end, “you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future”.

Another example of a great commencement speech is Marina Keegan’s called “The opposite of loneliness”. This one is very different from Steve Jobs’, mainly because of the difference in experience of both. Miss Keegan was 23 years old when she wrote the speech and what shocked the world more than anything was that a few days after she delivered her speech at Yale University, one where you could listen a girl full of excitement for the things to come, and with a bright future ahead of her, she was involved in a car accident driving to her dad’s birthday where she was killed. After this tragic event her speech went “viral” and the whole world read her speech and felt encourage to live their dreams and start setting goals.

Commencement speeches, even thought are written for graduate students, have an effect in everybody’s lives, because we all like to feel like there’s someone counting on us and that we are not alone in this journey that life is. Sometimes all we need to chase our dreams is a little nudge from another human being. (Marina Keegan’s Graduation Speech)


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