Give me something to talk about!
May 9, 2007 12:43 PM   Subscribe

[GraduationSpeechFilter] I'm scheduled to give an end-of-year speech to a group of high schoolers. Help me plan what to say!

The organizers want me to speak because I've recently graduated college and can maybe impart some "useful" wisdom as to someone much older. They asked me to do this last year, and I gave a speech about following your passions.

Several of the students will have heard me speak last year, and I'd like to not repeat the same speech again. Every time I try to come up with something new, it sounds really similar to what I spoke about last year.

I'd like some fresh ideas on what to talk about. What do you guys wish you would have learned in high school that would have helped you later on? What would you go back and change? Any humorous anecdotes that might be speech-worthy (pg rated)?

My speaking style tends to lean towards optimistic light-hearted, and funny, so dramatic build-ups and serious presidential gravitas aren't my thing. If you have something that skews that way though, maybe I can wrap it in a funny story. Ideally, I'd give a speech that'd really empathize with the students, rather than come off as an old fart (which, even though it's only a 5-7 year age difference, seems to be readily apparent, oy).
posted by unexpected to Grab Bag (13 answers total)
 
The biggest things I did in college had nothing to do with classes and more to do with embracing opportunities as they came along - internships, jobs, volunteer positions, research. If I knew that when I went in, I would have been way more attuned to those sorts of things earlier on.

How that turns into a speech, I know not.

Also - how many people are we talking about? If the group's kind of smaller (perhaps you can manage this with the school?), you'll be more effective and can take more questions and comments, and it'll seem less institutional to the students.
posted by mdonley at 1:14 PM on May 9, 2007


Every time I try to come up with something new, it sounds really similar to what I spoke about last year.

All graduation speeches are pretty much the same. Follow your passions, never stop learning, be excellent to each other, go fix the world. College graduations add "You've been given a great opportunity...".

Be okay with that; it's part of the role. Asking for an original graduation-ish speech is like asking for dry water, and a truly original graduation speech would be about as welcome as dry water to a thirsty man.

If you want to empathize with the students, do so by keeping your speech as brief as possible. Being an old fart who's okay with being an old far is far better than being an old fart straining to be cool.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:33 PM on May 9, 2007


I would stress the importance of leaving town. All my friends who stayed in my hometown now live with their parents, and my ten year high school reunion is next year.

Tell them that they don't want to be one of those people their friends can still find using their sophomore year's class directory.
posted by parmanparman at 1:43 PM on May 9, 2007


I've written graduation speeches for my boss's boss's boss for a few years in a row, and ROU_Xenophope is right...they're all similar. I usually pull up the last year's speech and adjust according to any new messages he wants to get across, any major events of the year, etc.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 1:46 PM on May 9, 2007


My speaking style tends to lean towards optimistic light-hearted, and funny, so dramatic build-ups and serious presidential gravitas aren't my thing. If you have something that skews that way though, maybe I can wrap it in a funny story. Ideally, I'd give a speech that'd really empathize with the students, rather than come off as an old fart (which, even though it's only a 5-7 year age difference, seems to be readily apparent, oy).

That's a good idea. I think you should go for "serious/classic message wrapped in a funny/casual presentation". That scores points with everybody. Give them pause, maybe get some small sniffs, then over-the-top comedy to close. Tying in a recent, well-known event, that illustrates your point, is a good way to emotionally connect with your listeners, and it will help them digest what you're saying. Once you're in the zone, you have a great opportunity to say something unique, uplifting, even enlightening, about life.

i recall a graduation speech based on Cavafy's poem Ithaca to this effect. (Obligatory link to Sean Connery butchering it on Youtube.)  Graduating from high school is like standing on the edge of a cliff, so they might enjoy this.
posted by phaedon at 1:53 PM on May 9, 2007


parmanparman - I left town, came back, and now live at home ;-)

I like the recent events idea, but every recent event seems to be so sad. (Vtech? Iraq?) What's a recent happy event that applies to students?

The internship, job, research angle sounds promising. I'll have to be careful though because not all of these guys are going to college. I don't want to make them feel stupid or anything like that.
posted by unexpected at 2:08 PM on May 9, 2007


Tell them in no uncertain terms that they only get once chance at life, and if they make even the slightest mistake about their major in college, then their life is totally f**d.

Oh and tell them not to take the road less traveled by, because it'll just piss people off. After all, there's a reason everyone chooses the well traveled road -- the other road sucks.

Tell them that they are not special, and that even if each of them is a unique snowflake, from a distance all snowflakes look the same. Tell them to get over themselves.

That'll be an unusual graduation speech.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:24 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, damn. I keep forgetting this is the part of MetaFilter where we're supposed to be serious.

I remember that at my graduation speech, the guy said "I have just one word for you, plastic" -- he then went on to explain that he meant that the key to making it in the future was to be plastic -- i.e. flexible and adaptable to changing conditions. Pretty useful stuff, and I still remember it although it was awfully corny, especially considering that the line it was referencing was for a movie that came out long before any of us graduates were born.

In any case, I think more than anything people need to know that they need to be flexible. It's more important to be able to think about things in general than to know about something in particular. Tell them that graduating high school now means that any education they should be because they want to, not because they have to. They should work hard at learning not because they want the job or they want to pass but because they actually want to learn whatever it is.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:30 PM on May 9, 2007


Having been to a dozen graduations since the terrorist attacks of 2001 may I offer that you do not mention them. Seriously, every one made some mention about a new and terrifying world we now live in and brave young people moving forward into the future and all that.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:27 PM on May 9, 2007


One thing that seems to come up a lot on AskMefi threads about "what did you wish you knew when you were 20/graduating high school/graduating college/etc" is that the time period between high school and career starting is probably the last time you'll be (comparatively) free to do what you want and make your own life the way you want it. A little optimism/discussion of all the interesting different paths your life can take at this point might not be out of place.

PS: You live in my town! What school/group, if I may ask? I'm a junior in high school and would be interested in perhaps seeing the end product of this question live-and-in-person, if possible. email in profile I'm pretty sure.
posted by MadamM at 8:44 PM on May 9, 2007


The best graduation speech ever was from my high school and some super high powered dude who they paid a shitload of money to in order to have him speak. He stood at the podium and went "blah blah blah" (kinda sim-ish) for about 2-3 minutes and then threw out some tiny beach balls.


It was so awesome. (I was hammered though, so YMMV.)
posted by sperose at 10:14 PM on May 9, 2007


I gave a high school graduation speech. i started with the thought/proverb, "A peasant will stand on the top of a hill for a very long time with his mouth open before a roast duck will fly in." It was a little obscure, but my point was that you can't just wait for things to happen and you can't count on others--you have to go out and DO STUFF. That was eight years ago, and people still talk to me about that speech.
posted by pithy comment at 8:25 AM on May 10, 2007


Most speeches at graduation events go on and on for too long. Always leave your audience wanting more. Brevity is the key. Find a topic that will resonate with this particular group of young people. As a high school teacher (at a couple of schools) I have sat through 8 to 10 graduations and honestly cannot remember the keynote speech.

Good luck.
posted by bach at 11:04 PM on May 10, 2007


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