How to Write a Graduation Speech

Celebrate high school memories and inspire your graduation community with Jostens’ step-by-step guide.

It’s an incredible honor to be chosen to speak to your classmates at your graduation ceremony. Still, we know writing a graduation speech can be nerve-wracking. That’s why we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you create a speech that will not only touch, entertain and inspire your entire graduation community but also celebrate high school memories and traditions.

Step 1: Choose your theme

Whether you decide to relive high school memories, offer advice to your classmates, reflect on the future, or give thanks to those who have helped you, it can be tough to decide on the right theme for your speech. That’s why we’ve reviewed hundreds of the best student speeches to help you get started.

You can stick to one theme or combine several. You can also add quotations from famous people and writers to support your message. Whichever option you choose when you are writing a graduation speech, be sure to coordinate with your fellow presenters to guarantee that each of you is offering a unique perspective. 

Here are the most powerful themes from successful graduation speeches:

  • Paths Through Life: Reflect on what it means for to be on the brink of a new beginning. Maybe you want to focus on how some graduates know exactly what they want to do while others take a more meandering road. Or perhaps this is an opportunity to talk about the importance of following your individual dreams.
  • Overcoming Obstacles: High dropout rates. Economic worries. Health problems. Some graduates have had to clear very high hurdles to walk across the podium.  Remind your classmates and their families of how proud they should be of their accomplishments.
  • Classmates as Individuals: You and your classmates may all look the same in your caps and gowns, but your differences make you who you are. Comedians, artists, athletes, intellectuals, romantics, cynics—celebrate your community’s diversity and your classmates’ unique qualities by calling out several examples of what makes you such a multifaceted group.
  • Friends and Friendship: As freshmen, you dared to make new friends. Now you are seniors heading out into the world and you’re focused on savoring being together for what may be the last time. Your speech can reflect the power of these special bonds.
  • Looking Back to the Early Years: Think back to when you started kindergarten. What was the world like? What was school like? What has changed? What do you imagine life will be like when this year’s kindergarten class graduates?
  • Memories of High School: What were the highs and lows of high school for your class? Current events, school traditions, goofy moments—celebrate your four years together with specific high school memories from your freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years.
  • Thanks: Heartfelt gratitude for the hard work and support of teachers, coaches, parents, friends, and others is always appreciated and will inspire your listeners to thank the important people in their lives.
  • Tributes: A tribute is a special recognition that can show respect, gratitude or affection. You can honor an important person in your school by mentioning them by name. Are there people who have never gotten the praise they deserve? Now is the time to honor them.
  • Advice: Do you have any words or wisdom you want to give your classmates? Advice can be funny or serious but it needs to be sincere to truly connect with your audience.
  • Making a Difference: Inspire your audience by reminding them how young people have the ability to do so much good in the world.
  • Congratulations: Graduating is not some little deal; it’s a huge landmark in life. End your speech with a sincere appreciation for what your classmates have accomplished.

Step 3: Edit

After you have written a draft, ask a teacher, friend or family member to give you feedback about what to keep and what to cut. Remember to be sensitive that there are many different paths after graduation. Some graduates may attend college. Others may not. Also be aware of how different cultures and heritages within your student body view graduation.

This step is also your chance to take out any inappropriate content, including:

  • Insults to individuals or groups.
  • Racial or ethnic jokes.
  • Sexual innuendos.
  • False information.
  • Anything that you are worried about including. If it makes you hesitate, delete it.

Step 4: Choose your visuals

If you use images to support your message remember to:

  • Write your speech first and then look for images to support your message. Never write your speech around an image just because you really like it and want to use it.
  • Include photos of as many of your classmates as possible, not just you and your close friends. Never use images that are embarrassing to audience members.
  • Will you operate the slide show from the podium or will someone else do that for you? If you are working with another person, practice several times together to make certain it will go smoothly.

Step 5: Practice

Rehearse frequently and out loud so that you internalize your message. Understand why you are speaking the words you have chosen and repeat them in rehearsal until you feel the essence of your message in your gut.

If you go blank during your speech, don’t panic. Instead, focus your eyes on one person in the audience, which will make it look as though you are being forceful and dramatic. Pause for about four seconds before focusing on someone else. Repeat until you have collected your thoughts.