When I asked my Facebook friends and followers about their memories, several were able to name the speaker but few could recall the message.
Sure, there are commencement speakers who deliver truly memorable addresses that resonate with graduates. But I think we can all agree that most commencement speeches sound exactly the same.
I. Greet the crowd and bask in the glory of applause. (You can also lead everyone in the school’s chant, even if you just learned it. Or mention the weather.)
“Thank you for inviting me to participate in this important occasion. I'm honored and humbled to be among you today. To the graduating class of 2012, I say congratulations!”(Adam Savage) (Pause for applause) “I feel so important!”(Jane Lynch)
II. Recognize the check-writing parents, who might be the only ones listening to you right now.
Let’s take a moment to “thank those extraordinary people up in the bleachers with the cameras and the beaming smiles on their faces. Yes, I’m talking again about your families — the folks who pushed you and believed in you; the folks who always picked up the phone when you called, even when you were just calling to ask for money.”(Michelle Obama)
III. Get the attention of the graduates by making a pop culture reference. Or talk about how you used to get wasted in college. Prove that even though you are currently dressed like Harry Potter, you were at one time cool.
“I have such wonderful memories of my college experience. Great professors, great friends... great parties, great football games I can’t really remember thanks to a great guy I got to know named Jack Daniels.”(Katie Couric)
IV. Now m ake fun of commencement speeches.
“I’m still opposed on principle to the idea of any commencement speech. I believe that it is a doomed form, cloying and impossible. Commencement speakers give stock advice which is then promptly ignored.”(Ira Glass)
“The best news is I don't have a speech. I have just a few thoughts because it's hot, and you're hung over. But enough about your parents.”(Brian Williams)
V. Tell these bright-eyed graduates they are amazing and hold all of the answers to the world’s problems.
“Right now each one of you is sitting on the runway of life primed for takeoff. You are some of the world's most gifted, elite and driven college graduates – and you are undeniably ready to fly.”(Nipun Mehta)
VI. Now, burst the egos of those self-centered Millennials. Seriously. They need it.
“You're a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You're barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they're a-coming for ya. It's a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.”(Aaron Sorkin)
“There will be times in life when people are — how can I say this? — just not that into you.”(Couric)
“As young people, in many ways you have it even tougher than we did. This recession has been more brutal, the job losses steeper.”(President Obama)
“I know right now everybody’s asking you those same questions: ‘What are you gonna do after graduation? Do you have a job? Where will you be working? How much are they paying? Where are you going? Where will you be living? Who are you seeing?’”(Maria Shriver)
“Even though job opportunities are scarce in this economy, it is not for nothing that you have spent this time preparing.”(Mitt Romney)
VIII. Now, give them hope. Lots of hope.
“I'm here to tell you: no matter how scared you are, how intimidating the job market is, how worrisome the economy, how insecure you feel deep down about whether you really have what it takes — you don't have to settle.”(Savannah Guthrie)
“As an educated person, you have an opportunity to spend your life doing what you love. As you work to find your passion, you should also know that if you haven’t yet found it, it might indeed find you.”(Condoleezza Rice)
“Whatever your interest, no matter how weird or unattainable or far off it seems, it's not. It's completely possible and even likely if you just consistently work at it.”(Eugene Mirman)
“Set your sights on making an impact in the world. Change the world. Relentlessly strive for excellence, and follow your passion.”(UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann)
X. Ah, and forget what you said earlier. These kids really are the answer to all of the world’s problems.
“Looking out on you this morning, I feel very optimistic about the future.. If you hold on to your idealism, resist complacency, take chances, and engage thoughtfully with the difficult challenges of our time, you will succeed.”(Kathleen Sebelius)
“You are an important part of this solution. Because with your creativity, with your ingenuity, with your being able to portray ideas in ways that aren’t simply facts and figures, debate points and focus group-proven arguments, you’re able to help us build bridges about what people care about, what they feel, and what they hope for.”(Earl Blumenauer)
“When jealous, angry or afraid, try compassion and warm-heartedness. Nourish your friends. And, finally, whatever hand you are dealt, I hope you will find the game worthwhile.”(Barbara Walters)
“So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.”(Neil Gaiman)
“There’s no stopping how far you can go. You’re more powerful right now than a locomotive. You can leap tall buildings in a single bound... You, the class of 2012, you are Superman!”(Mike Peters)
XII. Thank the crowd. Bask in the applause. And then hurry up and sit down. Seriously. You are done.
SOURCING: Yes, all of these quotes were taken out of context. That was the point. I encourage you to read all of the referenced speeches in their entirety:
I. Adam Savage at Sarah Lawrence College (text)
Jane Lynch at Smith College (text)
II. Michelle Obama at Virginia Tech (text)
III. Katie Couric at University of Virginia (text)
Fareed Zakaria at Duke University (text)
IV. Ira Glass at Goucher College (video)
Brian Williams at George Washington University (text)
V. Nipun Mehta at the University of Pennsylvania (text)
VI. Aaron Sorkin at Syracuse University (text)
Again, Katie Couric at U-Va. (text)
VII. President Obama at Barnard College (text)
Maria Shriver at University of Southern California (text)
Mitt Romney at Liberty University (text)
VIII. Savannah Guthrie at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (text)
Condoleezza Rice at Southern Methodist University (text)
Eugene Mirman at Hampshire College (video)
IX. UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann at UCSF (text)
X. Kathleen Sebelius at Georgetown University (text)
Earl Blumenauer at Pacific Northwest College of Art (text)
XI. Barbara Walters at Yale (video)
Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts (text)
Mike Peters at Washington University (text)