Information for the parents of college students
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Parents: Write a Commencement Speech

‘Tis the season of graduations and commencements.  And if there are graduations and commencements, then there are certainly speeches.

Most graduation speakers, students and dignitaries alike, work hard to craft a message that is a little bit autobiographical, a little bit clever and humorous, a little bit thought-provoking, and delivers an important message about life.

In spite of the hard work that these speech writers put in to their speeches, most also know that not many in the room, or auditorium, or gym or on the quad, will be listening.  And of those who listen, only a small percentage will remember what was said.  When she delivered the Commencement address at Harvard University in 2008, author J. K. Rowling actually found comfort in the fact that probably no one would remember what she had to say.  It calmed her nerves.  Obviously, graduation speeches are lost on the graduates.

But graduations and commencements continue to feature speakers who deliver advice and proclaim values that could, indeed, become life changing – or at least life guiding.  And perhaps some of the people who benefit most from those speeches are the writers themselves.  It is no easy task to decide what single message you think will most benefit a group of young adults about to head to college or out into the world.

So parents, here’s an assignment.  Write the graduation speech you hope your student might hear.  Think about what message or value you would most like to lift up for your son or daughter.  What life approach do you most hope that they will take?  What would you say if you were the speaker at your child’s graduation or commencement?

If you’re game, don’t just think about this, write the speech.  Work hard at it.  Edit it and rewrite it.  Remember to include a little bit of autobiography, a little bit of humor and some thought-provoking ideas.

The first thing that will happen is that you will be forced to identify what you want your student to carry forward.  This won’t be easy.

The second thing that will happen is that you will remember how difficult it can be to get the words just right.  After the third or fourth edit, you may be ready to give up.  (It won’t be a bad thing for you to remember this as your student struggles writing papers in college.)

The third thing will be that you will become newly inspired by your own idea.  If you’ve worked this hard to identify the important message and then to frame it just the right way, you’ll want to share.

Then, you’ll need to decide whether you are willing to share this with your student.  You might give it to him to read, or you might be brave enough to sit him down and have him listen to your speech.  It could be fun!

But even if your student never knows you’ve done this exercise, even if your student never hears your words of wisdom, you will know what you want for your student.  This may help you as you parent your student through the next phase of whatever lies ahead.  You will have articulated your value/thought/message and you’ll communicate that to your student – even without him knowing it.

But consider being brave!  Make a speech!


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