Puneet Varma (Editor)

Commencement speech

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Commencement speech

A commencement speech or commencement address is a speech given to graduating students, generally at a university, generally in the United States, although the term is also used for secondary education institutions. The "commencement" is a ceremony in which degrees or diplomas are conferred upon graduating students. A commencement speech is typically given by a notable figure in the community, during the commencement exercise. The person giving such a speech is known as a commencement speaker. Very commonly, colleges or universities will invite politicians, important citizens, or other noted speakers to come and address the graduating class.


A commencement speech is less bound by the structure found in other forms of public address, like eulogies or wedding speeches. The speaker accordingly enjoys a unique freedom to express him or herself. Executive speechwriter Anthony Trendl writes

A commencement speech, simply, is an opportunity to share your experience, values and advice. The precise form is up to you. This affords the speaker a platform to say amazing, unlimited things.

Some notable speeches

  • Winston Churchill at Harrow School in 1941
  • John F. Kennedy's American University speech in 1963
  • Hillary Rodham at Wellesley College in 1969
  • Richard Feynman at the California Institute of Technology in 1974 : "Cargo cult science"
  • Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005
  • David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005: "This Is Water"
  • J. K. Rowling at Harvard University in 2008: The Fringe Benefits of Failure
  • Troian Bellisario at University of Southern California in 2014
  • Neil Gaiman at University of the Arts in 2012
  • Nassim Taleb at American University of Beirut in 2016
  • 2016 speeches

  • Barack Obama, Howard University
  • Steven Spielberg, Harvard
  • Peter Thiel, Hamilton College
  • Michael Bloomberg, University of Michigan
  • Charles Duhigg, Wren College
  • Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at Hillsdale College's
  • References

    Commencement speech Wikipedia