So you did it! You graduated at the top of your class. Now you have to write your Valedictorian Speech. However, since this is the first (and only) time you will ever do it, you may not know exactly how to write a valedictorian speech. You are not alone. Just about every Valedictorian or Salutatorian has gone through this. You work very hard to get to the top, and now you have five minutes to educate, entertain, and inspire your classmates. And, of course, the task is so much easier because your classmates are so accepting and non-judgmental. (Yeah, right!)
Well the outline below can show you step-by-step how to write a Valedictorian Speech (or Salutatorian Speech). This is the final part of our five part series on How to Design a Presentation. In the previous posts, we have covered how to persuade an audience, best practices for a commencement speech, and wedding toast tips. So, check out any of the other posts for additional details.
A Few Tips About How to Write a Valedictorian Speech
Before you get started with your speech, it is a good idea to Create a Theme for Your Graduation Speech. Take a look at the later half of the previous post about Graduation Speeches for ideas on possible themes. Basically, the theme is the overall point or inspiration of your speech. If you start with a good theme, all of your stories, jokes, and inspirational quotes will mesh well together.
- Start with Some Humor
- A Fun Way to Create a Kind Of Nostalgia Feel is to Recount Things Seen in the Four Years
- Add an Inspirational Quote Followed by a Story From Your School Experience
- End With a Call to Action
Self-deprecating humor works best. One technique that works really well as an opener is to use the "a recent, 'when I grow up story'. Basically, you open with a story about wanting to be something grand when you were "younger," but then confuse that the story actually took place recently. Below are a couple of examples.
(This might work if you are really short or if your friends don't really think of you as athletic.) I remember the first time that I saw an NBA game on TV. I was memorized. The players were so big, so talented, and so athletic, that I was just hooked. I remember, jumping off the couch and running to my dad and shouting, "Dad, when I grow up, I'm going to be an NBA star!" My dad just rolled his eyes and said, "Son, graduation is tomorrow night, why don't you just work on your speech."
(This one works well if a superhero movie was popular when you were a kid.) I remember the first time that I saw the Batman movie. He was so cool and so rich that he could spend his nights fighting crime. I knew then and there what I wanted to be when I grew up. I jumped off the couch and ran to my mom shouting, Mom, when I grow up, I'm going to be Batman." My Mom looked me dead in the eye and said, "You graduate next week. Stop trying to get out of delivering that speech."
Alternatively, just tell a funny story from your experience at school. These stories are easy to prepare, and they will help you reduce your nervousness when speaking. (Stories are easy because they add some humor and are easy to remember.)
One of the fun things about High School is the life-long memories created in these years. If you want a little inspiration, download the old Billy Joel song, "We Didn't Start the Fire."
Okay, now that I look at the video it is really cheesy. However, the lyrics of the entire song are headlines from the news throughout five decades. Some of the best Valedictorian Speeches use a similar technique. Some like to pick just items that occurred within the school. Others, though, pick things that occurred in the world throughout the High School years.
For example, you might say something like... "Since we walked into this school as freshmen, we have seen smartphone apps that help people recover from strokes. A millionaire TV star was elected president. Our baseball team won district for the first time in 22 years. Mr. Jones lost a lot more hair. (I think a lot of that was as a result of the stress that I put on him. I apologize sir.) Etc.
This type of recitation is unique to a Valedictorian or Salutatorian speech. Keep in mind that, although you are the person speaking, you are really a representation of the entire class. So, the more that you help the class relive the good times, the more that they will like your speech.
If you want to continue with a little more humor, you can quote a "lyrical poet" (pop star). Although by quoting a song, you can add some humor. However, if you pick a good lyric, you can make your presentation inspirational as well. For instance, if you say something like, "One of my favorite lyrical poets... Lorde, once said, 'If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough.'" Just make sure that the lyric is clean. (Remember, your grandma is in the audience.) Alternatively, you can pick a real inspirational quote or even a movie quote. (Just Google inspirational quote or inspirational movie quotes.) For a list of 30 song lyrics that you can choose from, visit this LifeHack article.
The most important part of this section of your speech, though is to tell a good story about your experience in school related to the quote. Although this article is about how to write a Valedictorian speech, remember that the speech is really about the entire class. So, a story that your classmates will relate to will work best. So, if you happen to use the Lorde quote, then just think about a big accomplishment of the class. Then, show how that accomplishment occurred because we dreamed big and the process was uncomfortable. So, if the baseball team won the district championship, use that. If the One-Act-Play team made it to State, then use that story. In fact, if you pick a good quote, you can use a series of some of the best accomplishments of the entire school as your evidence that the quote is true.
Up to now, you can have some fun and stroke the flames of nostalgia. However, here at the end, make sure to be a little more serious. This is where you can end with an inspirational quote related to the theme that you have been presenting. It might be as simple as relaying a quote, and then asking your class to life that quote.
If you used the Lorde quote about dreaming big earlier in the speech, then you might end with a similar quote from a famous person. You might say something like...
Walt Disney once said, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." So, class of [YEAR], go on to the next stage of your life with courage, and dream big enough so that is a little bit scary along the way!
There is No Magic in How to Write a Valedictorian Speech
Just remember that there is no magic pill that will help you create a great graduation speech. However, if you follow the steps above, the process should be easy and fun. If you use any of the tips, make sure to comment on the post or on our podcast. We'd love to hear how the process worked for you.