Valedictorian Speech, Mattawan High School 2001
Given the Evening of May 25, 2001 at Mattawan High School.
Good Evening, ladies and gentlemen, friends and family, teachers and administrators. We stand, gathered together to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2001 Class of Mattawan High School.
To my fellow classmates, we've made it. We've finally made it. We are graduating. Congratulations. Congratulations not only to us graduates, for achieving excellence in academics, athletics and the arts, both in school and out, but also congratulations to our teachers, parents, friends, families and administrators. Our success is your success, for you have given us the freedom to dare, the courage to excel and the belief that we can achieve our best. You have been there for us with support and care; you had faith when we doubted ourselves. For all these things, we, the Class of 2001, thank you.
Together for the last time, we stand poised at the very edge of graduation, looking towards a bright future. Soon each of us will go forth, in his or her unique direction, seeking to make a mark upon the world.
We stand, as if before a row of thousands of doors, each door different from another, each potent with opportunities for every one of us. We must try at these doors, opening them to look at what lies within. Passing through some doors, we will have to set aside fear and prejudice before we may advance. To unlock others, we will have to uphold our sense of justice and dignity. If a door suddenly shuts before us, we cannot be discouraged, but instead must look for the sudden opening of another. Our adulthood, so long anticipated, has now arrived. We have grown up. We must seize our future and taking it into our own hands, do with it what we will, striving towards excellence.
We join forth now, in hope and inspiration, all of us sharing our common legacy -- all of us, proud Wildcats of a little town in Michigan known as Mattawan. All of us, members of the First Graduating Mattawan High School Class of the Third Millennium! With Mattawan Pride, May We Go Forth to Prevail!
Thank You and May God Bless Us.
Some Tips on Writing and Delivering a Valedictorian Speech
Every year around graduation time, this page becomes, by far, the most popular page on my website, dominik.net. This likely because it's the first hit for "valedictorian speech" on Google. In any case, I felt that it might be useful to web surfers if I offered some tips on writing and delivering their own speeches:
- Keep it short - Your speech should not run in excess of 5 minutes. While this is your moment as valedictorian to captivate the audience, you should also keep in mind everyone is there for graduation, not just to hear you talk. Say what you want to say, but keep it short and sweet. People remember short, effective speeches far better than they do long, tiresome ones. Unless you have a very good reason and adults not related to you have told you have an excellent longer speech, stay short.
- Thank people - Say thanks to the folks who have made this possible. Name names, make people proud that they've helped your class out.
- Focus on others - Don't spend the speech talking about yourself. As a valedictorian, everyone already knows that you're all that -- after all, you're valedictorian. Lift others up, give everyone that sense of hope and opportunity that is so poignant at graduation. Be inclusive and reach beyond high school cliques to bring about a feeling of community to your high school class.
- Don't use cliches - Resist the temptation to say "This is the first day of the rest of our lives." It's way overused. Similarly, stay away from any other cliches. They're trite and make your speech uninteresting.
- Don't make obscure references - Consider your audience. People like speeches they understand. That said, if there's an event or moment that is in your graduating class' collective memory, by all means make use of it. Just stay away from things that only members of small subgroups of your class would understand (e.g. something that happened at a tennis meet that only the tennis team members know about).
- Be nice - Don't insult anyone. Be classy. When you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.
- Practice on location - If you can, try to get a chance to say the speech wherever it is you'll actually be giving it. For me, this was in our high school's gym. Fortunately, in our graduation rehearsal I had the opportunity to give my speech on the podium in front of a practically empty gym. Let me tell you, the experience of standing there, looking out over this vast cavernous gym was very different from anything I experienced before. Being able to soak in the sheer size of the place, as well as the perspective from the podium, was very helpful when I actually gave my speech.
- Don't rush it - There's a temptation to "get it over with" when you actually give the speech. You'll be nervous and it'll only be natural to speak faster. In fact, you might not even notice it. Be aware of this and make a conscious effort to speak slowly and make use of short gaps of silence. It will lend weight to your speech and let your words sink into the audience's minds.
- Make eye contact with the right people - Know where your friends are sitting and make eye contact with them while you're giving the speech. This will reassure you as well as ground you in with your audience. Don't focus overly long on one person, instead shift between friends as well as longer views at the back and sides of the room. Note: If your friends are the sort that would try to make you laugh via silly faces or the like if you made eye contact, don't risk it. You don't want to crack up laughing in the middle of your valedictorian speech.
- Give your English teacher a draft - Have an English teacher who taught you to write well? Or any other trusted guide in the art of literature? Give him or her a draft of your speech and ask if they'd be kind enough to offer you advice. Most will jump at the opportunity, and some will even let you practice in front of them. They are wise souls; they have heard many more valedictorian speeches than you have. Heed their guidance.
- Paint a picture - Include powerful, evocative imagery in your speech. Give your audience and give them something they can visualize. In my speech, I used the example of "a row of thousands of doors" to illustrate the point I wanted to make about how our future had nearly limitless possibilities. The important part about this picture is not so much what it is, but that it's there. If there's powerful visual imagery in a speech, people can identify better with it, as they're not only listening, but also seeing in their mind's eye. If there's a particular moving story you can share, share it.
- Have a point - It seems almost obvious doesn't it? Make your speech has a point. For my speech, it was basically leading up to the line "May We Go Forth to Prevail!" I wanted to convey that each one of the graduating members of my class had the opportunity to go forth and prevail against whatever challenges they faced, and make a mark for positive change in the world. The paths we would take might different, but the end result would be constant: Mattawan Wildcats making the world a better place.
- Be yourself - Don't try to be someone you're not. Be comfortable just as you are; I guarantee you will give a better speech if you are 100% comfortable with yourself.
- Open strong and close stronger - Your opening and your closing are your key points. Make sure these lines are the ones that you've polished and made truly great. They are the first and last thing your audience will hear from you, so make sure they tie in with your message and are eloquently said.
- Put your heart into it - Give the best speech you can give. Put your heart and soul into crafting this speech. It'll shine through.
Best of luck in writing your speeches,
Have questions, comments or an idea for a tip to add? Want me to critique your speech? Feel free to contact me. Please include the subject line "Valedictorian Speech" in your e-mail.
You can read more of my writing on blog.dominik.net.