How to Write a Valedictory Speech

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As valedictorian, your speech needs to be representative of your class as a whole. As such, it should reflect on your place in history, accomplishments, memories and, of course, expectations for the future. But be yourself, too. The speech should sound like you, not like a book.

Things You'll Need

  • Dictionaries
  • Thesauri
  • Cassette Tape Recorders
  • Paper And Pencils
  • Remember how a valedictory speech differs from an informative or debating speech: it's less formal but more intimate in style.

  • Plan to speak for about 15 minutes unless instructed otherwise. Excited graduates, toddlers and babies in the audience may not be able to sit still for a longer speech, especially with other speakers on the agenda.

  • Jot down general ideas to cover. For example, "This year was marked by great success and great loss (won awards/beloved principal retired)" or "Drake High entered the 21st century this year when it went online."

  • List all points, largest to smallest. For example, the earthquake, Professor Smith's Nobel prize, swim team to Olympics, most grad school entrants ever, personal triumphs, funny story about Dean Dover and the grapefruit.

  • Whittle down your list to between three and five main points, followed by each topic's subpoints. If you're discussing the earthquake, include points like the following: computer lab destroyed; rebuilt with corporate support; now better than ever.

  • Flesh out points with supporting materials and transitions. "We didn't miss the wrath of last spring's quake, but our close ties with Acme Tech turned bad to good. Our new Acme lab is cutting edge, which will benefit future generations."

  • Sharpen your notes down to a succinct outline.

  • Drop in your introductory line ("To the class of 20XX, Dean Ornish, Chancellor Gonzalez, family and friends"), followed by an opening to hook your audience. Consider a quote, humor, a line of poetry or a timely song: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." "No one likes you when you're 23."

  • Take into account your experiences of school, comradery, and the world and times when closing. For example, "We started as children and sit here now adults. The world saw war, the school saw conflict, but we came together as a class, as neighbors, ultimately as friends."

  • Draft the complete speech, including anecdotes, imagery, and touches of humor and personality. Make it personal but relevant to the audience and the occasion.

  • Rewrite, polish and edit as needed. Read it to a friend for editing purposes, and practice aloud until the speech flows and sounds natural.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some people prefer reading from a complete speech, others like just notes or index cards.
  • Consider recording or taping your speech so that you can watch yourself. You might also try practicing hand motions, phrasing and times to look up at your audience.
  • People will remember you, so even if you intend your speech to be controversial, keep it respectable.
  • You may end up on Gramma and Gumpa Rosen's videotape, so be proud of your content, language and ideas.

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