Graduation speeches: The good, the bad and the mediocre

Commencement addresses of various levels of quality provide lessons—positive and negative—for speechwriters.

The familiar refrains of “Pomp and Circumstance” have faded. Mortarboards and gowns have been carefully put away. The class of 2011 has (mostly) left the auditorium, in search of jobs and new apartments. All of which means it’s time again to commit ourselves to a reckoning of the best, the worst and the merely mediocre commencement speeches of 2011.

This year’s speeches—from luminaries, CEOs, actors, and secretaries of this department or that—were largely “B” work. Most were filled with the typical fluff and pith: follow your dream, be passionate, don’t be a cynic, we need your talents more than ever, etc. But most of the ones I read tended to be shorter than usual, so there wasn’t much room for the speakers to get into real trouble by going too far afield or losing their audiences in a reckless ramble of thought.

That’s actually an improvement over past years when it was easy to find several true stinkers without really trying. In fact, I had to read many dozen to find a couple that were so off-the-mark as to qualify as examples of “please-don’t-do-this” primers.

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.