Don't Talk About Toilets (and Other Tips for Valedictorian Speeches)
dac213 should become a professional valedictorian speech-maker advisor. We're 87% sure that's a real job.—Sparkitors
Many of us are graduating or have already graduated from high school. From one recent ex-high-schooler to another, I would like to offer the universal class of 2011 my congratulations and best wishes. Now, on to business. This is a message to all valedictorians and future valedictorians. While I myself wasn’t a valedictorian, I did have to listen to a valedictorian’s speech. I was expecting something funny, or uplifting, or at least something my fellow seniors and I wouldn’t mind listening to. Instead, I got an extended metaphor about bathrooms, the beginning of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” my fellow students’ barely stifled giggles, and a huge disappointment. So here are some tips for all you overachieving juniors and procrastinating valedictorians who have yet to finalize your speeches:
1. In the immortal words of Neil Patrick Harris: “Make ‘em laugh.” Or at least try; the audience will appreciate the effort.
2. Inside jokes are good, but make sure they’re school-wide inside jokes. A reference to that time at the mall when your friend tried mustard on cinnamon bites will make exactly three people laugh hysterically, and they were all on that trip with you. Something like “And we all know the cafeteria pizza sucks” will get about half your classmates to laugh, while the other half will either smile or cringe at the memory.
3. Thank the teachers, but keep your praise general. Wanting to express your love and admiration for your IB English 12 teacher is nice, but if you get too specific, 90% of your class will think you're having an affair with some older guy. Not good, especially since your school’s on-campus cop is in the audience somewhere. So thank Mr. Brilliant, but don’t write a sonnet about him.
4. If something highly personal has influenced your high school experience and you feel you can turn it into an uplifting message, go for it. But make sure you introduce it as just that–a personal experience. References to your first trip to visit your grandma in India are nice, but most of your class is probably not overly-familiar with outdoor bazaars, saris, and samosas, so start off with: “I remember when my sister and I went to visit our grandma in Calcutta, India, and she said…”.
5. Don’t trash-talk the school. Not everyone despised every moment at Suck M. Terrible High. Half of graduation is pretending everyone loved it there and that we’re all one big family, so trash-talking the students, faculty, cafeteria food, lockers, and the tiles on the floor will only let everyone know exactly how bitter and maladjusted you are. Yes, someone in the audience will agree with you, but he/she’s too angry to give you the standing ovation you feel you deserve.
6. DO NOT, I repeat, do not emulate a certain movie and use this as an opportunity to tell everyone how you really feel about them. Sure, it’s possible you’ll never see any of them again, but it’s also possible they’ll transfer to your college and become your roommate. You really don’t want that one jock from your math class to take his revenge, do you?
7. Clichés are an expected part of every high school-related speech. But if you fill your speech with them, it will seem like you didn’t put any effort into it at all. We all know to never give up, reach for the stars, and do our best; tell your class that 20 different ways and they’ll all wonder how you got to be valedictorian when you have the creativity of a ceiling fan.
8. Don’t show off. We all know you’re smart, you’re the valedictorian. But keep your classmates who are lucky to be graduating at all in mind. Don’t make your speech so complex and multi-layered we have to lean over and ask Mr. Brilliant to analyze it for us.
9. At the same time, your speech shouldn’t sound like something a fifth grader wrote. Find a middle ground; don’t try to be William Faulkner, but don’t emulate Dr. Seuss either.
10. Metaphors are good, but do not, please, I beg you, in the name of all that is sweet and good, DO NOT USE AN EXTENDED METAPHOR ABOUT BATHROOMS! Just trust me on this one.
We trust you. Did any Sparklers give a valedictorian speech, or hear an awesome/awful one?
Related post: Valedictorian Speech: What Is Said vs. What Is Meant