Graduation Speeches Should be a Senior Decision

Graduation—the regal royal blue gowns and caps flung into the air, rounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” and countless photographs taken with teachers and classmates—is arguably the most memorable moment of high school. But the graduation speeches made by senior are rarely remembered past Grad Nite, not because the speeches themselves were forgettable but because graduates are so detached from the decision process.

Speaking at graduation is an honor bestowed on a select few seniors bold enough to share their thoughts, emotions and profound high school experiences. Speech-givers audition in May and are selected based on delivery and content, among other factors.

In recent years, graduation speakers have been chosen by a small panel of voluntary administrators and staff; the Junior Class President will also sit on the panel this year. Members of the panel use a rubric of guidelines to evaluate the speakers. Those chosen then work with an adult to improve and revise their speeches. Those not chosen may have the opportunity to serve as the master or mistress of ceremonies if the panel feels he or she is suitable for the role. According to Assistant Principal Cristy Dawson, coordinator of graduation activities, the panel tries to choose a diverse group of speakers and involve as many interested speakers as possible. While it is important to have a diverse and responsible panel, senior students should have much more say in which of their classmates are chosen to make speeches.

As much as graduation is a day for others to recognize and honor the senior class, it is ultimately a day for seniors to celebrate their achievements and bid one last goodbye to high school.

“Graduation is all about seniors and they should have a say in the ceremony,” senior Roshan Burns said.

It is therefore imperative that graduation speakers represent the class as a whole to parents, friends, district officials and the larger community. Speeches should express a diverse range of experiences that accurately portray the character of each graduation class. While a major goal of the panel is to find diverse perspectives, according to Dawson, this is not always achieved in a way that accurately reflects the Senior Class. Although school administrators and staff have had much exposure to the Senior Class over the past four years, students have the most genuine understanding of their peers overall.

Dawson explains that seniors have not been involved in the past because she doesn’t feel comfortable with “students judging other students.” While this is a legitimate concern, this is an inevitable fact of teenage life both inside and outside of the classroom.

Through peer editing, students constantly assess each other’s writing and give and receive feedback. Students who choose to audition should not feel offended by student panelists or feel apprehensive about delivering their speeches because many more people will eventually hear them anyway.

Seniors should be trusted to select speakers based on merit over politics. Although it is possible for students to feel obligated to push for their friends, the process could be anonymous and confidential so no feelings would be hurt.

What administration and staff may not realize is that graduation is most important to the seniors themselves and they will treat this process with seriousness and respect. Seniors should be given the option to vote or serve on the panel simply because the limited number of speakers represents the entire class.
While it is important for teachers and administrators to regulate the content of speeches to ensure they are appropriate, seniors should be able to choose who deserves this honor. Only then will seniors rightfully value graduation speeches as an integral part of their memories.