Menu

How to Write a Valedictorian Speech – Guidance, Tips, and Examples

By: Compose.ly — January 04, 2019

Graduating students in a dark landscape

Table of Contents

  1. Why Write a Valedictorian Speech?
  2. Five Tips for Writing the Speech
  3. Five Tips for Actually Giving the Speech
  4. A Few Examples of Valedictorian Speeches
  5. Need Help? Hire a Speechwriter

Congratulations! Your time at school is nearing completion. When you step out on your last day, you’ll usher new changes into your life – changes that could make you feel anxious and thrilled all at the same time.

You’ve also been asked to give the valedictorian speech at your graduation. You’re deeply honored, yet you have no idea how to begin. It’s enough to make your head spin right off your shoulders – but don’t let it!

The Importance of a Valedictorian Speech

Regardless of whether you’re finishing your high school years or your college and university years, the fact that the school board, principal or provost and teachers or professors have made a joint decision and selected you as the valedictorian is a reflection of your academic excellence. Feel free to pause here and give yourself a pat on the back. Three cheers for you!

You have worked diligently across your student years, and your academic life has clearly led to this point. From your consistent grades and high-quality work to the campus clubs and social events you’ve supported, your actions have helped you stand out as a student of distinction.

Writing Your Speech: A Step-by-Step Approach

You’re gearing up to join past student valedictorians who undertook this role with pride and dedication. While students chosen to be valedictorian come from a variety of backgrounds, they all share a strong academic drive.

You are just like these students. While your educational preferences and eventual career goals are unique, you too are passionate about excellence in school. You care about success and accomplishment, and you enjoy fostering community values.

Education is a personal focus, of course, but it comes with a social backing. You want others to head off on their own journeys with as much anticipation as you have for yours.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of giving the valedictorian speech at your graduation, you’re not alone. All those students who graced the stage before you have felt their own flutter of fear, their own sense of doubt. It’s completely normal, so take a few deep breaths if you’re feeling those butterflies taking flight.

This is a big moment, and you want to make sure you get it right.

Let’s get down to it, shall we? It’s time to guide you through how to write a valedictorian speech. These five steps will help you produce a speech that inspires your classmates, honors your school and acknowledges those who contributed to this moment.

1. Decide on Your Focus or Theme

You’ve written a lot of reports and school papers in your day (even if you sometimes found yourself working on them at the last minute, furiously typing away at two in the morning), so you know that you need to establish a theme substantial enough to meet the requirements.

You can’t just pick up the pen or put your fingers on the keyboard and watch the words appear like magic. Writing of any kind requires dedication, and creating a class valedictorian speech is no different.

The first thing you need to do is determine what you’ll discuss. This is where you might benefit from reading or watching previous valedictorian speech examples, since you’ll soon detect common themes or recurring points.

Of course, originality is best. You want to be unique and have your words stick in people’s minds. Besides, copycats are boring – and you’re your own shining star!

Pick your theme and use it to create a speech only you could write. You might focus on a theme of how you should always set strong expectations, or how you should identify your passions to help shape the future. The first theme could help inspire your fellow students to keep striving for their best, while the second could help classmates who may be struggling to find themselves.

Other themes might include:

  • Taking responsibility for your job prospects and life
  • Seeking out those who inspire
  • Sharing kindness and understanding throughout life
  • Overcoming difficulties
  • Recapping school events
  • Sharing memorable classroom events
  • Following individual goals
  • Never giving up on your dreams

Some of these themes may be better suited to a high school valedictorian speech, while others are likely more appropriate for career-bound college or university students.

2. Let the Creative Thoughts Flow

Now you need to spend some time freewriting and jotting down ideas. It’s helpful to have a little notebook at this stage, so you can record anecdotes or lessons as they come to mind.

If you’re a follower of technology (and who isn’t?), you’ll want apps that let you record brainstorming ideas – you likely use or know of Squid and Paper for digital handwriting and sketching of notes, and Evernote or OneNote for typing notes.

You need to have something that’s available to you anytime, anywhere, so you can stop what you’re doing to scribble a quick note. If your way of thinking falls more along the line of, “Who wants to type when they can speak?” you probably have a voice-recording app like Griffin iTalk, Evernote or Rev.

If you’re at the gym and you get an idea, or you’re driving to your after-school job and suddenly think of a great inspirational phrase, find a safe moment to stop or pull over, and then jot down that idea. Don’t let it slip away!

3. Create an Outline or Flow Chart

Once you’ve compiled a collection of anecdotes, ideas, phrases, inspirational quotes or lessons, you want to review your material to see where each part will best fit.

You could set up an outline similar to those in school essays, or you could use a visual flow chart incorporating moveable parts, like post-it notes. The outline option may be better if you prefer lists and bullet points. A flow chart might be better if you’re more visual-oriented.

Regardless of your preference, use an organizing method that lets you fit your valedictorian speech ideas into a framework. You can move things around as much as you like, but you’ll eventually need to settle on the structure of the piece – otherwise, you won’t be able to start the next step.

4. Transform Your Ideas Into a Complete Speech

Here is where you’ll expand your outline into a full speech or you’ll follow your existing flow chart and add more content along the way. This step takes time! Don’t try to rush it or leave it until the last minute.

You should have included “give thanks” near the top of your speech. Didn’t include it? Fit it in now – no one needs to know you forgot! From the board of trustees to your teachers and professors, many people shared their opinions on why you’d be the best student for the job of valedictorian, and it’s important to acknowledge them.

Now work your way through the outline or flow chart, moving from topics like memorable moments in the classroom to social clubs that made a mark. Although it’s tempting to use your entire speech to take about yourself and your own goals, you need to remember that this isn’t just about you. You were selected for this honor after working exceedingly hard for the past several years, but you aren’t graduating by yourself.

As the valedictorian, you have the responsibility to address your entire graduating class, to speak for and to respect each student’s accomplishments. Everyone around you deserves to feel like their efforts matter, that they can see themselves in your speech and know that they too are heading out on an exciting journey.

End your speech with motivation, something that leaves a positive impression and helps people look forward to a bright future.

5. Review Your Speech and Revise Where Necessary

You didn’t write your speech at three in the morning, did you? Even if you did, you should know (we hope!) that you need to set aside enough time to review and revise it.

That’s what you’ll do now.

Go through your speech and review it from top to bottom. Read it aloud, listen for pacing, and cut the parts that tend to fall flat. You want a speech that inspires people, not a speech that encourages them to take a nap. Don’t forget to ask a friend, advisor or parent to review your speech.

Valedictorian wearing cap and gown in front of audience

Still Feeling Those Butterflies? Five More Tips for Giving the Speech

If you’re still nervous about giving your speech, take a look at these five tips.

1. Practice Makes Perfect

You won’t be able to wow the crowd if you haven’t practiced your speech. Do it now. Then do it again. And again. And again. You need to practice it repeatedly until you’re confident in your tone, your stance and your elocution.

2. Keep Yourself Hydrated

You’ll also want to make sure your throat doesn’t dry out mid-speech. Nothing is worse than hearing your throat and mouth give those awful clicks and pops when you’ve got a dry mouth. Drink water earlier in the day, but don’t drink too much too quickly. Otherwise, you’ll be running off mid-speech for another reason!

3. Make Eye Contact Whenever Possible

You also want to look at the audience; this group of people may or may not include your classmates, depending on where they are sitting. But you will definitely have an audience of parents, friends and other school staff before you. Try to look at them from time to time.

4. Get Enough Sleep the Night Before

Make sure you don’t go to bed late the night before your speech. You want a clear mind and enough energy so you can impress and inspire your audience. Never had a good enough reason to get those eight hours? Well, you do now.

5. Wear Appropriate Footwear

Finally, make sure you are wearing the right footwear. If you want to wear high heels, make sure you can stand and walk effortlessly. If you want to wear loafers or flats, make sure they are neither too new nor too old. You don’t want them to slip off or pinch your toes.

Writing a Valedictorian Speech: A Few Examples

Still not sure how to write a valedictorian speech? Check out four valedictorian speech examples that can help you create your own inspirational message.

Students wearing cap and gown outside school

1. Valedictorian Speech

Here is a general class valedictorian speech that focuses on overcoming obstacles and reaching for the top.

The Speech

Welcome, everyone, to the graduation of the Class of 2019! This is a proud moment for all of us – we moved successfully through our four-year journey and now await the next exciting step.

I am deeply honored to stand before you today to give thanks to this school and its staff, and to express gratitude to parents and families and all those who supported our learning.

Thank you to our dedicated instructors for their passionate teaching, encouragement and advice. Also to the administrative staff for keeping us grounded, and the library staff for accommodating obscure book requests.

We’ve come to the end of this stage of our lives, having survived everything from killer tests to late-night report writing, interspersed with after-school jobs, parties, school events and cherished meet-ups with friends.

We’ve worked together and grown together, forging new friendships and rekindling others we feared had disappeared forever.

We’ve seen a lot in these four years, from talks given by famous authors to football matches that beat records, and from lectures that blew our minds to dance club performances that broke the mold – and then some. We’ve come together when tense events unfolded, and we’ve strengthened our voices and our drive. Through it all, we’ve persevered.

Going forward we know there will be difficulties. We know there will be obstacles to overcome. But we also know there will be adventures. We’re ready to step out and take our place in the world.

To my classmates, go forth and forge your own paths to success. We may stumble and even fall down, but we will always pick ourselves back up. And if we ever see someone struggling, let us be kind and help them get back on their feet.

As Roy T. Bennett once said, “Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.”

Here’s to the Class of 2019. May we forever strive to build a strong future.

2. College Valedictorian Speech

This second speech focuses on the power of education and the road that lies ahead.

The Speech

Good afternoon, everyone: Chancellor Fischer, distinguished guests, faculty members, fellow graduates, alumni and dear friends. It is my great honor to stand here before you as representative of the Class of 2019.

Today is a momentous day, for today we move beyond these walls to make our mark in our chosen careers.

I cannot help but think back on these past four years with a mix of satisfaction and longing. For me, my time at college opened my eyes to fascinating perspectives, and I experienced everything from lively discussions at social clubs to condensed chats between classes.

I gleaned as much knowledge as I could – especially from Professors Singh and Lockby – and now that we stand ready to leave, I find myself longing for those fond moments to return.

I know my fellow graduates share these feelings. We are eager to step out, but we remain wistful for those light-bulb moments.

We followed our passions over these four years, wherever they took us. Some of us majored in communications or education, while other focused on economics, chemistry, art history, international studies and other undergraduate programs.

All have been equally fulfilling, and all have led us here to this moment.

I think of the words of William Butler Yeats when he said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

We are that fire. Yet unlike fires that destroy, we want our fire to inspire and regenerate.

The future is not set in stone. We can shape the future with our actions, our choices. Our contributions, however small, will matter.

All of us here have different goals and aspirations, some far-reaching, some closer to home. But no matter where we go or what we become, our lives have been richer for the education and the experience we gained.

Congratulations to the Class of 2019. We did it!

3. High School Valedictorian Speech

This third speech uses the theme of growth, kindness and taking chances.

The Speech

Hello, everyone, and thank you for coming to our high school graduation. My name is Sophie Russo, and I am honored to give this valedictory speech.

First we want to thank our teachers for all the love and patience they’ve shown us these past four years. And who could forget all the quirky learning tricks. From Mrs. Liu and her dance number for remembering French verbs to Mr. Romero and his computer programming song, the teachers here win awards for originality. They are kindhearted and truly one of a kind.

We also want to thank everyone who helped and supported us along the way, from Mrs. Greer and her “the principle is your pal” speech to lunch lady Ruth Schmidt and her tireless efforts to make us love Brussels sprouts.

We moved through school as unsure freshman, gaining confidence as we progressed to sophomores and juniors, getting our first cars and our first steady jobs, waiting for even more freedom.

But as seniors we’ve come to see how fast time goes by. We’re now at the end of our high school years and we wonder if we’re ready to spread our wings. We’re excited for the future, but we’re nervous all the same.

What we need to remember is that this is our moment. We need to get out there and confront fear, to find our place by learning from mistakes.

As Ed Helms once said, “Don’t be afraid of fear. Because it sharpens you, it challenges you, it makes you stronger; and when you run away from fear, you also run away from the opportunity to be your best possible self.”

We’re at the cusp of bright new things. Let’s get out there and show the world what we’ve got.

Congratulations to us, the Class of 2019!

4. Funny Valedictorian Speech

If you get stuck writing your valedictorian speech, try humor. This final speech pays tribute to kindness and laughter, encouraging people to give back what they receive.

The Speech

I was going to start this speech with a “good morning,” but who among us ever has a good morning? Seriously, students need until 10 AM just to get their brains in gear. And for those select few who appear wide awake at 8? They’re just sleeping with their eyes open. You can’t fool us!

Our four years here have come with highs and lows, with some of the most memorable ranging from midnight parties to eggnog chugging contests – shout out to Luis for not puking!

Professors like Gomez and Watts have become known for their efforts to wake us up, with the most successful (and terrifying!) method being country music from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.

In addition to those professors, we – the graduating class for 2019 – would also like to thank the entire faculty, deans, administrative staff and everyone else who kept us hungry for learning.

Some of us just squeaked by, but it wasn’t because we didn’t care. We just had a difficult time saying no to all the enriching events on campus. Like men’s and women’s basketball, the 5K fun run or the student music shows. Yes, we’re a social bunch.

As we leave this school, the proud recipients of degrees of all types, we look around us for ways that we can make a difference. We want to solve problems. We want to bring out the love and share some hugs.

The next time you’re walking down the road, don’t run screaming from the guy or girl with their arms open. Give in to the hugs. Then go spread the love!

Four years ago, we arrived at this school fresh out of high school. Now, we’re ready to be grownups. But don’t hate on us if we still play Nintendo games or Xbox. We tried to break the habit, without success. Learning to live without Zelda is a lifelong struggle.

Get out there, work hard, and love life. I’ll leave you with a quote from Douglas Adams, who said, “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

Class of 2019, it’s time to fly!

Need Assistance? Consider Outsourcing

Sometimes your best efforts result in nothing but panic. If you haven’t progressed on your speech and the deadline is approaching, consider asking the speechwriters at Compose.ly for assistance. Graduation can be a stressful time for students, but you’ll be well on your way with a valedictorian speech already in hand.

This post was written by Compose.ly writer Emily Clayton.

there