I am not the biggest fan of graduations. I hope I'm not the only one, but I generally find them so long and so dull. I can't remember my high school graduation speakers and my college graduation speaker was an ancient physicist we still talk about because he was that boring. I've since sat through a whole lot of graduations (many outdoors and therefore inevitably excruciatingly hot or frostbitingly cold) which means I've heard plenty of speeches. And none of them come close in comparison to these incredible high school graduation speeches.
Graduation speeches, especially given by high school kids, can be tough to listen to. If the speaker isn't confident or comfortable behind the mic, you spend the entire time cringing and wishing it would just be over. But occasionally, a high school graduation speech is really great, either inspiring or downright hilarious. And those are the videos you should be watching when you need a break from work or playing another round of Uno with your kids. These speeches will either crack you up, make you cry, or make you want to turn back the clock so you have more time to change the world.
At the very least, all of these speeches will give you hope for the next generation, that some of them are very likely going to put down their phones and stop playing Fortnight long enough to really make a difference in the world.
1. Sweet Sentiments From Liam McCoy
Canadian Liam McCoy seems like the loveliest guy, and while his speech doesn't include the personalized anecdotes that many high school graduation speeches do, it's actually really pleasant and inspiring to listen to. He captures the possibility and hopefulness that kids on their graduation day share — and that we could all use a small dose of, no matter how old we are. I'd love to sit in an audience and hear the speaker say, "Ahead of us stands the dreams we are to realize; ahead of us stands life," as McCoy did, in the most earnest and heartfelt way.
2. Humor and Kindness From Evan Barber
If there's once thing I've learned about high school kids lately is that they're a hoot. And Evan Barber is especially humorous as he worries about how to pay his taxes and other adulting problems, but he also got me to laugh out loud when paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln in encouraging his fellow classmates "Don't be a jack wagon." While he admits "jack wagon" isn't easily defined, he gives examples of "when someone treats another like they're not a human being," like not tipping a waitress when she makes a mistake with your order or flipping someone off when they're tailgating you. Instead, he suggests we all be more patient and kind to each other — advice we can all appreciate, no matter how old we are and get.
3. Honesty and Perseverence From Larissa Martinez
(Larissa Martinez's speech starts at 21:50)
Three minutes into her speech, I was in tears as Larissa Martinez thanked her mom, who moved her two daughters from Mexico City when Martinez was twelve, "While moms metaphorically move mountains for their children, you literally moved countries for my sister and me." Martinez was headed to Yale after giving her valedictory speech, but shared some of the stark realities of her life, including the abusive father she escaped by moving to America, the fact that she was tasked with raising her sister while her mom worked morning until night, and that she didn't even have her own bed, internet, or a washing machine at home. She also disclosed that she was undocumented and still waiting for her immigration application to be processed.
Can someone pass the tissues, please?
4. Wit and Perspective From Akash Salam
Salutatorian Akash Salam, an immigrant from Bangladesh, gave an honest and sweet speech at his high school graduation that reminded the audience (and now us) of the privilege of education. After explaining about a garment factory fire that killed thousands of Bangladeshis, he said, "Every day, I try to remind myself of how lucky I am to be living in this land of opportunity. I have food, clothing and shelter, and best of all, I don't have to work in a garment factory." While many graduating high schoolers are excited about their graduation parties or graduation presents, Salam's speech is a sobering reminder of what we all take for granted so often.
5. Inspiration And Wisdom From Jonathon Youshaei
In his graduation speech, Jonathon Youshaei explained how we've all become two-sevenths people, plodding through the five days of the week only really looking forward to the weekends. While he geared his speech at high school kids, his comments really resonate with people of all ages. He explained, "Things can be different, though. We can look forward to those 5 weekdays just like we do the weekend, and thereby become seven-sevenths people. And thereby become whole." He suggests that taking risks and not being afraid of failure can bring us to the level of living life fully, which is a very wholesome and wise goal.
6. Lyrical Inspiration from Madeleine Meldrum
While Madeleine Meldrum claims to rap, her lyrical commencement speech sounds more like reading a long Shel Silverstein poem. But where it lacks in true hip-hop form, it makes up for in thoughtful inspiration and earnest delivery. And the most refreshing part of all might be her insightful look at life that puts all our hardships into perspective:
So we press through the pain
And we dance in the rain
And we change and we grow
We learn how to let go
And it's these times we show
That we're more than we know.
7. Reality and Overcoming Obstacles from Julianna Beck
While some graduation speeches focus on the funny thing that happened in math class, Julianna Beck focused on the realities that students in her high school faced and the fact that they overcame those obstacles. She doesn't try to gloss over their entire school career but rather highlights how resilient they are in the face of adversity, and that's downright inspiring.