As we approach the end of another school year, you may be feeling tired, maybe even a bit burned out. Teaching is a demanding, exhausting job that asks a lot of those called to it. Being a teacher can absolutely knock us down at times, but if we remember why we do it, we’ll be able to get up—better and stronger each time. For me, the words of a middle and high school graduation speech can do that. The following five remind us why we do this, and they also provide teachable moments for both us and our students.
1. Don’t be afraid to be silly.
Eighth grader Jack Aiello delivered an epic middle school graduation speech by impersonating, among others, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Aiello knew that sometimes the best way to get a point across to an audience is with humor. As teachers, we should remember that a little silliness goes a long way toward building relationships with our students and a love of learning in our classrooms.
2. When in doubt…fall back on the classics.
Valedictorian Meeklin Ragan’s Dr. Seuss inspired high school graduation speech is charming, but also should serve as a great reminder for teachers everywhere—Dr. Seuss does have a lot to offer students of all ages! We shouldn’t be afraid to seek ideas in unconventional places. Not only can children’s books be used to teach important lessons relevant to any subject, but never underestimate the appeal of allowing your students (even at the secondary level) to find inspiration in interesting places.
3. Remember your audience.
The valedictorian in this high school graduation speech makes good points. He raises excellent and thought-provoking questions. He definitely reflects upon his own experience in high school. But in his quest for brutal honesty, he lost sight of his audience; fellow graduates who had worked hard to be where they were, many of whom who were probably just fine with not being valedictorian and were looking forward to a humorous or inspirational speech. As teachers, we too need to remember our audience. Are we talking too much and not giving them time to process? Are we injecting levity into our lessons when appropriate? Is there more we could do to engage our students and make them active learners in our classrooms?
4. Celebrate everyone’s achievements.
Senior class president Ryan Burton does something a bit different in his high school graduation speech. He celebrates the achievements of his classmates. He discusses just how much scholarship money was earned by his peers, the various academic and athletic awards won by his classmates, and the charitable work they completed. Burton also addresses the struggles they overcame together and their strength as a class. The one thing he doesn’t spend a lot of time doing? Talking about himself. As teachers, we are often the center of our classroom universe with our students revolving around us. But we could learn a valuable lesson from Burton by remembering to flip that model around every once in a while, making sure to celebrate the achievements of all our students—big or small, and putting them in the center of the action while we work with them from the sidelines, letting them shine.
5. Find (and remember!) your why.
Lawrence Brown delivered an inspirational and highly motivational high school graduation speech to his class in 2014 based on the question, “What is your WHY?” He discussed how life was going to hit all of his classmates hard at some point or another, but what really mattered was that they got up and kept going, kept trying. To do that, he explained, they would need “a why,” a reason, something that they felt passionate about. Brown illustrated this idea with anecdotes about athletes and entrepreneurs who had all experienced enormous setbacks only to come back stronger and better because they knew what they wanted from their lives. Delivered in a humble and humorous tone, Brown’s speech has a lot to offer.
Congratulations teachers. We’ve just spent another wonderful year in this challenging and rewarding profession!