The commencement speech: given to graduating students as their degrees or diplomas are conferred upon them. Luckily, for whoever is chosen to do the commencement speech, there are no boundaries to which one must abide.
There is no formal structure or any necessary moral point at the end of it. Consequently, the speaker enjoys complete freedom, and can do an unending number of things with his or her speech.
This means that, if they choose, they can pull-out their own meandering experience in a speech that lasts a lifetime, in a tone that often implies total death, in a hall sweltering with a thousand fur-lined hoods, at a time of day slightly too early for the pub.
I’m sure every speaker must convince themselves that their speech is indeed interesting and does in fact provide priceless advice. One would also expect their university to give the speech a once-over before graduation, just to ensure the entire graduating year doesn’t slump into a miasma of toxic guff halfway through. You can’t always rely on your university to invite someone inherently interesting.
At my own graduation, the commencement speaker, who seemed rather lovely, simply listed off her own achievements, which I’m sure was incomparably interesting to herself.
With commencement speeches, however, one must know their audience. The only similarity she had with the poor alumnus she was speaking to was a Bachelors’ in Arts. Luckily, I had a degree in trawling through naff and often convoluted rhetoric, so I dealt with it well. But!
As notions of valedictorian slowly but surely find their way onto British soil from the US, it may soon be the students’ job to entertain and provoke their peers in a final farewell. Many of my own peers at various universities were given this duty.
This, like all things, has positive and negative aspects. In the US, valedictorian is a badge of honour, often given to the highest ranking among the graduating class.
In other circumstances, it can sometimes be given to the most charismatic, or one with experience in public speaking. Either way, it is an immense amount of pressure to put on a student that is, like their peers, graduating that self-same day.
So, should the UK have valedictorians? Arguments can be made for both sides. Valedictorians are, by definition, separate from the rest of the graduating students. In some institutions, they are even made to wear slightly different attire, a blue cord instead of purple, for example.
This could arguably do away with attempts to make the ceremony equal for all students, and the equanimity that comes with it. As well as this, the pressure upon the valedictorian may prevent them from wholly enjoying their day due to the pressure and anxiety that comes with public appearances, especially if one has little experience in that field.
On the other hand, the valedictorian will know far better the trials and tribulations that his or her class has endured during their course. The speech may be more relevant, more personal, and thus have a greater impact on the students. However, again, the point of commencement speeches is to impart some advice that students, having hitherto not stepped into the ‘real-world’ of work, can take as they embark unto the earth.
Whatever one thinks, the role of valedictorian is creeping into UK universities, and may be a fact of graduate life sooner rather than later. Even if this is the case, there are plenty of online forums and self-help books that can guide even the most nervous of public-speakers through the role of valedictorian.
Similarly, there is never a shortage of gowns, robes, hoods, tassles, stoles and cords to accommodate the entirety of the student populace, including the valedictorian, Graduation Attire are the leading UK stockists of Graduation Wear, assuring that no matter the occasion, or the responsibility or roles, everybody involved can celebrate their special day in style.
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Article written by Liam Atterbury