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4 Tips To Write The Best Valedictorian Speech (With Samples!)

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Congratulations on being Valedictorian! 

You made it through the last 4 years, so believe us when we say writing a valedictorian speech doesn’t have to be complicated. Use our templates to write the perfect speech, and don’t miss our cheat sheet of inspirational quotes you can use at the bottom of the article.

Valedictorian Speech FAQ

What is a valedictorian speech?

A valedictorian speech is a graduation speech usually given by the student or students at the top of the graduating class. It is a farewell address to the other students in the graduating class to remember what has been accomplished and give inspiration for the future. 

How long should a valedictorian speech be?

A valedictorian speech should be from 5 to 10 minutes long but also check with your school administrators to find out what length they expect. Shorter is usually better. 

What are some features of valedictorian speech?

A valedictorian speech should include highlights, lessons learned, people who deserve thanks, and remembrance of anyone who may have died. Wrap up your speech with something motivational. 

What should I talk about in a valedictorian speech?

In your valedictorian speech, talk about the shared experiences of your class. Include any significant events and teachers who made a big impact, and include funny stories. Make sure to talk about the past and look forward to the future. See our templates below for more ideas.

How do I end a valedictorian speech?

To end a valedictorian speech, conclude with a final story or a statement that wraps up all your thoughts. End on a high note; remember that your final thoughts are what will stick the longest with your audience. 

How to Write a Valedictorian Speech

Step 1: Ask Around 

What memories will you take with you after you leave high school or college? 

Ask other students what their defining memories are, what they learned, and what their hopes are for the future. Remember, this speech is for all of you, so take the time to ask others to share their experiences. 

Ask Your Fellow Students These Questions: 

  • What was the funniest moment for our class?
  • What was a recurring joke from the last few years?
  • What will our class be known for? 
  • Was there a dramatic event on campus that impacted you?
  • What dramatic event in the world impacted you the most? 
  • What awards or accomplishments did our teams, clubs, or individuals receive? 
  • Who is your favorite teacher? What are they known for? 
  • Describe the last 4 years at our high school/college/university using 1 word. 

Step 2: Check for Themes

Once you’ve talked to others in your graduating class, look for any recurring themes. Write these down, and then think about world and school events that fit in with that theme. Tap into the nostalgia factor as you prepare to say goodbye to your school and classmates. 

Example Themes:

  • Learning from mistakes
  • Failure as an opportunity for growth
  • Tenacity in the face of adversity
  • Learning how to treat each other with kindness
  • Overcoming the loss of friends or a teacher
  • Teachers and students who inspire
  • Overcoming obstacles as a team
  • Accomplishing unexpected success

The great thing about choosing a theme is it provides you with a focus for the speech. Use your theme to guide what you reflect on and your main point. 

For example, if your theme is a failure as an opportunity for growth, you can tell a story about your experience with failure. Give examples of how classmates or teachers encouraged you to use failure as a springboard for success. 

Or, say the theme is overcoming obstacles as a team, you can reflect on obstacles that your class may have overcome, including challenges from current events. From there, you can inspire and encourage everyone to view future barriers in light of obstacles that have already been overcome. 

Step 3: Use This 3-Part Outline 

We know you hoped never to write another outline again. Don’t worry; you can skip the stuffy Roman numerals and break your speech into 3 sections. 

Here’s an inspiring outline that is especially suitable for a valedictorian speech:  

  1. Gratitude (although this isn’t present in many speeches, this is a key part of a valedictorian speech). What are you grateful for? List the funny moments you are grateful for. The teachers you are most thankful for. The parts of the school that helped you and your class the most.
  2. Reflect (similar to the above outline, reflecting looks at what is and what has happened). Is there an overview you can give of the last four years? What was Freshman year like? Sophomore year? Prom? Any particularly interesting homecomings you can reflect on?
  3. Inspire (inspire your audience in a way that directly links to what you have just reflected on.) What should they remember about the last four years that they should use in the next four years? What lessons have you learned? What can we hope for?

Step 4: Your Opening Line

The hardest part of your valedictorian speech might be the opening line. But don’t worry–we have some ideas for you in our video below!

Never Start a Presentation with…

  • Anything technical! People make this big mistake when they have not done a tech check ahead of time or are feeling nervous. Never start with these openers:

Is this microphone working?

Can you hear me?

Wow, these lights are bright!

  • Your nervousness. Many people think it is vulnerable to start with how nervous they are about speaking — you can mention this later, but it should not be the first thing. Why? People will then only be looking for signs of your nervousness. Don’t start with:

I’m so nervous right now!

Wow, there are so many people here.

I’m not a great public speaker.

  • A lackluster or non-believable nicety. It’s great to be grateful to the person who introduced you, but it’s not a great way to include the audience. It’s ok to thank the audience for being there—but do it at the end (not as your opening line). These are all too boring:

Thanks for having me.

Thanks for that intro.

Nice to be here.

Boring! One exception here is if you can make it funny. Ken Robinson started with a nicety and then turned it into a joke. He said, ” “Good morning. How are you? It’s been great, hasn’t it? I’ve been blown away by the whole thing. I’m leaving.”

Action Step: Instead, start with a big idea, an important question, or a story, or grab one of our inspirational quotes below. These immediately capture attention. More Speech Opener Ideas here.

Step 5: Practice Like It’s Real

Practice your speech like it’s dress rehearsal:

  • Grab a parent or grandparent. Ask supportive friends and family, but don’t ask anyone that makes you nervous. For now, you’re building confidence. If you don’t want to practice with other people watching, record yourself giving the speech so you can rewatch it and notice any areas you can improve. 
  • Wear your graduation outfit. If you already have your cap and gown, wear that as well.
  • Practice in a similar environment. For example, practice the speech in your backyard if the graduation is going to be outside. Will you be at a podium? Try to practice with a high table.

Pro Tip: If you plan to wear heels, ensure you’re comfortable walking up and down stairs. If you aren’t, practice wearing the shoes you’ve picked, or consider wearing different shoes. 

Bonus Step 6: Learn the Art of Stage Presence

Did you know that public speaking is actually a skill? Many people struggle with stage anxiety because they feel they ‘missed the memo’ on public speaking or they are lacking because they do not have a natural stage presence. Not true!

Stage presence and public speaking are skills you need to be taught—very few people have them naturally. 

Watch our video below to learn the 7 steps to overcome stage fright and beat performance anxiety:

Here are all the aspects of public speaking you can master.

  • How to make a first impression with an audience
  • How to have stage presence
  • Powerful body language
  • How to speak with a commanding voice
  • What to do with your hands while speaking

For every speaking skill you add to your toolbox, the less speaking anxiety you will feel.

If you want help really diving into your presentation skills, be sure to sign-up for our course…

pointing in photos

Master Your People Skills

  • Create a Memorable Presence
  • Communicate with Confidence
  • Achieve Your Goals

Have a question about the presentation or People School? Email Science of People support.

Valedictorian Speech Examples

High School Valedictorian Speech Template

This template uses Nancy Duarte’s 4-step outline of what could be and a promise for a new norm. 

What Is:

  • Include funny or interesting pop culture and world events.
  • Add an anecdote for humor.
  • Tie it to your chosen theme.

Over the last four years, we have been devastated by the unacceptable ending of Game of Thrones, faced a global meltdown, and fought for #FreeBritney. And while most of us won’t remember the limits, differentiation, and integration needed for Calculus—sorry, Mrs. Meyers—we have learned what it means to persevere in the face of personal and global challenges. 

What Could Be: Use the theme to point to something positive you can attain as a class.

As we leave this point, we look forward to an uncertain but beautiful future. Despite the obstacles we may face, there is so much opportunity in front of us. 

What Is: Give some anecdotes of accomplishments and awards from your class. Include names and make the stories specific but concise. 

I know this because I’ve seen you overcome obstacles and accomplish big and small things. We’ve been inspired by the likes of Larry Owen, who showed great tenacity while recovering from his life-threatening football injury; the kindness of Jill Knight, our class president, who spearheaded the fundraiser to help hungry children; and so many others. When we raised money for Ukrainian refugees, we learned that each of us has the power to impact the world when we work together. 

What Could Be: Drive home the theme again.

That power doesn’t stop when we leave this school. As we make decisions about the future, we enter the world with our eyes wide open, determined to make the changes required to secure our future and care for our earth. 

What is: Transition into thanking anyone who needs to be thanked, and include anyone you are grateful for. Be specific about why you are thanking them, and have a quick anecdote if it’s relevant. 

On behalf of myself and my fellow graduates, I want to thank some of the people who have brought us here. 

Mr. Knitt taught us to think about the consequences of our actions. That’s a lesson I didn’t enjoy, but one I won’t forget. 

Mr. Owen was always there when we needed someone to talk to, and he taught us that it’s essential to listen even when we don’t know what to say. 

Ms. Jackson may have had the most challenging quizzes, but she also encouraged us to push ourselves to accomplish more than we thought possible. A big thank you to all teachers, administrators, and our families. 

Promise/New Norm: Close with any final thoughts, and include a quote if you like. 

Today, we graduate! As we go out from this place, I want to leave you with this quote from Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the emperor of Rome. 

“Never let the future disturb you. If you have to, you will meet it with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” 

Class of —! 

College Valedictorian Speech Template

This template uses the 3-part outline of thank, reflect, and inspire. 

Gratitude: Start your speech with something funny, like a quote or something attention-grabbing, then lead into thanking the people who have helped you get to where you are.

The comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.” 

Each of us is on the path to becoming somebody, and we are thankful for the teachers, administrators, and family who have shown us glimpses of who we can become. 

Reflect: Reflect on the past and how that interfaces with the future. Think about what you have learned from the time you spent getting your degree. 

Unexpected moments of both uncertainty and joy filled the past four years. As you look back at the late-night studying, the endless papers, and the assigned reading, you should be proud of what you have accomplished. 

You have invested in your future, and now your future is suddenly not far off but within your reach. 

It’s a bit scary, isn’t it? We’ve worked so hard to reach this moment, but it’s not the end of the journey; it is only the start of a new adventure. 

What can we take with us as we go out into the world? What lessons have we learned that will carry us forward? 

During my time at ___ University, I’ve realized that success is not my GPA, my social status, or even my potential to get a job in my career of choice. I’ve learned the people who influence the world are those who prioritize kindness and strength of character. People like Professor Scoggins, who invested in me, pushing me further than I thought possible, and like Mr. Robbins, who does maintenance on campus—he always has a kind word for anyone who stops to talk to him. 

I am more confident today, not because I hold a degree in my hands, but because of the friendships I have formed and the obstacles I have overcome. 

Inspire: Use the lessons learned from the past to inspire your fellow graduates to go into the world and embrace the future. 

Let us not pursue success and recognition as we go into the future. Instead, let us pursue kindness and generosity, believing each person to be valuable and worthy of our respect. 

I leave you with this quote from Bob Marley: “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.” 

Thank you, everyone, and congratulations! 

Get Inspired By Great Speeches

When writing your speech, think about what makes you unique. Instead of confining yourself to an expected template, use your personality and giftings to create a memorable speech.  

Everyone appreciates humor; if you can make your audience laugh, you’ll leave a lasting impression. Make the humor meaningful, like this Harvard speech. They playfully talk about how to remember the past while moving into the future.

If you can’t be funny, be passionate. This speech from a Plano Senior High School Graduation isn’t amusing but filled with passion and encouragement. In under five minutes, Hana Lone recalls some of the shared memories of the graduating class and motivates listeners to be successful and kind people. 

Bonus Speech: What Not to Do

As you prepare your speech, remember it’s not an autobiography of your accomplishments or experiences. A great valedictorian speech is about your shared experience as a class. While Rory Gilmore’s address from The Gilmore Girls made us all cry, it’s a great example of what NOT to do in real life. Not everyone has a shared interest in you and your success, so skip the self-focus and keep your speech directed to your graduating class. 

Cheat Sheet of Inspirational Quotes 

If you can’t think of anything inspiring to say, an inspirational quote never fails to be… inspiring. We’ve gathered some of the best quotes to use in your speech. 

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. —Eleanor Roosevelt, Diplomat & activist

The future depends on what we do in the present. —Mahatma Gandhi, Lawyer and activist

Stop being a prisoner of your past. Become the architect of your future. —Robin Sharma, Canadian writer

We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. —Barack Obama, Former US president doing the best at this moment, puts you in the best place for the next moment. —Oprah Winfrey, Talk show host & businesswoman

Success isn’t always about ‘greatness.’ It’s about consistency. Consistent, hard work gains success. —Dwayne Johnson, Actor & businessman

We have a choice. To Live or To Exist. –Harry Styles, Singer-songwriter & actor

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present. —Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Roman emperor and philosopher

The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively. —Bob Marley, Singer-songwriter

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. —Coretta Scott King, Activist & civil right leaders

You have to expect things from yourself before you can do them. —Michael Jordan, a Professional basketball player

I’ve failed over & over & over again in my life & that is why I succeed. -–Michael Jordan, a Professional basketball player

You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get. -–Michael Phelps, a Competitive swimmer

It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. —Babe Ruth, a Professional baseball player

Now that you know how to write your speech, learn how to deliver it. Use these 15 Science-Based Public Speaking Tips to Be a Master Speaker.

Watch our video below to learn how to work a stage like a pro!

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