Memorable Graduation Speech Themes

Use a Quote to Anchor Your Commencement Speech Message

Graduation speeches should center on a theme that the audience and graduates will remember.
Make the graduation memorable by delivering a great graduation speech. GETTY/: Frank Whitney

It's graduation night and the auditorium is filled to capacity The eyes of family, friends, and fellow graduates are on you. Everyone is waiting for you to make your speech. So, what message are you going to share?

How to Write a Powerful Speech

Consider logistics, purpose, and audience as you go to write your speech. Know what is expected of you before you decide what you'd like convey to your audience.


Figure out what your responsibilities are outside of just writing a great speech and be aware of any pertinent details. Answer the following questions before writing.

  • Is there a deadline for your speech? What is it?
  • What is your allotted time to speak (time limit and place in the program)? 
  • Where will you be speaking? Will you be able to practice there?
  • Will there be anyone in the audience that you need to acknowledge?
  • Who will be introducing you? Do you need to introduce anyone after your speech?

Be sure to practice your speech to work out any awkward phrasing or tongue twisters. Speak slowly and do your best to memorize it, even though you will probably have a copy with you during the ceremony.


Now determine the purpose of your speech. The goal of a graduation speech is generally to convey a message about your academic journey to the audience. Decide what central unifying idea you want to communicate to the people in the crowd about how you got here and how you've achieved success. Any anecdotes, quotes, stories, etc. should relate to this. Do not write a speech that is only about yourself and your achievements.


Keep in mind that each member of the audience at a graduation is probably only there for one member of the graduating class. Use your speech to bring everyone together through shared experiences. People of all ages and walks of life will be in attendance, so avoid the use of cultural references that target only a small portion of attendees. Instead, speak generally about the human experience and share stories that everyone can understand.

Above all, be tasteful. Use humor conservatively and do not, under any circumstances, condescend or otherwise disrespect fellow classmates, staff, or audience members. Remember that it's fine to be proud, but not conceited. In addition, be respectful of everyone's time and stick to your time limit.

Memorable Speech Topics

Now it's time to decide what your speech will be about. If you're in need of some direction, use one of these ten themes. Try using a quote to anchor your speech.

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Setting Goals

Graduate speaking on microphone
Write a graduation speech with a message the audience will remember. Inti St. Clair/ Photodisc/ Getty Images

The ability to set goals defines success. Frame your speech around the importance of setting goals for oneself using inspirational stories. Famous athletes, politicians, and other influential people are great options. Refrain from making this about yourself.

Conclude your speech by emphasizing that you should set goals throughout your life, not stopping when one success is achieved.


"What keeps me going is goals." - Muhammed Ali, professional boxer
"I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time." - Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer
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Taking Responsibility

Learning to take responsibility for your own actions is a very relatable theme. Without lecturing your audience or implying that you've learned all that there is to learn, explain to the crowd how you began to understand the importance of accountability.

A speech about taking responsibility can be about a mistake that you learned from or a challenge that grew you. Be careful not to place any blame on others for tribulations you've faced. Alternatively, talk about someone else's experiences.


"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."
- Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. president
"One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes...and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility."
- Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and former First Lady
"Those who enjoy responsibility usually get it; those who merely like exercising authority usually lose it." - Malcolm Forbes, publisher and entrepreneur
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Learning From Mistakes

The topic of mistakes is great for graduation speeches for a number of reasons. Mistakes are relatable, entertaining, and personal. Use a mistake that discouraged you, a mistake you ignored, or a mistake that you learned from as the theme of your speech.

No one can avoid making mistakes and you can really draw on this fact to relate to all members of the audience. Talking about your imperfections conveys humility and strength that everyone will appreciate. Conclude your speech by elaborating on how you have developed a healthier perspective of failure through mistakes.


"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." - Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph
"Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life." - Sophia Loren, actress
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Finding Inspiration

Graduation speeches are meant to be inspiring, especially for the graduating class. Appeal to your fellow classmates with a speech about people that did amazing things with their life to show them that they can achieve greatness too.

Inspiration isn't just for creative minds with a muse. Talk about anyone that has encouraged, influenced, motivated, or otherwise provoked you to be a better version of yourself. Share the experiences of people that make you feel inspired.


"Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working."
- Pablo Picasso, artist
"I want to have a cultural impact. I want to be an inspiration, to show people what can be done."
- Sean Combs, rapper and singer
"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great." - Zig Ziglar, author
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Graduation is the result of the extended hard work of all graduating students. While there are certainly varying degrees of academic success, everyone walking across that stage has achieved something great.

Although graduating takes dedication and persistence, it marks only the beginning of a lifetime of trial. But rather than focusing on how difficult life can be, share inspiring stories of endurance. Encourage every audience member, especially graduates, to persist in the face of challenges to come.

Everyone can relate to the experience of being knocked down and getting back up. A few moving anecdotes or quotes are sure to drive your message home.


"Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence." - Colin Powell, former U.S. politician and general
"Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence." - Ray Kroc, McDonald's franchising agent
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Having Integrity

With this theme, you can provoke audience members to think about what makes them who they are. Talk to them about what you feel it means to be a morally upright and reliable person—are there any people in your life that exemplify this?

The moral code that one lives by shapes who they are. Give your crowd an idea of what you value by speaking about someone you admire. Talk about the relationship between principles and success.


"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates, philosopher
"Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace." - Oscar Wilde, author
"I've learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values - and follow my own moral compass - then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own." - Michelle Obama, lawyer and activist
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The Golden Rule

This theme draws on a guiding principle taught to many from the time they are children: treat others how you want to be treated. This philosophy, known as the Golden Rule, is familiar to nearly everyone.

This speech theme is ideal for brief stories about people in the audience. Share narratives of exchanges that you have had with teachers, coaches, and fellow students to illustrate the compassion present just within your school walls. Let the crowd know how much people being empathetic toward you has changed your life.


“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” - Unknown
"We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.​" - Edwin Markham, poet
"We rise by lifting others." - Robert Ingersoll, writer
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Leaving the Past Behind

Graduation is often seen as the end of an era and the beginning of the rest of your life. Lean into this notion by sharing memories from high school or college and talking about how you plan to move forward.

Avoid making this speech all about you. Everyone has memories and experiences that have shaped them as well as goals for the future. This theme is unique because it allows you to combine touching stories from the past with hopes for tomorrow, but it can be easy to get caught up in talking about yourself if you're not careful.


"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." - Thomas Jefferson, 3rd U.S. president
"Past is prologue." - William Shakespeare's The Tempest
"If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future." - Winston Churchill, British politician
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Maintaining Focus and Determination

You might choose to talk about how focus and determination drive success. You can tell the audience stories about times during your academic career that required focus or even divulge a time that you were unfocused.

You don't need to try to convince the audience that determination makes a person successful, so just try to leave them with something to think about and/or entertain them with stories.


"It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light." - Aristotle
"You can focus on things that are barriers or you can focus on scaling the wall or redefining the problem." - Tim Cook, Apple CEO
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Setting High Expectations

Setting high expectations means establishing a clear path forward. Talk about times that stretched you outside of your comfort zone or times that you had to choose not to settle for less than the best.

You may choose to share examples of people with high expectations for themselves and others that are in the audience. Motivated classmates and teachers that push you are great options. Leave graduates thinking about what high expectations they will hold themselves to after graduation.


"Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal." - Mother Teresa, Catholic nun and missionary
"Set high standards and few limitations for yourself." - Anthony J. D'Angelo, motivational speaker and author
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Kelly, Melissa. "Memorable Graduation Speech Themes." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Kelly, Melissa. (2021, September 7). Memorable Graduation Speech Themes. Retrieved from Kelly, Melissa. "Memorable Graduation Speech Themes." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).