Learning from the Commencement Address

How different people, speaking to different contexts, shape the message to connect

high school students graduates tossing up hats over blue sky.

What can we learn from the commencement address?  The graduation speech has a basic purpose: to encourage and congratulate students on the day of their graduation.  These days everything is recorded, so it is a great time to observe the oral presentations of some of the best speakers and celebrities of our day.

3 Aspects of a Speech to look at as you watch

  1. POINT:  What is the message that they are communicating?
  • Point – What are they talking about?
  • Purpose – What do they want you to do with the information?


2.  PERSON:  Who is speaking?

  • The person is part of the message.
  • As they speak, are they the hero or are they encouraging the listeners with their story?  There is a difference.
  • What do they bring that others don’t?  Credibility, perspective, knowledge, inspiration?

3.  PEOPLE:  Where and to whom are they speaking?

  • Context matters.  Are they speaking at Harvard, Liberty, or the United States Military Academy?
  • How do the speakers understand the unique context in which they are speaking?

We can look to the 2016 presidential candidates for an example.  They have each given thousands of speeches and been taught by the best.  Donald Trump (at Liberty University) and Hilary Clinton (at Wellesley College) both gave commencement addresses this year.  Both speeches are just over 3o minutes and as you watch them, look for the POINT, PERSON, and PEOPLE.

Setting politics aside, if you want to see how to bring humor into the equation, Will Ferrell’s address at USC  will enlighten you.  Pay special attention to his musical conclusion meant to bring inspiration to the graduates.

Today I watched two excellent, yet very different speeches given from different ends of the spectrum.  Both were presented at prestigious institutions by men, who themselves, have greatly excelled in their respective fields.

The first, was given by the Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis, at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The second is given by the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, at Harvard University.

What did you learn from the speeches?


  • What was the POINT being communicated?
  • How did the PERSON add to our take away from the point they were making?
  • Did the message connect with the PEOPLE to whom they were speaking?

Based on what you learned, how will it influence you as you speak?