For many Lodians, graduating from high school is the one rite of passage we all have in common. We all can remember the polyester gowns, high heels sinking into the grass at the Grape Bowl and sitting through what felt like endless speeches. The moment after turning our tassels and tossing our caps, the words of those speeches were largely forgotten. But a few nuggets of truth found their way into our memories. Speakers have inspired us. They’ve made us think.
In the midst of the graduation flurry around town this week, here’s a closer look at commencement speeches. We’ve gathered sage advice from former local graduates as well political figures and professionals from across the nation. There are also tips on delivering the perfect commencement address, and a list of memorable movie commencements.
Even if you’re not graduating from anything this spring, let the spirit of commencement set off a spark in you.
What goes into a great speech?
Lodi’s master toastmaster Jim Caughran shares his tips
Jim Caughran, current master at arms of the Lodi Toastmasters, has some simple advice on what makes a great commencement speech.
“Keep it short, put in some humor, and don’t take yourself too seriously,” he said.
Caughran doesn’t remember much from his own graduation speeches except that they were long, tedious and boring. He says it’s because they never took a Toastmasters lesson. Below, he answered a few questions on how to deliver a decent speech.
Q: What topics should you avoid?
A: Keep politics out of it. Politics and religion are two subjects that need to be left to preachers and politicians.
And sex, of course. There’s probably enough testosterone floating around the audience already.
Pretty much everything else is on the table.
Q: What are some safe topics to cover?
A: The economy is probably a pretty decent thing to talk about.
Or higher education, thinking in detail what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.
Q: What should you do if you make a mistake?
A: Just remember, the people you’re going to speak to have no idea what you’re going to tell them. If you make a mistake, just go on like you didn’t.
There’s no need to be perfect because the people you’re talking to have no idea.
Q: How long should a speech be?
A: Typically five to seven minutes. Most of these have some kind of time frame. Anything over 15 minutes is out of line. Regardless of the length, memorize it. You can have some notes, but that speech ought to come right out of your head.
Q: What if the audience seems distracted?
A: For a commencement speech, they’re not really interested in what you’re saying. They didn’t spend 12 years in school to listen to what you’ve got to say for 10 minutes.
Q: What should a speaker do when they freeze up in the middle?
A: Stop; take a deep breath, just pause for a few seconds. Don’t say anything, think about what you’re going to say, and then continue on.
The problem is that when people get lost, they “um” and “ah” to keep the audio going. It doesn’t need to. Did you know that people who leaned English as a second language don’t um and ah? This is something we’ve learned as we’ve grown.
Q: How do you avoid “ums” and “ahs”?
A: We learn to watch for those; some speakers are just atrocious.
Record yourself practicing your speech. Listen to it and listen carefully. Become aware of “ums,” “ahs,” and perhaps be more guarded about saying them.
Interested in a Toastmasters lesson? Lodi Toastmasters meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at 1510 W. Kettleman Lane in the Century 21 M&M and Associates office.
Past words of wisdom from local grads
“If I said I’d tweet you from my iPhone and follow up on Facebook, you’d have no idea what I was talking about. Last year, we could only vote on the class president, and next year we can vote on the president of the United States.”
— Taylor Lee, Lodi High School senior class president, Class of 2011
“Tonight is a celebration of success. Take a moment and thank yourselves. You’ve all reached a milestone in life.”
— George Neely, Lodi High School graduation, 2011
“You always have to have a backup plan. That’s why we are here tonight.”
— Estrellita High School Principal Antonio Lara, 2011
“Life is a highway, and we’ve been speeding through clubs, sports. We’ve hit that off-ramp. We’ve arrived at our exit: graduation.”
— Hailey MacLeod, Galt High School valedictorian, Class of 2011
“Let’s be careful who we allow to be our navigator. Have a great future, or not. The choice is yours.”
— Hailey MacLeod, Galt High School valedictorian, Class of 2011.
“There is no luck. We can all be champions at something.”
— Ashley Hurst, Galt High School Valedictorian, Class of 2010
“We can’t make excuses. We’ve been given a great opportunity.”
— Erica Dickerson, Independence High School valedictorian, Class of 2010
“This is our last chance to say those things we've neglected to say over the years,”
— Imani Hampton Tokay High studentbody president, 2004
“Dare to be different. Follow your heart — don’t just follow the crowd.”
— Mia Shanholzer Lodi High valedictorian Class of 2005
“I want nothing more in the whole world than for you to be happy. That’s what it's all about,”
— Megan Spence, Lodi High School valedictorian, class of 2008
Famous people say the darndest things
Where celebs and politicians are speaking this year
Jane Lynch, of “Glee” fame, delivered the address for Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
“If life gives you lemons, grab it by the horns and drive.”
President Barack Obama spoke at Barnard College in New York City.
“It’s up to you to hold the system accountable and sometimes upend it entirely. It’s up to you to stand up and be heard, to write, and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote. Don’t be content just to sit back and watch.”
He will also speak at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
First lady Michelle Obama delivered the address at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University.
“I also want to stress that your job title and responsibilities, those things are merely what you do, and they will always be. They are not who you are.”
She will give another speech at Oregon State University in Oregon.
Journalist Katie Couric spoke at the University of Virginia.
“Life can deal you some crushing blows, and we all need a deep reserve of resilience to survive,” she said. “Losing someone is also a reminder that life is short and fragile. We are all terminal. And that’s why we have to be grateful for the time we have and savor the joy that comes our way.”
Screenwriter known for “West Wing” and films like the “Social Network,” Aaron Sorkin spoke at Syracuse University in New York.
“Rehearsal’s over. You’re going out there now, you’re going to do this thing. How you live matters. You’re going to fall down, but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.”
Mitt Romney spoke at Liberty University in Lynchburg Va.
“Moral certainty, clear standards, and a commitment to spiritual ideals will set you apart in a world that searches for meaning.”
Brian Williams spoke at George Washington University.
“You don’t actually have to build a rocket or go into space, but please take us somewhere. Please keep us moving. Push us, lift us up. Make us better. Remember this, as I leave you, again as of today, you’ve achieved what I could not.”
Oprah Winfrey delivered the speech at Spelman College in Atlanta.
“You must have some kind of vision for your life, even if you don’t have a plan,” she encouraged graduates.
“Do the right thing, even when other people think it may not be.”
Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, delivered the address at Boston University.
“People bemoan this generation that is growing up living life in front of screens, always connected to something or someone. These people are wrong. They’re absolutely wrong.
The fact that we’re all connected now is a blessing, not a curse, and we can solve many, many problems in the world as a result.”
Best movie speeches
Here’s the perfect lineup for a movie marathon this weekend. All have compelling commencement speakers from eighth grade to college.
‘Legally Blonde,’ 2001
Blonde sorority girl follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard to get him back, but learns there is more to herself than pink high heels.
“This is going to be just like senior year, only funner!”
‘Reality Bites,’ 1994
Generation X graduates face life after college.
“I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23.”
“Honey, all you have to be by the time you’re 23 is yourself.”
‘Say Anything,’ 1989
An underacheiver falls for the beautiful valedictorian the summer before she heads to college.
“Nobody thinks it will work, do they?”
“No. You just described every great success story.”
‘Billy Madison,’ 1995
An immature, lazy man must repeat grades 1 to 12 to inherit his father’s hotel empire.
“Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
‘Patch Adams,’ 1998
A medical student in the ’70s uses humor to treat patients.
“Now, you have the ability to keep me from graduating. You can keep me from getting the title and the white coat. But you can’t control my spirit, gentlemen. You can’t keep me from learning, you can’t keep me from studying. So you have a choice: You can have me as a professional colleague, passionate, or you can have me as an outspoken outsider, still adamant. Either way, I’ll probably still be viewed as a thorn. But I promise you one thin: I am a thorn that will not go away.”
A young man has a disease that makes him age 10 times faster than normal, and enrolls in school.
“You know, as we come to the end in this phase of our lives, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry, thinking, ‘What am I going to do? Where am I going to be in ten years?’ But I say to you, ‘Hey! Look at me!’ Please, don’t worry so much.”
‘Ghost World,’ 2001
Social outsiders play a mean prank on a middle aged geek after they graduate high school.
“High school is like the training wheels for the bicycle of real life. It is a time when young people can explore their different fields of interest and hopefully learn from their experiences.”