Commencement Speech Guidelines

The two resources below are made available for those considering auditioning a commencement speech.

Letter from Provost Alan Christy

Dear Cowell Seniors:

An important part of the annual Cowell College commencement ceremonies is the moment of speeches delivered by one or two members of the graduating class. The five-minute speeches provide an opportunity for the audience--your fellow graduands, your families, and the faculty and staff in attendance--to hear voices from the graduating class of Cowell College. I hope that you will consider preparing a speech for consideration by the speech selection committee.

By having one or two student speeches, we acknowledge the centrality of students in our educative enterprise. Although students cannot presume to speak for the whole class, the best speeches are ones that blend personal perspective with a sense of the significance of the moment. Commencement presents a natural time for expressing joy and gratitude. The occasion of the completion of your undergraduate degree also presents an opportunity to express reflections on the present and future life that you and your fellow students have and will lead.

The faculty and staff as well as the seniors who are helping to plan the ceremony offer their assistance to anyone who would like to develop a speech draft. Those who have been selected to speak are expected to work with me and some faculty members who provide editing and coaching help. Please contact Kara Snider, College Programs Coordinator (831-459-4655, klea@ucsc.edu) if you have any questions or if you wish to see previous speeches.

The entire Cowell community and I wish each of you the best as you reach the happy conclusion of your studies. May you always continue to seek the truth in the company of friends.

Sincerely yours,
Alan Cristy
Cowell College Provost

Tips for Writing an Effective Cowell Commencement Speech  

Brevity. You have only five minutes for your speech. Dawdling will kill your eloquence.

Occasion. It is a privilege to be chosen to speak on this occasion.  Put at least as much effort into preparing this speech as you would into writing a crucial class paper. The chosen speeches will be heard by over 3000 guests and participants. Show them your best work, because it is our best work.

Role of Speaker. Take your role seriously. You may not be speaking "for the whole class," but you are a representative of Cowell, speaking before the assembled faculty, family and friends, and fellow students, as well as before the Chancellor or his representative. A commencement speech should make the community proud.

Content. It is not enough to want to speak at the commencement ceremony; one must have something to say. We will be seeking considered reflections that result from your years of education at Cowell and UCSC. Your audience will be interested in hearing intelligence, passion and wit, as well as an able use of the English language and a deft handling of the essay form. Don't be pretentious or pompous, but write a speech that takes a subject, a tone, and a form appropriate to the day.

Content to avoid:
• Personal statements of gratitude to individuals or loyal family and friends unless they are also generalized as the shared experience of all those graduating.
• Memories about parties etc.
• Statements about how hard everyone has worked. These are obvious and worn.
• Apologies.
• Slang.


*NOTE: *Speeches chosen will be submitted to an editorial process for polishing. No matter how much effort you put into your text, be prepared to do what professional writers do: consider editorial changes to improve it. We look forward to your submission!