How to Give a Commencement Address—And Survive
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Congratulations! We’re happy to announce that you have been chosen to give the commencement address at our high school’s graduation ceremony, scheduled for this Saturday at 11 a.m.

Your name was given to us by a committee of highly respected civic leaders who all agreed that you would be the perfect person for the job. We know that you’ve never spoken in front of a large crowd before (to ease your mind, there will only be 457 graduating seniors and no more than 19,500 people in the audience), but we know you’ll do a great job.

Giving a commencement address—which is Latin for “speech that must be endured before going to the graduation party”—is not as hard as it looks, as long as you follow these Friendly Words of Advice (FWA):

FWA No. 1: Keep your speech short. Everybody in the audience will be watching their watches, hoping to make it home in time to see the start of the big race on ESPN. If you see them fidgeting halfway through your speech, the green flag is about to drop. Wrap it up quickly. There’s no need to anger a crowd of NASCAR fanatics.

FWA No. 2: Choose appropriate attire. Wearing a T-shirt, tennis shoes, and a baseball cap is great for mowing the yard but not for a graduation ceremony. Dress up. Wear a coat and tie. Nice clothes will help the graduates realize that their mall hopping, cow tipping, house egging, video game playing, secret text messaging, pant sagging days are coming to an end and that an endless stream of Monday mornings commuting to a job they hate but can’t quit because it helps pay the cable bill is about to begin. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but that’s life.

FWA No. 3: Tell a story. Adults are just kids in clean clothes, waiting to be told a good fairy tale. Tell them how you were brought up as a poor child on the wrong side of the tracks; how you changed your life after you saw a UFO hovering over Mike’s Pizza Emporium. Tell them about the path you took to becoming a CEO of a huge company that made billions by overcharging the French government for coffee cups and swizzle sticks. Tell them how you can no longer visit the Eiffel Tower—the spot where you proposed to your wife 30 years ago—because the French authorities are waiting to arrest you and cart you off to a prison where everybody knows how to speak English, but they pretend they don’t. Tell them a good story, no matter if it’s true or not. The crowd will love it and probably give you a standing ovation.

FWA No. 4: Don’t just read your speech; memorize what you want to say. Act it out. Be animated. This is the Generation X-Box Crowd. If you have to, throw a school board member to the ground and beat him senseless.

FWA No. 5: Don’t use unneeded words like “um,” “alright,” and “okay.” You can use them once or twice, but, after that, the audience will start keeping count and won’t listen to a word of your fabulous speech. And as they’re heading home, they’ll talk about you, saying things like, “Did you hear how many times that man said the word okay? I counted 517 times—in just 30 minutes. What a bozo.” And is that how you want to be remembered? Of course not.

FWA No. 6: Use appropriate vocabulary. Don’t try to impress the graduates with big words like incommodious and montmorillonite. They’ve just graduated, which means that two of them may be smarter than you. It’s best to use little words like fries, pickles, minimum wage, and Whopper with cheese.

And, last but not least, FWA No. 7: Be aware of what your hands are doing. You’ll be in front of a crowd of 20,000 people, each one of them with a video camera and a desire to win $100,000 on America’s Funniest Videos. Try not to pick your nose or check your zipper.

Again, we look forward to the wonderful words of wisdom that you will impart on our graduates. Your speech will set the tone for how these seniors view themselves, their friends, and the world around them for the remainder of their lives. That’s a lot of pressure, but we know you can handle it.

Again, congratulations and good luck.

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