Your Keynote Speech

You received a call from your alma mater and they want you to be the keynote speaker at graduation. Write a speech that inspires the future generation to work toward their dreams.

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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18 thoughts on “Your Keynote Speech

  1. tlcall01

    With the unemployment rate at an all-time low, the economy in shambles, and many of our tax dollars going to support a meaningless, greedy war, NOW would be the time to follow your dreams. And I don’t mean the dreams of your parents or the dreams of your teachers or the dreams of your peers; I mean the crazy dreams in YOUR head. If you want to spend the next year back packing around Europe, sleeping in hostels, exploring the world, DO IT. If you want to save up money before going off to graduate school, donning a tight shirt, short shorts, strutting your stuff at HOOTERS, DO IT. If you want to lay around in your pajamas all day, trying your luck at the poker tables, filing your lungs with cigarette smoke and your liver with alcohol, by all means, DO IT.

    For TODAY it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how much you strive to succeed, or how willing you are to go the distance. What matters TODAY is the wealth and privilege into which you are born, what matters is if you won the genetic lottery and are tall and thin enough to be plastered on the cover of Vogue magazine, what matters is if you know the right people and got handed that golden ticket which landed you into the middle of a world you had no more right to be in than anyone else.

    When I was a graduating senior, they told me to forget my dreams of traveling the world. “Go to college, and you’ll be guaranteed a good job.” Upon receiving my diploma, I was told, “Graduate school is your best option. Get your higher degree and doors will open to you.” Upon earning my Master’s, I was told that landing a good postdoc would guarantee me a good position within a company or institution. Many years later, I found myself with a useless piece of paper in hand, tens of thousands of dollars in debt, raising babies, while too broke, too busy, too reliant on that first paying job (where I made < $30,000 a year for all my schooling) to travel or to enjoy my early years.

    So here I stand today, and BEG you to follow your dreams. I was invited here today to inspire you to work toward your dreams: work, follow, potato, pot-ah-toe, DO WHATEVER THE HELL MAKES YOU HAPPY.

    So follow your dreams, the dreams of the young and invincible, not the dreams of the naive. Don’t be duped into believing that you will ever amount to anything beyond what you are now. You are at your prime and it’s all downhill from here. Go out, get drunk, fuck each other, and enjoy because once you are stuck in that dead-end job, once you are trapped in that loveless marriage, you won’t remember what it is like to dream. Dreams are for the young, they are for people like you, today… so go out and get ‘em.

  2. egg

    I rather suspect that a number of future, influential people sit amongst you tonight, so I’ll try my best to be brief lest I annoy you, and you come back to haunt me in my twilight years.

    If I am fortunate enough to make the twilight years, I calculate that I’ll be entering that phase of my life in approximately forty-six years. That means that I’m almost half way there. Perhaps you are about half-way through that again. So people my age should be at least twice as ‘accomplished’ as you, right?

    Let’s explore that thought through the topic of my talk tonight: time.

    Ask yourself this. Where would you like to be in ten, twenty or thirty years? Now where do you truly believe you will be, all things considering? Hopefully the two answers are closely aligned and you’re on your way to achieving your dreams, even if they may change a hundred times in the course of your lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, dreams are not always easy to achieve. In fact, dreams are seldom easy to achieve. Life is full of those quirky little things called challenges which, unfortunately, are not doled out by the hands of fate equally or even fairly.

    Figure skater and Olympic gold medalist, Scott Hamilton once said, “it’s not how you fall; it’s what you do after you get up.” Take a minute to think of the people throughout history and throughout the world whom you admire and respect. Benjamin Franklin? Amelia Earhart? Steven Spielberg, perhaps? I doubt that any of your heroes, whoever they might be, never fell. Franklin’s family had little money for his education; Earhart’s father was an alcoholic; Spielberg felt the pressure of his religion. Sure, they had problems that may have tripped them, but boy, look at what they’ve achieved since they got up!

    My message to you tonight is simple: next time you hear yourself saying to yourself or others, “I can’t because of……,” the government, your home life, finances, or heaven forbid, not enough time, think of the thousands of inspirational figures who thought to themselves, “I can….” and who did.

    Whatever your dreams are, whatever you think will make you great; always remember that you have exactly the same number of hours at your disposal each day as every single one of your heroes. Luckily we live in a free country; your time is your own to do with as you will. You can stay down when you fall, or you can jump up and march on as stronger person. It’s your choice.

    Your presence here tonight demonstrates that you’re part of that special group of individuals who are willing to work hard to pursue their dreams. Congratulations, you’re on your way.

    Thank you for your precious time this evening. Goodnight.

  3. smallPencil

    “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Let FDR’s famous words be the machete you swing to knock the undergrowth of obstacles out of you way in life. Fear is the one thing that holds you back. Let it keep you fettered, and your goals will remain out of reach. Cut it away, and you will be free to fly to them. They say procrastination is the thief of time. Well, procrastination is a mask. Can you guess who wears it? That’s right. Just ask any expert. Procrastination is born of the fear of failure. Do not be afraid to fail. Be bold. Any good basketball player will tell you that you miss 100% of the shots you never take. So why not take them all? If the worst that can happen is that you miss anyway? You may be thinking to yourself that I am throwing an awful lot of cliché’s out. Well, that is done by design. Look at what lies at the root of all of these cliché’s, fear. The proliferation of verbiage compelling us to fight past our fear is evidence of it’s ubiquity within the ranks of the devils who try to keep us from realizing true fulfillment. Fear stands between you and all things good. It stands in the way and attempts to force you to question your righteous path. Will grad school bury you in debt? If you apply for that promotion, will you incur the boss’ ire? Will the novel you want to write be turned away by the publishers? Will she say no? Many will tell you that these are good considerations for the cautious. I say, they are useless to you and your goals. These sorts of questions are the weapons of fear. Turn them aside with the armor of confidence. Push past fear and continue down the path to your goals. Trample fear beneath the soles of your shoes.

    Do this and it will help you in your interpersonal relations as well. If you look with a trained eye, you will notice that fear is the weapon of choice for anyone who wishes to hold you back, or control you. They will say things like, “there is no way you can do that,” or “well, I can’t be with a man who does this”. Remember, self -confidence is your shield against these assaults. Use it here, too. Smash through the fear fetters of the people around you. And you will rise to heights that will make them afraid.

    Do not let fear be your thief. Do not let fear be your cage. Steal it away, break it. And you will be standing face-to-face with your dreams.

    Thank you for allowing me to speak here today. It has been a great honor. Good night, and do not be afraid to ask me any questions after!

  4. pstivers

    I remember when I sat where you are, listening less than enthusiastically to the speaker, hoping he’d make it short so I can get on with my life. I would imagine most of you are thinking along those same lines, so I promise to make it short.
    What you’ve accomplished here will always be a cornerstone in your life. However, the years of learning, training, and preparing for the real world do not end here.
    The academics you’ve learned over the years do not just give you a leg to stand on as you begin competing for careers. They are also tools that enable you to better interact with society, and portray yourself as a responsible and capable individual.
    These tools are applicable in any society that you may find yourself. So whether you stay local to make your way, end up in another country, or someplace in between, do not doubt that you are prepared to embrace and interact with all that life has to offer.
    Most of you have already experienced to some degree the gamut of life’s turns. Your baseball team made it to the playoffs, but did not win the championship. The exhilaration of achieving so much and the sorrow at just missing the mark are real possibilities in life. Now you know that both achievements and failures are temporary moments you move on from. Some of you have lost close friends or relatives, but managed to push on through the loss and mourning to make it here today. Now you know that you can suffer a loss, and still rejoin the never ending pace of life in motion. And that’s what life is: motion. It doesn’t stop. The world will continue to move regardless of what action you do or don’t take. So make the most of your actions.
    In closing, I encourage you to become all that you can and always strive to become better; for yourself and for the society that you affect. Whatever you end up doing, always continue to learn. Not just from school, but from your interactions with work, socializing, travels, whatever. Ensure that you always can identify something that adds to who you are. Always bear in mind that your success as an individual is not always gauged by financial gain or independence. It is also marked by the influence you have on those around you.
    With that, I would like to thank you for allowing me to address you. I am proud of you all. Your accomplishments give me hope for the success of the new generation. Now, you are the thoroughbred at the starting gate and it has just flung open. Good luck and God speed.

  5. Sapna

    Mis Amigos, you have gone through years of serious study and discussion, dates and heartbreaks, exams and late-night cramming, rule-breaking and confessions, and hopefully come out wiser.

    1. Sometimes, when life really sucks, no one will or may be able to help you: your parents, best friends, siblings, partner, God, a psychopath, not even the so-called self-help books. All through your life, YOU have to be your OWN best friend, no matter what. Every day, before going to bed, I imagine two images of myself- like identical twins- hugging each other, one telling the other, “Darling, you are still my favourite. The world may be pissed and demented, but for me, you rock!!! I love you.”

    2. ‘Why be great and exceptional when you can be yourself?’
    You may disagree, but why kill YOURSELf to be some ideal of great and good and exceptional that society wants you to be, a job in a multinational or a university admissions board wants you to be? We are not machines to be churned out by factories. So why kill the INNER YOU to be ‘a highly motivated, dynamic, brilliant, ‘natural’ leader who has sacrificed her inner interests and hobbies to demonstrate a well rounded personality with exceptionally high academic records, excelling in a ton of extra-curricular activities and volunteering experiences’? Compare a scenario where a person volunteers with an NGO to gain a certificate with a person who does it out of a sheer sense of helping others. Is it worth it for a Harvard or a Goldman Sachs?

    3. Some may seek job satisfaction, some may want lots of money. Both ARE NOT wrong. Some may love their books, others their looks; one is not deep and the other is not shallow. If some stupid self-help book is advising you that going after money is wrong, please don’t listen to them. Make those decisions in life that satisfy you the most. If you want a low-paying but highly satisfying job (assuming you have an inheritance), go for it and vice versa. And if you can balance both satisfaction and money in the same job, you are one lucky chap!!!

    4. Don’t listen to popular wisdom that doesn’t apply to YOU. I give an example in the art of writing. Robert Masello has quoted in his book, ‘Robert’s Rules of writing’ (selected by Barnes and Noble as a Back-to-School Essential), “For every writer who writes in the morning, there’s one who writes only at night. For every writer who plows ahead, never looking back, there’s one who agonizes over every word and cannot go forward without polishing every syllable that has come before it. For every writer who works from an elaborate outline, there’s one who flies by the seat of his pants.” Books and guides on writing advise plenty, but break the rule when it doesn’t feel right for you. What works for your role-model may not work for you.

    5. You don’t have to listen to this advice.

  6. KKMMA

    You’ve heard it said that you should follow your dreams. Well, dreams are funny things and following them is not always the easiest path to take. I’m sure most of you had childhood dreams of what you wanted to be when you grew up. Some of you may be following those same dreams and are about to embark on the career you always wanted. Some of you may have completely different dreams now than you did as a child. Some of you may still have no idea what you want to do when you grow up. That’s right, I’m saying you’re not grown up yet. But that’s okay. Neither am I. That’s a secret you may not have learned thus far in life – you should never stop growing up. And you should never want to grow up completely.

    There is always room for growth, always something new to learn or experience. You should continually try to seek out that which inspires a childlike sense of wonder or excitement in you. Many of you here today have earned degrees in fields which do inspire and excite you. Some of you may have chosen a field on a different basis, such as what may be the most lucrative or the most in demand in the job market. Some of you may be interested in one field now and in the future discover your interests have come to lie elsewhere altogether. And some of you may be excited now, but several years down the road may find yourself rather uninspired. I say this, not to discourage you, but to let you know that’s okay. That’s how we grow and learn. When you find you’re no longer being excited or inspired, find something that does inspire you. That is what following your dreams is all about.

    And dreams can change. There is no rule that says to follow your dreams you must become what you wanted to be as a child. I mean, face it. Not all of us are meant to be astronauts or firemen or actresses or ballerinas. Or even doctors or lawyers or teachers or whatever else you’ve been told is a “practical” career path. And not all of you are meant to always follow the path you’re on now. Some of you, like me, may years from now discover a new dream, a dream that is actually in direct opposition to how you felt as a child and how you feel now. Again, that’s okay. We all have things we’re passionate about. Let your passions guide you. Let the path you’re on right now shape you and grow you, but don’t let it trap you or hinder you. If you are passionate about what you’re doing, great – keep doing it. But if you’re not or in the future realize your passion has changed, then find what does inspire your wonder and passion and pursue that. You can always alter the direction of your path. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  7. rberthier

    Last month, I made a surprise visit to my high school Alma mater and since there was a Nutrition Week assembly, I was asked to give a speech. One good thing about an unprepared speech is that you speak from the heart of issues that you strongly believe in; and for me, these are hard work, honesty, generosity and simplicity.

    When I was 16 years old like most of you and wearing that same uniform, my Dad announced I got a scholarship. I had a mixed feeling: happy because I could go to college but sad to leave my family and friends. As condition of the scholarship, I had to do a degree I hadn’t heard of in a province where I didn’t speak the local dialect. I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you if I refused that scholarship. Having no regular income, my parents asked help from their relatives for our traveling expenses. Dad didn’t have money to stay even just for a night, so he left me with less than a dollar until my stipend arrived a fortnight’s later. I survived through the generosity of other students.
    Every time we’re in the Philippines, I try to come here because many things have remained unchanged: the warm and friendly environment, accommodating teachers and staff, and happy looking students in their clean, nicely-ironed uniforms.
    I would not have written a book on intellectual giftedness if you, my teachers, didn’t recognize, encourage and reward my giftedness. Your principal, my ex-Math teacher, used to give me a pile of test papers to mark after examinations. This, and other extra-curricular tasks, contributed significantly to my confidence and worthiness.

    You may not be all professional, married, have children and go overseas, but you all have the chance to be successful. Success is relative and means different things to different people. My idea of success is seeing my husband and children happy and in good health. Several of my friends use material possessions as yardstick of success. Some people find fulfillment in saving lives and feeding the poor.

    It’s possible to achieve your dream but you’ve to be realistic and work hard towards it, humbly help and gratefully accept help, and don’t feel sorry for yourself when faced with disappointments – instead get up or knock again as this makes you better.

    In 1976, I gave a valedictory address to this school. I can’t remember what I said except the need to have a goal. Today, having been through the educational and employment processes and got results, I say to you “having a goal is not enough … act now”: network, research, study… and don’t forget to have fun along the way. We go skiing twice a year, and I believe it’s challenging before and tiresome after skiing, but what is exciting is the going up and down the slopes”.

    Congratulations and best of opportunities to all of you.

  8. Bkelsch

    CONGRATULATIONS to each and every one of you. Hard work, perseverance and choices have brought you to this very spot right now. You have graduated and you have made it! Yes, you made it, to the end, and to the beginning. That is the circle, the circle of life, endings and beginnings with so many choices in between. Every choice will affect the next stage of your life.

    I envy all of you with so many new choices ahead of you. It’s easy to say make your choices wisely but so often that means “choose safely”. You are young, intelligent, vibrant and resilient so take a chance; the safest choice is not always the best choice. . Put yourself in charge of your own destination. Make your choices based on your own definition of success. Choose your mentors wisely because they can help you to design the roadmap to your destination. Excluding the obvious self-destructive choices, there are really no bad choices. Bad choices are simply learning opportunities and I only mention this because not all choices end in the expected result. Don’t let that make you afraid to make risky choices, some of the greatest success stories involve some of the biggest risks.

    Right now is the time to go out and celebrate your success, the end of one part of your educational journey. You deserve to celebrate this huge milestone, grab every moment of fun, pat yourselves on the back until your arms break! This is a great time and a great moment. The world is waiting for the impact you will make, no pressure, but we expect big things from you. You are very important. The greatest success that you can have is to remember that the person next to you, behind you and 2000 miles away is just as important as you are.

    As we celebrate this astounding achievement that you have earned, we wish you the greatest success, happiness and the most interesting journey that you can concoct for the rest of your long lives.

  9. Nana Serwaa

    First of all, let me congratulate you on your graduation. I know the next thing on every graduate’s mind is to find a job. Finding a job is good but will any job get you closer to your dream? Please think long and hard before jumping into any job lest you become frustrated. Do not be lured into a job because of money, sometimes money isn’t enough. You need to be happy with what you do and want to wake up every morning to do it. You may have some set-backs but when you love what you do, there’s no stopping you. Reflect on these words by Po Bronson – “Failure is hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.” May God be with you as you choose your paths. All the best!

  10. nimia_isf

    Good day to you all!
    It is a great privilege to be invited today as your keynote speaker. It is also an awesome responsibility.
    I do not wish to bore you so I promise to make this speech brief but big on advice.
    So, what words of wisdom do I impart to you, dear graduates?
    Well, let that word be our acronym for easy recall – WISDOM!
    W stands for work hard, play hard. Most who are fresh from college swear to sweat it out early in their career. That’s good! But don’t forget to play, party and put your foot up to rest. You must avoid burning out before your fire is extinguished.
    I means I shall do my best without being a perfectionist. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Otherwise, you might end up in a mental institution. I should know. Been there, done that.
    S is share yourself to the world. It needs your skills, talents, drive, ideas, and yes, your presence. Just being around should be seen as your gift to all that you meet – at work, in social circles, and most especially, to your family.
    D of course means dream on. This place would not have seen much progress were it not for dreamers, dreamers like you and me. Reach for whatever that dream is, so long as it is not detrimental to others or harmful to yourself.
    O – open yourself to opportunities that come your way. Better still, actively seek those doors of opportunities and don’t just stand there! Boldly open them! For opportunities are not for the weak of heart but for the strong of will.
    M is for “mantra”. If you haven’t one already, I suggest you adopt mine. My personal mantra all these years is “Everyday in every way, I am getting better and better!” Yes, the desire to improve on a daily basis starts with the mind. Let this thought be ingrained in your brain not only because it rhymes, but also because it works!
    So there you are, W – work hard, play hard. I – I shall do my best without being a perfectionist. S – share yourself to the world. D – dream on. O – open yourself to opportunities. M – mantra, “Everyday in every way, I am getting better and better”.
    Let me end with a story.
    Once upon a time, there was a young, beautiful, talented and intelligent woman who graduated from this very university. Because she finished with honors, magna cum laude, she was able to work for the best and biggest companies in the country. But like everybody, she experienced trials and tribulations – a failed marriage and illnesses such as diabetes, osteoporosis, bi-polar mood disorder, and lately, multiple myeloma or cancer of the bone marrow. Hence, she has been in and out of hospitals. Armed with the very words I shared with you today, she has survived and continues to survive.
    Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at that survivor.
    Welcome to the world! Thank you!

  11. LaMont Prospect

    LaMont Prospect
    8/17/11 Weekly prompt–Keynote Speaker 495 words
    I would like to begin by thanking the university for this opportunity to address this year’s
    graduates. I came here today to speak to you about the importance of dreams–or at least the way
    we think about dreams–and how they can affect your life and your future. In the dictionary,
    Webster defines a dream as “a series of images or thoughts passing through the mind during
    sleep.” I’d like you to take a moment to think about what a dream is? Depending upon who you
    are, a dream can have different meanings. For some, it may just be a fantasy or a way of getting
    through the day without having to face reality. For others, a dream can be much, much more.
    Let’s think for a moment about why we dream and what a dream can mean for you as an
    individual. For example, if you are a musician, your dream may be to go on tour and sell as
    many CD’s as you possibly can. If you are an actor, your dream may be to someday win an
    academy award for best actor. If you are an athlete, your dream may be to win a
    championship—perhaps several. If you are a writer, you may dream of going on tour and selling
    millions of copies of your book. I guess you could say that dreams are a very personal thing.
    Since our time here together is short, I will cut to the chase by saying that no matter what you do,
    no matter how much adversity you face in life to never give up and to never stop dreaming. I am
    not going to stand here and tell you that now that you have your education that every day of your
    life is going to be wonderful or that things are always going to go smoothly. Life is not only
    about challenges but how you face them. Someone once said it is not what you go through in life
    but how you come out of it. For many of you, this process has just begun. Now is the time for
    you to find out who you are, what you are good at and ultimately what makes you happy in life.
    All I can say is that in order to find the answers to those questions—you must try. You will
    never find out who you are and what you are capable of by sitting around and thinking about it.
    You have to try. For those of you who already know who you are, what you want, and what
    makes you happy in life—may God Bless you. For many others of you here today, that quest has
    just begun. Whatever you do, don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop trying and stay away from people
    who say “that’s impossible…you’ll never do it.” They are only trying to keep you at their level.
    Go forward with the tools you now have and never stop dreaming.

  12. SkSarah

    I’m afraid this one is beyond me. It takes everything I have to inspire myself to get out of bed in the mornings, let alone several hundred know it all 20-somethings. Besides at that age anything is still possible. Dreams are still achievable. They haven’t had the cold, hard reality of life kick them in the teeth just yet. They’re the future leaders. Let them stand up and inspire me.


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