Saturday, July 2, 2022

Delivering a speech at a high school graduation

On 5/20/20, in Germany, I had the privilege of giving a speech at my daughter’s high school graduation. (It was the IB class, so the ceremony—like their classes—was in English.) 

photos: Oliver Maier

Prior to this, I had not heard of a high school inviting the parent of a graduating senior to speak at this rite of passage, but at my daughter’s school, it is an annual tradition. 

That doesn’t mean the students are excited about it. At that age, kids typically don’t love listening to their parents about even the simplest things. Therefore, my opening line was “Graduates of New York University this week got international Grammy-winning superstar Taylor Swift to speak at their graduation…and you get some random dad.”

I did what I do naturally: tell a story. It is, simply, the best way to immediately grab and retain an audience—kilometers more effective that platitudes. At first the true story I shared might have seemed like a terrible judgment call for the occasion—it’s a tragedy about a wildfire. But at the end, the point becomes clear. That segued into two other topics that at first seem disparate—a dancing man at a music festival and a book by a legendary Hollywood screenwriter—but I tied the three segments together in a way that made sense to me. 

Apparently, I misjudged my audience. I heard that they did enjoy it:

The experience tied together some of my greatest loves—my daughter, speaking to a live audience, and the chance to try to inspire young people. Thank you again, Louisenlund, for the opportunity.

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