Graduation speeches come in all shapes and sizes. Some call for action while others praise introspection. One can be funny while another is somber. These annual speeches can be inspiring or forgettable, sincere or snarky, hip or square. In short, they can be just about anything a graduation speaker can be.

One thing that graduation speeches usually have in common is that they offer students some kind of advice, even if it’s only not to take advice too seriously. What are graduation speakers talking about this year? Here’s a sampling of quotations from speeches delivered to 2016 high school graduates during their commencement ceremonies. There’s a little something for everyone.

“We come from a range of backgrounds and a diversity of mindsets. Yet we have learned to understand and empathize with others, even when their opinions differ from our own. If you sit in on any planning meeting at school, you will find members of this class effectively collaborating and compromising to plan everything from Homecoming to Senior Skip Day. (Not that that exists.) Members of this class have traveled across the country and across the globe together, learning more about each other and themselves along the way.

I think it is safe to say that because of these interactions and the ways in which we have helped each other to grow, we are not the same people that entered the upper school as wide-eyed freshman 1,369 days ago. If nothing else, we are a little bit taller and get in trouble for not shaving a lot more.”

William Epperson
Valedictorian, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School

“Perhaps our best teachers of simplicity are the flâneurs, a group of 19-century Frenchmen whose name I definitely cannot pronounce. Flâneur roughly translates to “stroller” or “loafer” and describes a class of urban explorers who would roam Parisian boulevards solely with the purpose of observation. The flâneur absorbed every detail, navigating modern society at a slow pace in order to better understand it.

I first learned about the flâneurs while racing through a French listening comprehension assignment this year, barely skimming answer choices long enough to catch a phrase about the flâneur’s favorite pet: the turtle. …Turtles seem much too sloth-like to keep up with today’s average family or exercise walker. But for the flâneurs, this was exactly the point. Their unhurried pets by their sides, they’d take leisurely walks through every corner of Paris, experiencing life quite literally at the pace of a turtle. I doubt they even needed leashes. … [W]e must remember that numbers aren’t everything. … It takes work for me to live at flâneur pace. Still, I encourage us all to find our turtles; to find the simple activities or objects that remind us to savor the moment.”

Katherine Charlotte Lee
Valedictorian, Lovett School

“If you polled all of my teachers on what I need to improve, it would unanimously be acting serious. I make way too many jokes and try to make everything funny – probably why my first speech got rejected. But for me, humor is necessary. Why be sad, when you can be happy? Why let others be sad, when you can make them laugh?”

Kyle Andrew Weil
Salutatorian, Riverwood International Charter School

“In life, things are not going to be how they used to be. …. Things change and are not always fair, and you have to be the ones that overcome it and make it the best it can be!”

Caroline Campbell
Weber School math teacher

“We all talk to ourselves and what we say to ourselves matters. Is it a positive voice, a negative voice, a critical voice, an encouraging voice? It may seem small or subtle, but how we speak to ourselves can have a huge impact on our lives.”
Matthew Kelly
Holy Spirit Preparatory School graduation speaker, in a preview of his address, scheduled for May 31

“Outside of the classroom, learning to get along with such a diverse group of people is the staple part of the Riverwood experience that I cherish most.  The laughs, roasts and tears we genuinely shared with each other – regardless of the color of our skin, who we worship, or how much money we have – will forever be embedded in our memories and form who we are.  In many ways these life experiences are more valuable than the piece of paper we are about to receive.”
Pascal Acree
Valedictorian, Riverwood International Charter School

Mike Reiss

“Having a good sense of humor doesn’t mean laughing at jokes you agree with; it means laughing at things you don’t agree with. And most importantly, it means laughing at yourself. If you’re a Hillary Clinton supporter, I hope that you can still laugh at Hillary Clinton jokes. And if you’re a Donald Trump supporter… well, you probably have a good sense of humor already.

‘The Simpsons’ has taught people to laugh at things that used to shock and offend them. It’s taught them that the more you open your mind, the more you’re going to learn and the more fun you’re going to have. So I hope that’s the advice you can take with you when you head to far-off colleges like Emory. Doctors tell you that laughter is good for your heart, and books like the Bible tell you that laughter is good for your soul. So to the Class of 2016, I wish you all a long life of love, of learning and especially of laughter.”

Mike Reiss
Producer and writer, “The Simpsons”
Featured speaker at Pace Academy’s graduation

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.