The best commencement speeches ever?

Lesson plan for last weeks of school!

It is the time of the year when you realize there was so much more you wanted to do in class before your students left for summer vacation. When you think about the changes you will make next year and what worked really well! If you have senior students you might be a little sad that you will not see them at school anymore. I guess that in these days of Facebook and social media, it is easier to keep in touch. A good idea is to make a Facebook group for former students.

If you do not remember a single word of mine, I hope you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met down the Classics corridor, in search of ancient wisdom: “as is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters”. J.K.Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard 2008. Read the transcript found here while listening to her speech.

My idea of success is different today and as you grow you will realize that the definition of success changes. To me, the most important thing in life is to live your life with integrity and not to give into peer pressure and be something that you are not. To live your life as an honest and compassionate person and to contribute in some way. Ellen DeGeneres in her  speech at Tulane University 2009.

Steven Spielberg on ‘character-defining’ choices. Read this text and then watch the video below.

Lesson plan:

  • Listen to all three speeches. (click on the pictures to watch the videos)
  • Make a list of the messages in these three speeches
  • How do they differ?
  • In your opinion which one touched you the most and why?
  • Comment on the two headlines from the transcripts (J.K. Rowlings and Steven Spielberg) , how do they capture the audience? Which one in your opinion is the better?
  • Ellen uses humor in her speech. Discuss how this differs from the other speeches.



  1. Just finished your lesson plan. I think the Steven Spielberg speech hit me the most, I’ve grown up with his movies so it really hit home for me. Thanks for sharing!

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