Student Commencement Speaker Contest

Harvard Chan Ceremony

One graduating Harvard Chan student will be chosen to deliver a brief inspirational speech at the School’s afternoon ceremony.

Students interested in competing for this honor must submit a word document, no longer than five spoken minutes in length, by Monday April 6 at 5pm to Leah Kane in the Office for Student Affairs.

Interested students must:

  • Review the guidelines below
  • Submit an electronic copy of your speech by email – word documents only please
    • Please name your document as follows: LastnameFirstnameHUID.doc e.g. KaneLeah12345678.doc
    • Each page should be numbered, no name or other identifying information on the manuscript please
  • Be available for auditions one lunchtime during the week of April 13-17, exact time and day to be determined
  • Commit to meeting with speaker coach, Donald Halstead, for a minimum of 8 hours between finalist presentations and the ceremony.
  • Be available for speaker rehearsal on Tuesday of Commencement week.

Authors of selected manuscripts will present their speeches to a selection committee composed of staff and students. The committee will then choose one speech for presentation at Commencement.

If you have any questions regarding the competition, please email the Office for Student Affairs

We wish you the very best in the speech competition.

Harvard Chan Student Commencement Speech Guidelines

The following are suggested guidelines for the Harvard Chan student commencement speech, many of which come from students who have been involved in past speaker-selection processes. While not all the speeches follow these guidelines, most do.

Structure and Flow

Speeches usually have 4 sections of varying length and purpose, with sections 2 and 3 at their core.

1. Speeches open with greetings to the Dean, Commencement Speaker, faculty, alumni, and class of 2015, with special thanks to parents, friends, and loved ones who made it all possible

2. Speeches then transition to present a public health issue, disparity, or challenge

  • This is often a compelling human story from the speaker’s experience that illustrates the great need in the world for health, justice, security
  • This story touches us all and also illustrates why we’ve chosen to make public health our life’s work

3. The speaker then proposes a response or solution to the challenge

  • This response often illustrates that public health problems can only be successfully addressed if all of us—researchers, practitioners, communities, government and more—work together
  • Speakers often invoke hope and determination in this section

4. Speeches then transition towards their closing, often with an energetic call to coordinated action

  • Remember that this is a commencement ceremony, and that it marks people going forward, beginning new lives.

 Characteristics and Length

Effective speeches

  • Are rich in content, have a strong theme, and tell compelling stories
  • Inspire us
  • Demonstrate passion, conviction, sincerity
  • Are inclusive
  • The speech’s perspective should not reflect that of a single department or discipline, but all those in public health
  • Public health problems can only be solved if we all work together with communities, etc.

The speech ultimately needs to be delivered in less than 5 minutes and will eventually need to be no more than 550-600 words

For the selection process, speeches need to be less than 750 words

Selection Panel Guide and Score Card


Cambridge Ceremony

Visit for more information.

Each year at the Harvard Commencement, three graduating students speak to approximately 32,000 students, faculty, parents, alumni/ae, and guests.  As soon as the first anthem concludes, a senior strides to the microphone and announces, Salvete omnes! What follows is one of the oldest of Harvard traditions – a short speech in Latin.  Then a graduating senior, followed by a representative from one of the graduate or professional schools, deliver short speeches in English. The original purpose of these speeches was to defend one’s thesis but, over time, topics have broadened and may now address important issues, current events, or lessons learned from personal experiences at Harvard or in the wider world.

Students wishing to represent Harvard on Commencement morning are asked to view the Commencement Office web-site at for guidelines on speeches and for details about entering the competition.

Speeches should be no longer than five minutes in length. Submissions will be judged for intelligence, wit, originality, and general significance. Candidates for the Latin oration should consult Professor Richard Tarrany of the Classics Department, at (617)496-311. Please include an English translation with your electronic submission.

For more information: