Should graduation speakers ‘go rogue?’

First of all, I’m referring to student speakers such as the valedictorian, not an invited well known public figure.

My opinion is a big fat NO. A graduation speech isn’t an open forum for one person with a captive audience to go on a political rant. That’s even if I AGREE with your views on abortion, LGBT rights , climate or whatever.

Those graduates in the audience worked hard for their degrees/diplomas and this is a very special moment for all of them.

My opinion remains the same regardless if it’s a university or high school graduation.

Sounds like the usual double standard of young adults not having the same rights as older adults.

Either everyone can “go rogue”, including “invited well known public figures” AND “student speakers” or no one can “go rogue”. Not one rule for the “grown ups” and another for the the “kids”, especially when it comes to college or university graduations, but those people are not kids, they’re adults and should be treated just as any other adults.

I believe in freedom of speech, I think that applies even when one is wearing a polyester robe and funny hat.

Standing up for what you believe in, unless your beliefs are reprehensible, is more admirable than telling everyone what Websters defines “Success” as.

Freedom of speech would include the audience booing if they don’t like it, right? If I’m sitting through a valedictorian’s pro-Trump speech I don’t have to remain quiet.

I was one of three students who spoke at my high school graduation. Each of us were told to present our speech in writing for review. For some reason the idea of having my speech critiqued bothered me, so I didn’t turn it in.

Push came to shove and I was allowed to speak without having my speech reviewed, but right up to graduation night I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t “go rogue”, but I enjoyed seeing administration sweat.


I think its kind of like a groomsman toasting at a wedding. Going off on your own issue is sorta an asshole thing to do. Virtually everyone there is there for one kid. They want the focus to be on the “walking across the stage” part. And that applies to adult speakers, too.

IME there is a huge disparity in how people see graduation. For kids with college-educted parents who expect to go to college, HS graduation is a bit of a lark, and being disruptive is funny. For families who are celebrating their first HS graduate, or who don’t expect a college graduation, its a more formal thing.

In reality, the “going rogue” I’ve seen has always been kids who want to shit on their school, not make a political statement. And, frankly, that’s inappropriate when 1) that school gave you a platform and 2) you’re devaluing the experiences of all the other kids walking the stage with you. This is especially true when the validictorian probably didn’t have representative experiences relative to the average student.

In essence, I think graduation speakers are speaking on behalf of the class, not as individuals. And they shpuld stick to that role. If they aren’t interested in that, they shouldn’t take the job–in the same way that if you are Best Man but all you want to do is talk about how stupid expensive weddings are, you should just pass.

Depends on what you mean by “should.”

Do I believe there needs to be a prohibition on the practice, with some sort of penalty for a valedictorian who goes off script? Absolutely not.

Versus: do I believe it’s usually inadvisable for a young person, who may not have the experience to handle a restive audience or the skills to articulate difficult and complex thoughts without the benefit of others’ feedback ahead of time, to deliver such an unvetted speech entirely on their own? Yeah, I think that’s a risky choice.

I mean, it’s not impossible, there are certainly 18-year-olds with the ability to hold a crowd while expressing sophisticated ideas, but they’re not common. But I would still suggest that any teenager considering tearing up their prepared remarks and going off-road should think very carefully about what they’re doing and whether they can handle the consequences. Of course, it’s not like this is going to derail their whole life; it’ll just be an uncomfortable couple of weeks, unless they’re reading from Mein Kampf or something. But when you’re a teenager, a few days of negative feelings are agony.

Nevertheless, if that’s what they want to do, then there should be nothing stopping them.

I can’t see this as a freedom of speech issue. Graduation speakers aren’t speaking on their own time or their own platform. They are performing a school function, so it makes sense that the schools has some rights to dictate what is and isn’t acceptable, same as they would for a hired speaker.

That said, I do think there is merit in a student going “off-script” if the school’s rules are too draconian and the student has a good cause. I already think that school dress codes are too regressive, and I can see the speech requirements being too regressive. And I definitely support the student choosing to violate the rules in protest against an injustice.

But all of that is within my idea that you can violate the rules if you have a good enough reason. I don’t think having the rules is wrong, or that a school is inherently wrong to enforce them. They just need to be reasonable.

I was my brother’s best man (literally and figuratively). He was sweating a bit when I made my toast.

I hadn’t thought about this. This helps me reframe the question as multipart:

  1. Is it ever okay to go rogue? I’d say yes.
  2. What justifies going rogue? Something really important.

Going rogue to get a last shot at a terrible school admin probably doesn’t justify it, unless that shot is going to lead to criminal charges and you’ve tried every other means to publicize the case. Going rogue because there’s a critical issue that’s important to you, and there are audience members who may have their views swayed by your experience, is a lot more justified.

If Alice wants to go rogue to tell everyone what a bitch Ms. Smith is, not cool. If Bob wants to go rogue to tell everyone that he was serially abused by the wrestling coach but that the school is covering it up, sure. If Carli wants to go rogue to tell folks that she’s transitioning and that the school’s transphobic culture led her to suicidal ideation but that she’s on a path to wellness, probably.

In order to best prepare themselves for life after school every speaker should ensure that they only express opinions that they know to be exactly the same as the opinions of those with power over them. Unless they are in a movie.

This is a good way to frame the issue, though even then, I think you should pick your poison. For example, Validictorians sometimes want to talk about how a schools culture of high expectations and and rigor is unhealthy. And they feel very strongly about it. But these are kids who, for whatever reason, felt literally obligated to do whatever it took to be first. Basically “the fact that is was so incredibly hard for me to become valedictorian shows what an unhealthy place this is”. But they don’t want to get rid of rank, which I favor, because they like that they are first. They just think somehow the school could have changed things so that the amount of effort it took to be first could have been less. The idea that they could have put in about half as much effort and still been in the top 25% is unthinkable to them, because in their mind, that would have been shameful failure. They do not percieve this as insulting to the rest of the class, 75% of whom do not even reach that standard, because other people are not them. A speech from a kid in that headspace is not usually very insightful, because the school isn’t really the issue here.

I guess what I am saying is that graduating seniors are generally still working through the issues that they feel passionately about. Even the student who feels the school did not adequately support her transitioning can easily get up there and make the 75% of teachers and students who worked really hard to do all they could feel totally dismissed and devastated if she focuses on the 25% she’s angry at and gives the rest a token acknowledgment. And that is pretty normal for an angry teen to do.

The specifics elude me – it’s been a decade – but the valedictorian at some rural high school in Illinois straight went off on the bullies who had bullied her in school. I think she named names, or at least, came this close to naming names. And I don’t mean she went off in a vague, “bullying is bad” kind of way; I mean she wished retribution upon them and warned them that most of them would end up killing hogs on the midnight shift if they were lucky, IIRC. Whether or not she went off-script from the speech she’d presented for review, I can’t say.

Unfortunately, she took her own life within days of graduation.

When I was a kid, I remember having zero interest in listening to any kind of valedictory speech. YMMV, of course.

What is the purpose of a valedictory speech? If it’s not to hear about the concerns and ideas of the person giving the speech then why award the honor to them?

They are speaking as a class representative.

I guess my confusion is, why even have the valedictorian go up and give a speech at all, if we’re approaching it from a place of “well they’re young and inexperienced and still working through issues”? Either we let the Valedictorian speak because we think their perspective is valuable, or we should cut their speech from the program and just let an extra local small business owner quote the definition of “success”.

If they can tie it into being a new graduate, then sure. But not just going off on a tear about a pet subject.