Hot High School Graduation Speeches: 9 Arresting Ways to Say Goodbye


The world is your oyster Dream big Never be afraid to try You are the hope of the future Commencement isn’t the end It’s the beginning Today is the first day of the rest of your life So proud of each and every one of you The class of 2014 will surely blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 

When it comes to high school graduation speeches, “no cliche left behind” generally seems to be the rule. But every June, a few standout speakers manage to kick it up a little–or a lot.

Too Cool For School (obviously)

Too Cool For School?

1. Mitch Anderson, valedictorian at Belton High School in Texas, stunned family, friends, and school officials last year when he used his 15 minutes of fame to deliver a coming-out speech. “I feel the moment has arrived for me to be publicly true to my personal identity,” Anderson said. “So now, I can say, I’m gay.” Not everyone loved the talk, but on the bright side, no one in the audience fell down dead or anything.

2. Sandra Bullock was the surprise speaker for this year’s grads at Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans. The Academy Award-winning actress offered pretty much the most down-to-earth graduation advice ever, including these two game-changing gems:

  • Eat something green every day, with every meal.
  • Do not pick your nose in public. How about we just go get a tissue?

3. Troy Snyder, principal of Mead High School in Colorado, was busted for plagiarizing his inspirational commencement speech this spring. Turns out he’d stolen many of his remarks from Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, the bestseller by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg. Snyder ended up resigning. The class of 2014 ended up with an unexpected lesson in, um, integrity?

4. Rashema Nelson of Anacostia High School in Washington, D.C., excelled in high school academics and sports, just like her valedictorian peers around the country. Nelson, however, was probably the only valedictorian this year who was also a homeless shelter resident. “I wasn’t going to give up, so I didn’t give up,” Nelson said in her speech. Now headed for Georgetown, where she has a full scholarship, Nelson told reporters that “I just want a home. I just want somewhere I can call mine. I want my own shower.”

5. Kate Logan, who graduated high school back in 1998, stripped off her gown in the middle of delivering the valedictory address at Long Trail School in Dorset, Vt., and gave the rest of the talk buck naked. Appropriately enough, her speech emphasized “the road less traveled.”

Woman gets excited about funny graduation outfit

Three Cheers for Funny Hats!

6. Anders Zetterlund used his valedictory speech this spring at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, Minn., to debunk commencement cliches about entering the real world. “We [high schoolers] may not have to pay taxes or invest for retirement or even make our own dinner most of the time,” he said, “but if you look at pure workload, I’d say we are decidedly in this ‘real world’ everyone likes to talk about. Sure we don’t do the 9-5 grind like all you real-world adults in the audience; we do the 24/7 one.”

7. Cody Simpson served as this year’s valedictorian at Atlanta Country Day School in Georgia (the school caters to celebrity students). Just days before the ceremony, Simpson caused a kerfuffle when he posted a shot of his naked posterior on Instagram. But apparently the Dancing with the Stars sensation still has his feet firmly on the ground. “Ladies and gentlemen, intelligence will always remain the sexiest thing in the world above all,” he recently tweeted.

Graduation speech: and special thanks goes to Wikipedia...

But most of all, I’d like to thank Wikipedia…

8. Angela Brandi wanted her time on the graduation podium to be extra-memorable. So instead of delivering a speech, the 2014 valedictorian of Valders High School in Wisconsin sang and performed “The Cup Song,” substituting her own custom-written lyrics. While weird, the idea wasn’t 100% original–three years ago, when Brandi’s big sister was Valders’s valedictorian, she sang her speech, too.

9. Erica Goldson, valedictorian at Coxsackie-Athens High School in New York in 2010, got really, really real in her remarks. “I have successfully shown that I was the best ‘slave,’” she said in a speech dissing not only her own achievements, but those of the entire U.S. educational system. “I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.”

Congratulations–or whatever (!)–to the class of 2014.

Throwing graduation caps in the air is nice, but so is picking them up again afterward

Commencement Caps: The #1 Source of Graduation Litter


Naked Confessions: What’s Wrong with “Tacky” Application Essays?


In a June 15 New York Times story, columnist Frank Bruni laments a trend toward students “oversharing” in their college application essays. Drawing on the remarks of a former Yale admissions officer, he goes on to describe the high-stakes faux pas of three unsuccessful Yale applicants (a self-described Casanova, a young woman with an unusually breezy attitude toward bodily fluids, and a guy worried about the size of his private parts).

NYT Columnist Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni: NYT Columnist & Admissions Essay Critic

Who Defines Poor Taste?

Bruni accurately highlights the sense of desperation that students and their parents may feel in the face of today’s ultra-competitive college admissions standards–a sense that can lead to disingenuous efforts to stand out from other applicants. He is not out of line, either, to wonder about the judgment of an applicant who submits a soul-baring essay when a more conventional approach might be a less risky option. Less sound, however, is a fundamental assumption that underlies Bruni’s criticism of oversharing: that certain topics–not just the unusually lurid examples he describes in detail, but also “eating disorders, sexual abuse, self-mutilation, domestic violence, alcoholism, [and] drug addiction”–are simply in poor taste.

One problem here is that taste, unlike GPA or SAT scores, is neither an objective nor a quantifiable measure of college aptitude. It is, however, a way that one class differentiates itself from another–specifically and historically, the “haves” from the “have nots.” All too similarly–and despite decades of social and educational reforms designed to level the playing field–access to higher education still skews across class lines.

Futurama Meme: Not Sure if Essay is Brilliant or Horrible

Unlike SAT Scores, Taste is Relative

Taking the Personal Statement Seriously

With its emphasis on matters of taste and convention, Bruni’s critique also overlooks the crucial issue of authenticity. Not for nothing do college officials refer to a student’s central college application essay as the “personal statement.” Some high school students, at 17 or 18, have led sheltered lives. Others have already faced extreme adversity. Both types of students are capable of flourishing in a college environment. Neither type should be penalized for writing candidly about the circumstances that have shaped their lives–and, more important, how they have dealt with those circumstances.

It’s important here to note that colleges explicitly attempt to tease out revealing information (applicants are not, as some assume,  given free rein in choosing essay themes). Consider, for example, the following Common Application essay prompts for 2014-2015; nearly all top colleges require a 650-word response to one of them:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

For one high school senior, a candid response to almost any of the above questions might center on their efforts to improve their time in the 100-yard dash, and lessons learned about perseverance and self-acceptance. For another, the response might focus on trying to cope with an absentee parent–and, again, lessons learned about perseverance and self-acceptance. The external factors described in these essays are, by definition, personal, specific, and unique to the individual writer. The real takeaway of a strong application essay, however, is unvarying. The point is not the external situation that the student describes, but their own efforts to influence or come to terms with the situation, and the personal growth that occurs as a result.

Using feathers and glitter to make an admissions essay stand out is not really a good idea

Honesty? Yes. Glitter? No.

Candor: Not the Kiss of Death

At Edupath, members of our staff have, in the course of their careers, reviewed hundreds of essays and helped students of differing socioeconomic status gain admission to college. Some of these students have chosen conventional topics for their essays–for example, how traveling, playing sports, being a camp counselor, or learning to embrace their culture of origin enhanced their personal growth. Others have written about some of the same deeply personal topics that Bruni cites as over the top, such as coping with an eating disorder or adjusting to a parent’s unforeseen coming out as gay.  In our experience, students who write about more revealing topics in a way that focuses on their personal growth do not fail to receive offers from their colleges of choice, including Ivy League schools.

We would hope that, contrary to what Bruni implies, the three “oversharing” students were not denied admission to Yale solely because their essays included content that he considers in poor taste. With its stringent acceptance rate of just 6.2% (meaning roughly 94% of applicants are denied admission), Yale is among the most selective colleges in the nation. In this competitive atmosphere, only students who emerge as top-tier across a broad range of assessments–including GPA, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, teacher recommendations, honors and awards, and community service–are offered admission. Surely these quantifiable measures influenced the Yale admissions officers’ decisions as much as the content of the “oversharing” students’ essays.

But if college admissions officer are really, as Bruni suggests, dismayed to receive personal statements that are, well, personal, then perhaps they need to ensure that the essay prompts themselves do not invite candid responses. Otherwise, the most successful applicants are likely to be those who have already learned an extremely cynical life lesson: that people don’t always mean what they say.

Keep Calm and Write Your Essay

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose





What are you doing this coming Saturday morning? If you’re reading this post, chances are that you, like hundreds of thousands of other high school students, will be taking the ACT. If you’re a human being (and we’re betting you are), it’s only natural to feel a little anxious. Or, okay, a lot. But fretting and sweating won’t do a thing to spike your ACT scores. Nor will a giant bout of last-minute studying. Here’s what to do instead so you sail into the test feeling confident and at the top of your game.
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10 Last-Minute SAT Tips That Involve Absolutely No Studying


For your test prep pleasure: 10 last-minute test tips that involve absolutely *no* studying. They’re designed to benefit the two most common types of students — those who have already studied their posteriors off (take a look, is yours still there?) and those who, well, haven’t.

Step 10. Give Your Brain a Break

Sick of studying for the SAT? Or, on the other hand, maybe you’re feeling totally unprepared. Either way, this test just isn’t something you can master in one night. So don’t wear your brain cells out trying. Hang out with a buddy, go for a run, watch a goofy movie. Be kind your mind, and it will be kind to you.

Step 9. Snooze Until You’re Satisfied

You might already be planning to hit the hay (or, more likely, the mattress) at a reasonable hour on Friday night. But learning coaches recommend going to bed earlyish on Thursday, too. No burning the midnight oil. No cramming to find out where midnight oil is produced, or charting its economic and environmental viability in comparison to ten other types of fuel. No, really.

Sleepy student

He should’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.

Step 8. Think Through Your Pre-Test Morning

Prevent unnecessary test-day drama by planning ahead. You don’t have to obsess – just nail the essential details. Like:

  • What time does the test begin?
  • Where is the testing center?
  • How will you get there?
  • What time will you leave home? Add half an hour to your estimated travel time in case of unexpected delays.
  • Is someone giving you a ride? If so, make sure they are on board for this trip, and know when you need to leave.

Step 7. Plan Your Wake-Up Call

Getting plenty of sleep is good. Getting it while the test is actually taking place – not so good. Set your alarm for a time that allows you to get dressed and eat breakfast without rushing. Set a back-up alarm as well, just in case. And finally, have someone else in your house set their alarm, too. Who knows why standardized tests start at such uncivilized hours… But c’est la vie – that’s the way it is. On the upside, you’ll be out of there by early afternoon – nap time!

Keep Calm & Plan Ahead Sign

Now that’s good advice.

Step 6. Avoid Nakedness

Set out your clothes the night before. Think comfortable. Think non-distracting–at least to you. Think superstitious, if that’s how you roll. Officially, you’re allowed to tuck a lucky rabbit’s foot or some similar small item into your pocket (Your brother’s foot – probably not).

Step 5. Pack These Before You Go To Bed

Just like nightclubs, standardized tests are guarded by super-authoritarian humans who will definitely insist on checking your ID and admission ticket. If you don’t have the right stuff, you won’t get in. End of story. Prevent test-day snafus by printing out your ticket and packing up all essentials the night before. You will absolutely need:

  • An acceptable photo ID
  • Your SAT admission ticket
  • Two sharpened No. 2 pencils
  • A calculator with fresh batteries

You may also want to bring:

  • Water and snacks for quick energy during breaks
  • A book to read while you’re waiting for the test to start. That way, your brain is warmed up and you’re in reading mode right from the get-go.

Step 4. But Don’t Pack These, Please

Any electronic device, including phones, tablets, cameras, computers, music players, and recording devices. Also, anything that even resembles any of the aforementioned items. It might help to pretend that you’ll arrive at the test in a covered wagon, wearing a calico shirt, and looking forward to square dance season.

Step 3. Breakfast on Brain Food

We’re not saying breakfast is the most important meal, because that would be annoying. But for maximum endurance – as you’re no doubt aware, the SAT lasts almost four hours – you’ll want to consume something with more staying power than a bowl of Froot Loops or a Cinnabon. Can’t go wrong with protein, you know. If you’re a fan of coffee or tea, pour yourself the same amount you usually do. If you don’t already drink caffeine, today is not the day to start.

Breakfast = brain food

This kid is ready! …Maybe a little *too* ready.

Step 2. Turn Demons into Angels

In terms of body chemistry, being nervous and being excited are pretty much identical states. Try telling yourself how “excited” you are, reinforcing the idea of upbeat anticipation rather than OMG dread.

Step 1. Put Test Stress in Perspective

The SAT is not — like, so not — the defining event of your life. Two years from now, you won’t care how you scored. In ten years, you might even not remember how you did. And a hundred years down the road? By then, people will have smarty-pants chips implanted in their brains at birth and only a handful of very learned, very wrinkled historians will ever have heard of that legendary rite of passage known as the SAT. So there.

Now go forth, and do good.