The term “commencement speech” is often used to refer to a speech given at a graduation ceremony. This term has its roots in the Latin word “inceptio”, which means “beginning”. This term was first used by medieval European scholars to refer to the initiation ceremony that marked the end of a student’s studies and the beginning of their new privileges in the academic world. In the past, commencement speeches were an important part of the graduation ritual.
The newly appointed academic would give their first lecture as a legitimate teacher, and this was often followed by a banquet given by the graduate as a way of thanking their teachers and friends. Over time, however, public speaking became less of a focus in college, and so guest speakers began to take its place. Today, commencement speeches are still an important part of graduation ceremonies. They are often seen as the last formal on-campus encounter with the university community, and they provide graduates with an opportunity to form lifelong impressions of their alma mater.
In some cases, commencement speeches are even used to make special promises to students, such as when Eugene Lang promised sixth-graders from his former Harlem elementary school that he would pay their college tuition if they graduated from high school.