Tips for Choosing a Commencement Speaker + Sample Letter for Recruiting a Speaker

Susan Simmons Graduation, How To

Commencement Speaker Recruiting Tips and Tricks

Choosing college commencement speakers isn’t an easy task. There’s no quick fix for finding a quality speaker, drafting a formal invitation letter, and making sure that the ceremony goes off without a hitch.

In this guide, we aim to demystify the graduation speaker invitation process with a few practical tips to get you started. We’ve also shared a sample invitation for graduation ceremonies that you can use as a launching point for your invitation letter.

Commencement Speaker Recruiting 1

Brainstorm a Rough List

Most colleges begin the speaker recruitment phase by the fall semester when student government members and faculty have wide-ranging discussions about prospective speakers. During this time, we recommend coming up with as many speakers as possible, vetting them according to your school’s guidelines, and narrowing down the list to around eight names.

Commencement Speaker Recruiting 2

Ask Students to Vote

Since the commencement speaker will be addressing the students, they should have a say. After coming up with a realistic list of names, you can create a simple online survey and email it to the graduating class. Each student will get a chance to vote on their favorite speaker to increase the feeling of pride and community on graduation day. Some schools even ask their students for speaker suggestions and then create a list based on their initial requests.

Commencement Speaker Recruiting 3

Stay Out of Politics

Graduation is an inspiring occasion, so we don’t recommend inviting a polarizing personality to speak. It will only distract and divide the attendees. Instead, try to seek out college commencement speakers who have a knack for bringing people together under common themes. Avoid any speaker choices that may put others down in the process. For example, many colleges stay out of the fray. It’s best to avoid inviting government officials as a general rule. Such is probably a wise decision for cultivating a positive event.

Commencement Speaker Recruiting 4

Choose Someone with Speaking Chops

Ultimately, you should invite a person with actual public speaking skills and not just a celebrity with a buzzworthy name. As you brainstorm your initial list, do some online research and find out whether each choice has previous speaking and (or) writing experience. If all else fails, you can ask the speaker to work with a speechwriter, but it’s much more important to find someone can speak from the heart.

Commencement Speaker Recruiting 5

Invitation Letter Draft

Once you’ve selected a commencement speaker, it’s time to start drafting an invitation letter that reflects your institution’s values. The message should have a formal and respectful tone, while still using approachable language that the invitee can understand. In light of the notes within this article, we wish to help with the writing process. Below you will find a template for an invitation to speak at graduation ceremony. It’s a simple sample letter that you can use as a basic framework for your personalized letters:

Dr. Sally Jane


Scientific Breakthrough Labs

Chicago University

Chicago, IL 60007

Dear Dr. Jane,

On behalf of the America University students and faculty, we would like to invite you to be our 2018 Commencement Speaker. At the start of the 2017-2018 academic year, we surveyed seniors to see who they most wanted to speak at their commencement, and the results were unanimous. Students are inspired by your scientific work and previous lectures, and they would be honored if you address the graduating class.

The America University commencement ceremony will take place on June 12th at 3pm. In order to keep the ceremony on schedule, we would appreciate if your speech does not exceed 20 minutes. You may use the time to share your wisdom with the graduating class, and help send them into the world with strength and poise.

We eagerly look forward to your reply. Kindly RSVP by [date] to [email protected]. If you have any questions about the ceremony, we would be more than happy to answer them.


Organizer’s Name [signed]

Organizer’s Name [printed]

The Wrap Up

Have a great idea for a commencement speaker? Just remember that no matter who you invite, you won’t be able to please every single student with your choice. Use your best judgment, find a unifying speaker, and the rest will fall into place. For more graduation resources, visit the GraduationSource blog and start planning your commencement today!