Former Major General Michael Harrison: Giving a Commencement Speech

As a decorated retired officer of the United States Army, Former Major General Michael Harrison embraced his role as a leader and mentored many young people, both within and outside the Army. As an alumnus of Howard University, he supported the institution’s ROTC program, and on many occasions, he was invited to speak at lectures and special occasions. Outside of the military, he was a guest speaker at high school graduations, and often had the privilege of presenting the commencement speech.

Having given a couple of commencement speeches in his career, Former Major General Michael Harrison offers tips on giving speeches that are inspirational, memorable, and intelligent.

Have a speech prepared

Even the best actors require scripts to stay on topic. You might view yourself a good speaker, but having a speech prepared is crucial to ensuring your message comes across clearly, and you don’t veer off topic.

Keep it short

You want to keep your commencement speech short. While the excitement of being the special speaker is unique, try not to ramble. Prepare a thoughtful and articulate speech, but also keep it short. Even if you have interesting stuff to say, keep it to a minimum. He admits that he violated this tenant on occasion!

Show enthusiasm

Sometimes, it is how you bring across your message that matters more than what you have to say. Often, the memorable speeches are those that feature speakers who are enthusiastic and lively on stage. Prepare if you have to, and aim to maintain a positive vibe all the way through.


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