Law School Valedictorians: Top 5 Things Not To Say In Your Graduation Speech

valedictorian, law school

Valedictorians: You’ve made it. 3 years of library-living, blue-booking, and junk food-eating has finally paid off. You’re the best.

You’ve probably made it onto at least one or two of the various honors organizations your school offers. Lemme guess: Law Review and Moot Court. You might even be an editor on Law Review. Suffice to say, you’ve kicked ass all this time and probably got a full scholarship to do so. You’re the creme of the crop. Creme Fraiche.

We’re all really proud of you. Really. We really are. We might even like you a lot. So please understand that this pre-speech disclaimer/warning is made out of love. Last year’s valedictorian speech was horrendous. It sounded like an award acceptance speech with a dollop of crickets and depressed sighs. So out of respect and admiration, we want you, dearest current valedictorian, to look a lot better than that last valedictorian. So please take heed:

1. Do NOT make inside jokes that only you and three other people will enjoy. Assuming you’re at a medium-sized school, there’s gotta be at least 500 people in the audience. A good 497 of them will have no idea what you’re talking about. Related: do not laugh at your own jokes unless everyone else laughs too. You’ll just look crazy.

2. Do NOT thank the administration. Every law school student in the nation probably hates their law school administration. They make the worst decisions no matter what happens. One thing we can all agree on: good professors. Talk about them. Talk about the times when they went out of their way to explain a concept to you. Talk about events that we shared together as a school. You’ll probably have to thank the Dean as he/she passes the microphone or stand to you. That’s understandable. Anything more than that and it’ll look like you’re part of system, man.

3. Do NOT thank your parents, friends, or deity/ies within the first few seconds of your speech. We think it’s perfectly fine to talk about them near the end, maybe even in the middle. Just not at the beginning, mmmkay? This is not an academy award accept speech where we’ve selected you for your acting prowess in a single movie and you should be thanking others to look humble. Do that at the law school level and you’ll look like a prima donna. You earned this. You did the work. Own it.

4. Do NOT tell us how hard you worked or how much you’ve had to give up the finer things in life. We all did. Seriously, some of us couldn’t go back home to NY because we were in the middle of an exam when bad news hit. Some of us have kids and a wife at home who we haven’t been able to see as often as we would have liked. Some of us worked full-time while going to school part-time. Some of us even stopped playing video games as a result of law school (ok, well that’s not true).  We’ve all had to sacrifice for law school. The worst part is that some of us–in our own opinion–may actually have worked harder than you but didn’t get the same or even near the kind of results you did. We may like you a lot, but secretly be really jealous of your gigantic brain (because you’re such a smart-pants). So be humble and talk about luck instead (even if you don’t think that’s true in your situation).

5. Do NOT recount funny tales specific to honors organizations. I know, it’s hard. Just don’t do it. While it sounds like a good idea now, imagine having worked your ass off in law school only to be excluded by every journal or oral advocacy honors organization on campus every, single, time. It will come off as elitist no matter how hard you try. It will depress those who couldn’t make it into the honors organizations. Instead, talk about how your kitten ripped up your legal writing assignment before class. It’s cute, disarming, and totally not elitist. Unless your cat’s name is Chariman Meow. That actually might be offensive.

Essentially, do not talk about school-work or attempt an explanation of your ridiculously good-lookin’ GPA. We’re all already in awe. We’d like to keep it that way. You’ve probably got an insane regimen which we totally respect. But since this is a public venue and all our parents are in the crowd probably hoping to catch a glimpse of our brilliance, just tell jokes and be Mr. Popular. Talk about profs, fun things you’ve been a part of, and your hometown. We’ll love you all the more because of it.


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  • Guest

    As a former law school valedictorian, I would agree except on one point. Having been the mother of three children when I was in law school, I did not do this alone. My kids (who missed out on a lot of face time) and my husband and my parents (who spent a lot of time filling in for absent Mom) all had an important role in my achievement and certainly deserved to be thanked, although I did save my gratitude for the end of the speech. . .

  • Bob Loblaw

    Law schools have valedictorians? Mine just had people apply and the administration picked the speeches it liked best. It didn’t have anything to do with grades.

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  • Deuce

    The only student who got to speak was the outgoing student president – everyone called him “Hoss” (however even Hoss Cartrwright weighed a couple bill less than this dude) – and he bragged how he didn’t hardly study and goofed off all thru law school. Of course, he was some sort of trust fund baby who didn’t have to worry about student loans or what job his daddy was going to get him.

    A true jabroni.

  • bl1y

    My guest speaker at graduation, the AG of New Jersey, made a joke about how her first time she was in court she had to ask the bailiff which side she was supposed to be on.

    The students generally thought this was funny. Definitely fits in with the disarming non-elitist thing.

    People with a good view of the dean though… man, he looked pissed.
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