Commencement Speech Competition


Student Orations Competition

Harvard has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak as well as guidance set forth by the CDC, and the University's recommendations have been evolving quickly as the situation unfolds. The Office of the President announced that our community will not host Commencement exercises in person this May. We recognize how disappointing this is - especially for our students and their family and friends. Understanding why we must move forward this way does not make it any less difficult, but the health and safety of our community is paramount.

If there are further updates to Commencement and related activities, the University will post updates here. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time.

To stay up to date on Harvard's response to the outbreak, visit the University's COVID-19 website, which will be updated with information as it becomes available.

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One of the oldest and most cherished traditions of the Morning Exercises of Commencement is the Orations Competition in which three students chosen by a panel of judges deliver from memory an address to an assemblage of approximately 32,000, including members of the governing boards, honorary degree recipients, faculty, parents, alumni and graduates.

The first of these orations is delivered in Latin by a graduating senior from the College; the second, in English, is also delivered by a graduating senior from the College; and and the third is delivered by a degree candidate from the University’s graduate or professional schools who is graduating or is expected to graduate prior to the next Commencement exercises; or, alternatively, who has already received the degree in November or March of that academic year but has not previously attended Commencement ceremonies as a degree recipient or competed in the selection process for Commencement speakers. No individual may compete for any one of these three addresses more than once.

To be chosen as one of the three orators is considered to be among the highest honors a student can achieve. In the distant past, these orations were delivered in defense of one’s thesis but, over time, topics have broadened and may now address current issues and events or personal experiences at Harvard or in the wider world.

To learn more about the competition, key dates, and what factors judges may consider as part of the selection process, interested students may attend an Orators' Workshop on March 5th. If you are not able to attend this workshop, please see below. Video of some past Commencement addresses also appears on YouTube under: “Harvard Morning Exercises/Commencement student address” (note: not to be confused with the many speakers who appear the day before as part of Class Day).

Those selected receive a cash prize of $1,000. Extensive support, including speech coaching and multiple opportunities to rehearse, are offered as part of the preparation for participation in this historic Harvard event.

Video recording of this year's Orators' Workshop (2020)


  • Orators' Workshop - Thursday, March 5 at 4:30 PM, Emerson Hall 105
  • Deadline to submit electronic submissions - Monday, March 30th at 4:00 PM (extended from 3/27) 
  • Preliminary Auditions – Thursday, April 16 at 4:00 PM, 
  • Final Auditions – Thursday, April 23 at 4:30 PM,  




Below you will find a selection of Senior and Graduate English Addresses that show the quality and variety of orations chosen by the judges:


    Lucila Takjerad MPA '19

    "The Least You Can Do"


    Pete Davis JD '18

    "A Counterculture of Commitment"


    Walter Smelt III MTS '17

    "How To Be Bewildered at Harvard"


    Jiang He, PhD '16

    "The Spider's Bite"


Sarah Abushaar '14

"The [Harvard] Spring"


Jon Murad '13 HKS

“In Praise of Clip-on Ties”


Adam Price '11 HKS

"Declaration of Independence 2.0"


Chiamaka Lilian Nwakeze '10

"Poetry for Chemists"

Joseph Claghorn '09 GSD

"The Harvard Elm Crisis"

Video recording of last year's Orators' Workshop (2018)