Changes to senior speech format benefit community


Tommy Verhey

A MOMENT TO REMEMBER. Every senior shares this expansive view into Huss as they give their senior speech.

Debates and discussions regarding altering the format of senior speeches have become a constant theme over the past weeks. The structure of senior speeches has stayed very consistent in the past: each student has one to three people come on stage to give an introduction, the speaker delivers a five to seven minute speech on a topic of their choosing, and to wrap up the assembly, the Upper School Council co-Presidents say a quote and a superlative about the speaker.

The tradition of senior speeches has been around SPA for decades, but unbeknownst to many, introductions, quotes, and superlatives are relatively new. Applauding after each speech has likewise remained constant, and standing ovations are seen occasionally for extraordinary stories, writing, or delivery skills.

With several new administrators this year and an ambitious senior class, questions surfaced regarding the need for change. In a senior class meeting in early September, Dean of Students Stacy Tepp and US Principal Ken Jaffe led a conversation about a possible shift in standing ovations after all speakers for one day had finished their speeches. This was followed up by an additional senior class meeting two weeks later led by USC co-Vice Presidents Maryeva Gonzalez and Tenzin Bawa focused on introductions, quotes, and superlatives.

The first round of senior speeches Sept. 30 concluded with a standing ovation from the senior class for all four speakers, but by the second week, this addition faded. Now, with three rounds of senior speeches fully completed, no official or required change will be made to applause and standing ovations at the end of speeches.

After the class meeting, the additional changes to superlatives and quotes were made, shifting them to before speeches. The hope was that the additional information of the speakers could still display more of their character to the student body, but would not take away from their speech’s message.

Because Gonzalez and Bawa emphasize carrying the speaker’s words, ideas, and messages or the rest of the day after each round of speeches, the decision to move the quotes and superlatives maximizes the effectiveness of each speech. Because all four speeches on a given day can already be mixed up or somewhat forgotten by students, adding quotes before rather than after allows each speaker’s ideas to be remembered more easily. So far, this has proved to be an effective transition.

The only problem with this shift is it cancels out past traditions. Current seniors have watched three straight years of speeches, anticipating what they will do or say when on stage, but a new format shakes that up and could change the mindset on speeches. Still, the new format will allow for more freedom and focus on speeches, specifically once they conclude.

Superlatives have also transitioned into fun facts, a way to escape the unethical format. The introduction of fun facts gives the audience the same amount of information about the speaker without possibly using hurtful terms and language. Superlatives have recently sparked debate around their toxicity and how the negative effects they hold can outweigh the positive. Another change is that speakers now submit their own quotes and fun facts. In years past, the people giving the introduction for a speaker would provide that information, but this transition was made to make the speech more personalized and speaker-focused. This is an effective change, and the ability to keep the old traditions while providing a stronger voice for the seniors will leave a lasting positive impact.

Senior speeches have always been an extraordinary part of the community and a central experience of senior year. With the new additions and changes to speeches accumulated over the past month, students will better understand each speaker and their message, the ultimate goal of the program.