I was given the honour of being the keynote speaker at this year’s graduation. To put this in perspective, this had been the first time I had spoken at any graduation since my own from Grade 8 as Valedictorian in 1963, so in sum just shy of sixty years. So when my principal Doug revealed to me that I had been the overwhelming choice of speaker by the students themselves, I didn’t waste any time putting thoughts to paper. I knew that the problem would not be what to say, but how to limit what I would say to ten minutes, and that would take several edits.

Writing has never been the issue for me that it has been for so many others. I just go with the thoughts on my heart and let them run for as long as there is something to say. Then I will leave it alone for a time until I think of something else to say and without looking at the original simply add it to the draft. Depending on the deadline, I will do this for several days until I have exhausted all that I want to say on the subject.

Then begins an entirely different task: that of editing what you have written into a cohesive whole. Often when I do this, reading what I have written will stimulate new thoughts on the subject, and I add them to the draft as I think of them. This is where Google Docs is so brilliant. It will preserve every draft and even time stamp and colour code those edits so nothing you ever write is ever lost. If you wish to restore a previous edit, simply choose the draft from that date. Google, you have my respect.

When you edit a draft, you have to be conscious of two things: one is the audience to whom you are writing and speaking, the other is the unity and coherence of the text. Every piece of writing is aimed at someone, and you must keep their needs and their interests paramount in your writing. It must reach their hearts as well as their minds or you have simply been fooling or flattering yourself and your writing will spark no interest. At the same time, the text itself must have a unity of purpose and a goal to which it is aimed or it will have no meaning. These two things determine the effectiveness of writing. Though vocabulary and style may give a text a superficial gloss, if it sparks no interest and contains no unity of purpose it will ultimately be ineffective.

Then whether you release the text in print or in speech it is a good idea to say the text out loud, preferably into a recording device of some kind. This will help you spot grammatical inconsistencies as well as help you to adjust your phraseology, and in speeches, your cadence and emphasis. This will prompt further edits to the text that will help improve it further. I will do this several times when I am giving a lesson and I always like to give myself a day between edits to get some critical distance. On a speech as important as this one was to me, I went through 30 edits.

Then before I speak, I want to get a feel for the space where I will be speaking. I want to practice sotto voce what I will say and see how it feels. I want to practice to what part of the room I will say certain things, and even the gestures I will use to get over my natural hesitancy in public places. I do this in order that I may be comfortable in that space as I know from experience that if I am uncomfortable, my audience will be as well and then they will have difficulty attending to what I have to say.

Then comes the moment of truth: the delivery itself. Preparation will certainly help to overcome the nervousness most of us feel with speaking in public. But every event is different, and a keynote address is not a classroom lecture. This event resonated with emotion for me, and only my persistent preparation got me through it as I had to choke back the tears on several occasions. I have put the best part of my life into this profession, and this would be the final words I would have to say to the students, parents and colleagues I worked with in my last teaching position. I wanted so much to get it right. You can judge for yourself if I did by viewing it here, starting at one hour, fifteen minutes.