Class Speaker Competition

Often a highlight of the commencement ceremony, the class speaker provides the graduating class the opportunity to hear from one of their own. The speaker's remarks will be shared with the community as a Message to the Graduating ClassGraduating students interested in being selected as Class Speaker are asked to review the instructions for our three-part process and be especially alert to deadlines. Participants must be either October 2023, February 2024 graduates or May, October 2024 graduate degree candidates (MPH, MHA, MS, DrPH, PhD) who were/are actively registered during the 2023-2024 academic year. Dual MPH students who are currently registered at their partner schools are also eligible. In addition to the selection process, please find some helpful tips and hints below for when preparing your remarks. Link to submit remarks are at the bottom of this page.

Please feel free to contact the Office of Student Affairs with any questions about this honor.

Class Speaker Selection

  1. Remarks Submission: Due April 4 by 12:00 noon
    1. Anyone interested in becoming Class Speaker must draft a 7-minute speech and submit the entire text via Qualtrics. You are encouraged to review the guide below for suggestions on preparing your remarks. 
  2. Reader Review: April 5 - April 10
    1. A committee of Columbia Public Health staff, faculty, and graduates (students interested in participating in the committee may contact their department) will review remarks submitted for consideration anonymously. Students selected as semi-finalists will be notified on April 11.
  3. Video REVIEW: April 15 - 19
    1. Semi-finalists will record a one-minute video explaining why they wish to be the Class Speaker. Recordings must be submitted by end of day on April 14. All students who submit remarks are encouraged to begin preparing their one-minute pitch soon after their initial submission and before the dates set for recording. 
    2. These video recordings will be published online on April 15 for all participating graduates to view and vote on. Graduates will vote for their top two class speaker candidates. Voting will close April 19. The top choices from the video review will be notified on April 19 and move on to the final stage. 
  4. Finalist Review: Wednesday, April 24, 11:30 A.M. – 1:00 PM
    1. Class Speaker finalists will need to present their remarks to the original reader committee and other special guests.
    2. The selected Class Speaker will be notified on Friday, April 26.

Class Speaker Tips and Helpful Hints

Each year we hold a class speaker competition and each year we hear feedback from the selection committee about students’ submissions. The information below may help guide you through the writing process.

Theme and Content

  • Think about what you would want to hear as a member of the audience. You may want to share your aspirations and convictions, passions or goals.
  • Strong speeches have strong themes. Try to maintain a consistent theme throughout your speech and hold your audience’s interest with specific examples and anecdotes.
  • Remember, the audience is comprised of students, faculty, families, friends, distinguished alumni, and guests. The speech should have some elements to which everyone can relate.


There is not a specific template or format to which speeches must adhere, but there are some general structures that most commencement speeches follow.

  • Speeches often begin with a brief welcome or greeting and mention of specific guests, such as Dean Fried, the invited speaker(s), and a general welcome to other audience members.
  • As this is the Mailman School of Public Health Class Day ceremony, the speech should be relevant to the field of public health and address topics or issues in the field. If the topics covered are complicated issues, they should be explained to the general audience in a story or brief review.
  • The speech will often have a charge to the class. This charge is a challenge or motivating factor, presented to the class during the speech, sometimes given as a closing. Often the charge is a goal to make changes, yet it can also be to stay the course and persevere.
  • A seven-minute speech runs approximately 500-700 words depending on speaking speed. Please time yourself prior to submitting your draft.