How to go seven rounds with your graduation speech

Joe Ramiro Alvarado delivers his commencement speech (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

The thought of giving the same graduation speech seven times in one day would have been unheard of at the beginning of the year.

The COVID-19 pandemic turned that thought into a reality.

To keep capacity below 250 people, McNary High School hosted seven in-person graduation ceremonies on Friday, Aug. 7, and in each ceremony, Erik Jespersen, McNary’s principal, Bill Kirkwood, math teacher and keynote speaker, and Joe Ramiro Alvarado, the senior class speaker, recited their speeches for the Class of 2020.

“It was surreal to go through the same speech seven times in one day. The intent was to be energetic and in the moment. We wanted to bring our A-game every time,” Jespersen said.

With it being his sixth time speaking at a McNary graduation, Jespersen has gotten accustomed to being on the podium in front of thousands of people. This year, however, he was forced to break from routine.

“During a typical year, I would go through my speech in the morning. Then, all the seniors would go through a practice ceremony to make sure everything would run smoothly. This year, that was obviously impossible,” Jespersen said.

While Jespersen believes that all seven of his speeches were similar in delivery, Kirkwood and Alvarado both said they got more comfortable with their talks in the latter part of the day.

“I definitely felt more comfortable as the day went on,” Kirkwood said. “My last few were better than my first few. I think I got better with practice.”

“I was really nervous in my first speech. It took me some time to get comfortable. I think my best one was my fourth speech, because I knew exactly what to expect,” Alvarado added. “But I still wanted to maintain the same enthusiasm with every speech.”

All students and faculty were wearing masks during the ceremony, but speakers were allowed to take off their mask when they were at the microphone. Alvarado elected to speak with his mask on for the first go-around, but then decided to speak with it off for the remainder of the day.

“I couldn’t salivate while I was wearing my mask so I felt like I was getting tongue-tied,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado started preparing for his speech in May, practicing two to three times a day, thinking that he would be giving his speech in June. McNary even taped a virtual ceremony in early-June in case they couldn’t hold graduation ceremonies in person.

When it was announced in July that McNary would be having multiple 40-minute graduation ceremonies, Alvarado felt like he needed to edit his speech to make it shorter.

“I spent a lot of time cutting my speech down. I didn’t want to go over the time limit,” Alvarado said.

Kirkwood also said that he had to cut his original speech down from 12 minutes to 4-5 minutes.

“My original speech was quite a bit longer. My wife was instrumental in helping me condense it into a shorter amount of time,” Kirkwood said.

With just under an hour in-between ceremonies, Jespersen, Kirkwood and Alvarado didn’t have a lot of down time during their 12-hour day. Fortunately, the McNary Athletic Booster Club provided lunch and dinner, and made sure the speakers were staying hydrated on a 90-degree day.

“We were well taken care of. It’s our responsibility to give those kids and parents the best experience possible, so it was good that we didn’t have to worry about being hungry or thirsty,” Jespersen said.

Despite the hours of preparation and repetitions during the day, the experience was well worth it in the end, especially for Kirkwood.

“I value goodbyes because they are special moments where it might be the last memory you have of someone. I felt robbed of goodbyes with all these kids I have made relationships with when school was canceled,” Kirkwood said. “It meant a lot that I got the chance to bid my farewell to them because that might be their last of memory of me.”