Enter the Chicago Tribune’s Class of 2020 Graduation Speech Contest to share your advice for this very unique graduating class

In “normal” times, high school seniors would be picking up their caps and gowns, and a select few would be preparing graduation speeches filled with inspirational messages about following your dreams, listening to your inner voice and stopping along the way to enjoy life’s little pleasures.

Of course nothing about these times is normal — especially for the Class of 2020.

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Schools and city leaders throughout the area are drafting plans for virtual ceremonies and other ways to give our seniors a proper send-off. The Chicago Tribune will do its part the week of May 18, with Senior Week, featuring a week of stories, photos and social interaction devoted to the Class of 2020 and culminating with a Chicago Class of 2020 Yearbook in the Sunday paper May 24.

As part of Senior Week, we are hosting a Chicago Class of 2020 Graduation Speech Contest. Whether you were going to make a speech at your physical graduation or not, we know you have thoughts about this unique year, and we want to hear your advice to your classmates as you leave high school and begin this important next chapter.

A panel of judges from the Chicago Tribune newsroom will select the winning speeches. The top three will be published on chicagotribune.com and in the Class of 2020 Yearbook section. Videos of students reading their speeches will also be featured on chicagotribune.com. Excerpts from other speeches will be shared as well.

The first-place winner will also receive a curated collection of books, including special autographed editions, from the Chicago Public Library Foundation. The winner also will be invited to read a favorite children’s story as a guest “celebrity” reader on the Chicago Public Library’s “Live From the Library” daily story time on Facebook Live. Past guest readers have included Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman, Jane Lynch and Israel Idonije.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Write a graduation speech of no more than 500 words that includes your reflections on high school, your senior year and your advice for the Class of 2020.
  • Click here to submit your entry.
  • All entries must be received no later than 11:59 p.m. May 12, 2020.
  • You may, but are not required to, take a selfie video of yourself reading your speech and submit that as well. The Chicago Tribune may share that video along with the winning speeches and excerpts from other entries.

As for what to write, that is up to you. To get you started, we asked for a few tips from the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich, whose “Always wear sunscreen” graduation column became a viral sensation in 1997. Here’s what she had to say:

“What should a graduation speech do? Entertain. Encourage. Nod to the past but look toward the future. Help people think.

“Don’t try to sound important. Don’t try to sound like someone famous. Think less about what you should say and more about what you truly want to say.

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“You may want to ask a friend or two what they’d say. Sometimes a friend’s idea will trigger your own. But, above all, be you.

“In your speech, acknowledge what hurts. Look for the hope. A little humor can help.

“Shorter is better.

“And then stop thinking about it, and just do it. You won’t be sure what you’re going to say until you sit down and write.”

Good luck.