Some speeches help us gauge the true power of words while leaving us speechless ourselves. These speeches can be about hope, love, courage and equality. But sometimes they are about hate, audacity, compassion, and sorrow.
Here’s a list of iconic speeches that’ll leave an indelible imprint on your mind, and possibly, in your life.
1) Adolf Hitler- ‘The Jewish Question’, The Reichstag, Berlin, 30 January 1939
This speech marks Hitler’s sixth year of ascension to power in which he goes on to reveal the paranoia and obsession that drove him to become one of the evilest dictators of the 20th century. One understands the insecurities he developed after losing Wolrd War 1 and how he directed all his contempt on one ethnic minority- the Jewry.
“…at the present moment, we are witnessing in still a third country the same drama of a brave triumph over the Jewish international attempt to destroy European civilization.”
2) Angelina Jolie, World Refugee Day, 2009
While most of us can’t stop going gaga over her good looks and acting skills, here’s Angelina Jolie giving us yet another reason to love her. She emotionally recounts her emotional trip to Afghanistan and how meeting refugees changed her life.
3) Arundhati Roy- ‘Peace and the New Corporate Liberation Theology’, Sydney Peace prize, Australia, 3rd November 2004
Arundhati Roy, a noted Indian novelist and an eminent peace activist delivered an audacious and awe-inspiring acceptance speech on being awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. The speech is a stinging critique of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq without UN’S authority. Not only that, Arundhati, while standing in Sydney critiques the then Prime Minister of Australia-John Howard, who, “among other things, led the country to participate in the illegal invasion of Iraq”.
Watch the speech here: https://vimeo.com/72783882
4) Ryan White- ‘I Have AIDS’, Testimony before the President’s Commission on AIDS, Washington DC, 1988
In the early 1980s, AIDS was viewed as a disease that only affected the homosexual community. Later, it became clear that HIV AIDS was indiscriminate in choosing its victims. Ryan White, a 13 year old contracted AIDS in 1984 after undergoing a blood transfusion during an operation to remove a part of his lung. His school tried to keep him from attending, and even when after several legal battles the White family settled with the school, he still had to face a plethora of hurtful prejudices. From having his locker vandalized to being called a FAG, Ryan speaks about how he battled the taboo attached to AIDS.
Following are some excerpts from his speech.
“Even though we knew AIDS was not spread through casual contact. Nevertheless, the parents of twenty students started their own school. They were still not convinced. Because of the lack of education on AIDS, discrimination, fear, panic, and lies surrounded me:
- I became the target of Ryan White’s jokes
- Lies about me biting people
- Spitting on vegetables and cookies
- Urinating on bathroom walls ”I was labeled a troublemaker, my mom an unfit mother, and I was not welcome anywhere. People would get up and leave so they would not have to sit anywhere near me. Even at church, people would not shake my hand.”
5) Martin Luther King- ‘I Have a Dream’, Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, 28 August 1963
In August 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King Jnr led a march to Washington DC to demonstrate the commitment of all American people to seek equal rights in every facet of American society. King’s speech, delivered before thousands of people gathered on the steps of the Lincoln memorial has to be one of the greatest speeches of all time.
Watch the speech here:
6) John Kerry- ‘Against the War in Vietnam’, House Foreign Relations Committee, Washington DC, 22nd April 1971.
John F Kerry was the Democratic presidential candidate against George W Bush in 2004. He was the son of an Army Air Corps test pilot who flew planes during the World War 2. Kerry volunteered to serve in the Vietnam war because he felt like “it was the right thing to do.” Later, along with many other Vietnam Veterans, Kerry’s wartime experience led him to speak out against the war. He also joined the Vietnam Veterans Against War (VVAW) and also co-founded Vietnam Veterans of America. In April 1997, Kerry openly questioned America’s involvement in the civil war in Vietnam.
“We cannot consider ourselves America’s best men when we are ashamed of and hated what we were called on to do in Southeast Asia.”
“The country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history.”
Click here to watch an excerpt of the speech, back when Kerry was just a young 27 year old man.
7) Elie Wiesel- ‘The Perils of Indifference’, East Room, White House, Washington DC, 12 April 1999
In the Summer of 1944, 15-year-old Elie Wiesel, along with his father, mother, and sisters, was deported by the Nazis to the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland. Wiesel and his family were hurriedly evacuated from Auschwitz by a forced march to Buchenwald in January 1945 where his family eventually died but Elie was liberated by American troops in April,45. In his speech in the White House, Wiesel reiterates his belief that to “remain indifferent and silent is the greatest sin of them all”
“Of course, indifference can be tempting-more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.”
8) Nelson Mandela- ‘Release from Prison’, Cape Town, 11 February 1990
The great Nelson Mandela delivered the following speech while addressing a rally after being released from jail in 1990. He thanks the many people who were involved in the brutal struggle against apartheid.
9) Mikhail Gorbachev- ‘Dissolving the Soviet Union’, Televised address, 25 December 1991
On the Christmas of 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as the last and final president of the Soviet Union (USSR). It was (ironically) a peaceful dissolution of a communist nation that had been borne in a lot of bloodsheds.
10) Mohammed Qahtani- ‘The Power of Words’ , Toastmasters International, 2015 World Champion
“Words when said and articulated in the right way, can change someone’s mind. They can alter someone’s belief.”
In the 2015 World Championship of the Toastmasters International, Mohammed Qahtani gives a mind-boggling and yet nothing short of sheer perfection of speech. If you’ve ever doubted the power of words, this one’s for you.