How to Start a High School Graduation Speech

by Sampson Quain
Deliver an effective graduation speech by creating a strong opening.

Deliver an effective graduation speech by creating a strong opening.

High school graduation is a seminal event in the life of a teenager, and often marks the period in his life when he begins the process of maturing into an adult with a heightened sense of responsibility. High school graduation ceremonies often feature a speaker who delivers the commencement address. This speaker may be a student with an outstanding academic record such as as a class valedictorian, a graduating student body president or a distinguished alumnus of the school. If you've been asked to give the commencement address, a strong opening will set the tone for an effective speech.

Thank the school administration, other speakers, the assembled graduates and their friends and family in attendance for being there to support this important occasion. Ensure that you say the name of the principal of the school, rather than just referring to her as "the principal," which is less respectful and less personal.

Restate to the audience who you are and how you're connected with the school. Though you were already introduced, establish a rapport with your audience by presenting yourself to them personally. This is especially important if you're not a graduating senior, but rather an alumnus or someone who isn't affiliated with the school.

Establish the tone and direction of your speech by using a famous quote or telling a short, personal story of an experience that relates to the graduation. For example, if you're the first person in your family to earn a high school diploma, begin with this fact and how much the graduation means to your family. If you're an alumnus, tell the audience the lessons you learned in school that you're still applying.

Introduce the main topic of your speech by using a provocative statement or by using humor to grab the audience's attention. For example, if your speech focuses on how the graduating class can impact the world one person at a time, you can say something thought-provoking like, "The world expects nothing out of you ... what do you think about that?" Or in a more humorous vein, "Well, those were the best four years of our lives -- it's all downhill after this." Your intent is to draw the audience into your theme and keep them hooked until the end.

Warning

  • Don't belabor your opening, or you risk losing your audience's support before you reach the main body of your speech.

About the Author

Sampson Quain is a screenwriter and filmmaker who began writing in 1996. He has sold feature and television scripts to a variety of studios and networks including Columbia, HBO, NBC, Paramount and Lionsgate. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.

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