How to Start a Graduation Speech

Michele Meleen
Woman speaker at graduation ceremony

Giving a commencement speech is your chance to get a powerful message across to your entire school and community. Set the tone and start your graduation speech, whether it's serious or humorous, with a strong opening line to capture everyone's attention.

Start With a Popular Teacher's Catchphrase

Pay homage to your favorite teachers or school staff members by starting with a catchphrase they are known for. After reciting the line, give a brief explanation of who said it so the parents in the crowd can understand. If you've got several sayings you can reference, use each one as the opening line for a new paragraph.

  • "Make it count!"
  • "Eyes on me.""
  • I don't know, can you?"
  • "What is going on here?"
  • "Make good choices."
  • "Use your words."
  • "Minds at the ready!"

Start With School Spirit

By leading with a familiar phrase or song that encourages participation and school spirit, you'll immediately capture everyone's attention in a positive and emotional way. Try one of these ideas.

Complete the School Song Lyric

Start with the first line of your school song's chorus and ask the crowd to complete the chorus with you. Now you can talk about how interconnected everyone is.

Use a Crowd Participation Call Back

Do a call back where you say something like, "When I say 'dawgs,' you say 'win.'" Then you can launch into how being a dawg has made you a winner. If you want a more humorous start, choose a funny call back such as "When I say to 'infinity,' you say and 'beyond!'" Then you can start talking about how there is no limit to your future.

Make Comparisons to the School Mascot

Use your school mascot's traits to structure the introduction for your speech. If your mascot is a tiger you could talk about how strong the school has made you. If the mascot is a hurricane you could talk about how you'll influence everything you touch in an impactful way.

Ask a Provocative Question

Starting with a thought-provoking or controversial question gets the crowd eager to hear your response. Keep in mind you'll need to provide some answer to the question throughout the speech without getting pulled off stage for being offensive.

  • Hold up your smartphone and say "How does all this information get into this tiny phone?" or "How is this device exactly like your kids?" Describe how, just like modern tech, it takes a team of people to turn a kid into a successful adult.
  • Ask, "If ebooks will one day render physical books obsolete, does that mean technology will render teachers obsolete?" Talk about how human interactions in high school have prepared you for life better than anything else ever could.
  • Point out to the crowd and ask, "Are you a kind and open person like the world is calling for you to be?" Discuss how high school helped you find yourself and strive to be the best version of you.

Start With a Famous Line

Let the quote serve as the inspiration to guide the rest of your speech by referencing similar words at different points. Infuse the speech with a similar emotional tone as well.

Use Song Lyrics

Whether you like old school music or today's hits, you should be able to find a graduation song that fits your speech. Bonus points if you can play the song while you're walking out on stage or sing the lyric as your opening.

  • Bob Dylan, "Forever Young" - "May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung. May you stay forever young."

  • Wiz Khalifa, "See You Again" - "We've come a long way from where we began. Oh, I'll tell you all about it when I see you again."

  • Auli'i Cravalho "How Far I'll Go" - "If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me, one day I'll know, how far I'll go."

Use the Opening Line From a Book

Great books from the past and present often start with an attention-grabbing line that sets the tone for the entire book. Check out the opening lines from some of your favorite books to see if they can set the stage for your speech.

  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five - "All this happened, more or less."
  • Graham Greene, The End of the Affair - "A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead."
  • Roald Dahl, Matilda - "It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful."

Start Off With a Bang

The opening line of your speech should give the crowd a good idea of what to expect from the rest of your speech. Choose a catchy line that helps convey your message or launch into high school highlights.

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How to Start a Graduation Speech