Graduation is often filled with musical pomp and circumstance, but there are plenty of reasons to break out some more modern hits to provoke nostalgia and inspire new graduates.

This is a significant moment in your life, marking the end of an important chapter and heralding the beginning of an era filled with opportunity and (for some) uncertainty. Graduation night means farewells as well as celebrations. 

The following songs are great for graduations, encapsulating the full breadth of emotion you’ll be experiencing when you don the cap and gown.

The best graduation songs to tug at the heartstrings

1. The Climb by Miley Cyrus


Most graduates these days would have grown up with Miley Cyrus, but even if you didn’t know who she was, the lyrics to her song The Climb will elicit a tear.

The Climb acknowledges that the challenges aren’t over as graduates enter the next stage of their lives (just listen to the lyrics: Ain’t about how fast I get there/ Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side/ It’s the climb). This is a song to remind you of your strengths just as you enter the unknown.

2. See You Again by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth

 

A Fast and the Furious soundtrack single dedicated to Paul Walker, See You Again serves as a moving farewell to good friends. Of course, you’ll see those close university friends again, but it’s still sad to think you won’t see them as often as you’ve become used to.

3. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

 

If you want a little more pep after tearing up from See You Again, Natasha Bedingfield will set you right with Unwritten. This song is inspiring for anyone leaving university (or high school) with little idea of what’s ahead. The future is open to you. Go get it!

4. Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann

 

This spoken-word song takes the words from one of Mary Schmich’s Chicago Tribune columns about what an ideal graduation address would sound like. 

Director-Composer Baz Luhrmann was so moved by the piece that he created this remix of Rozalla’s 1991 hit Everybody’s Free (to Feel Good).

5. Sing by My Chemical Romance

 

The biggest hit from My Chemical Romance’s final album, Sing is for graduates ready to put school or university behind them and get on with the next stage in their lives. Celebrating ‘what tomorrow brings’, Sing is less about nostalgia, but it makes a great anthem nonetheless.

6. Graduation (Friends Forever) by Vitamin C

 

And we talked all night about the rest of our lives/ Where we’re gonna be when we turn 25. No one could argue about this song’s meaning. Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick produced this sweet melody as a testament to the memorable times you share with your fellow graduates - and the time to say goodbye.

Although it’s almost 20 years old, this sad graduation song will still have you tearing up. A sample of Pachabel’s Canon in D is a beautiful addition.

7. I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack

 

A song filled with advice for someone about to head out into “the real world”, I Hope You Dance is made to inspire graduates but is more likely to tug on your parents’ heartstrings, especially when you know Lee Ann Womack thought of her daughters when she sang it.

With lyrics like I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance, this is a feel good song that will give any graduate inspiration for the next stage of their life.

8. Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey

 

This classic tune has stood the test of time, inspiring graduates since 1981 to believe in themselves and their dreams no matter what. 

Graduation is always daunting and the next part of your journey may not be easy but this song injects graduates with a dose of encouragement that’s all too infectious.

9. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day

  

Solid graduation fodder, this ballad was popularised as a song for endings when it joined the soundtrack for Seinfield’s final episode. Since its release in 1997, it’s become a staple during graduation ceremonies.

The song marks both the end of one chapter (I hope you had the time of your life) as well as the start of something new (Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road/ Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go) - both sentiments bound to resonate with graduates.

10. We Are Young by fun. and Janelle Monae

 

When you receive that diploma, you’re going to feel on top of the world. And when you do, this is the anthem you’ll want to sing. These lyrics are empowering: Tonight we are young/ So I set the world on fire/ We can burn brighter/ Than the sun.

Incidentally, singer Nate Ruess came up with the lyrics after his worst night of drinking, according to The Rolling Stones, so it might be best not to follow his lead.

11. 100 Years by Five for Fighting

 

One minute, you’re fifteen and the next, you’re graduating from university and about to enter the professional world. 100 Years serves as a fantastic opportunity for you to stop and appreciate how far you’ve come.

 

It also reflects on how quickly life passes by and encourages you to make the most of every moment - a great reminder when graduates start worrying about what’s to come.

12. How Far We’ve Come by Matchbox 20

 

Another song that encourages you to reflect on your past and celebrate your progress. Released 20 years ago, How Far We’ve Come is so nostalgic that the New York Mets used it in a video commemorating their final season at Shea Stadium.

13. Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson

  

I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly/ I’ll do what it takes till I touch the sky./ And I’ll make a wish/ Take a chance/ Make a change/ And break away - a fitting message for those anticipating their next steps.

Kelly Clarkson’s song has the right mix of inspiration and enthusiasm for graduating and is best enjoyed with a chorus of graduates joining in.

14. Here’s to the Night by Eve 6

 

A classic 90s song that’s relevant in any age, Here’s to the Night is a soft ballad when you’re feeling a little sentimental. For graduates, these lyrics are everything: Here’s to the nights we felt alive/ Here’s to the tears you knew you’d cry/ Here’s to goodbye/ Tomorrow’s gonna come too soon.

15. Firework by Katy Perry

 

Cap off the night on with an upbeat graduation song that will arm you with the confidence you need to start the next phase in your life. Katy Perry’s number one hit is an inspirational anthem that will end your celebrations on a high note. After all, Baby, you’re a firework/ Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth.

Celebrate your graduation in style

Now you’ve created an impressive playlist of all the best graduation songs, you might want a little more inspiration. Be inspired with these moving graduation quotes and get some handy tips on how to wear your graduation gown and how to style your hair with your cap.