Chances are that if someone asked fifty people what the best graduation song was, that person would probably receive fifty different answers. While the responses are subjective, there are certain songs that fit the bill better than others. That said, we have put together a list of thirty-one songs to graduate to, that are likely to be appropriate for the big occasion:
1. Pomp and Circumstances – Edward Elgar
Of all the graduation songs in the United States, Pomp and Circumstance is probably the best known and most frequently used. Since the early 1900s, students have been marching down the isles of educational institutions ranging from high school to graduate school to the refrains of probably the most recognizable graduation song ever written.
However, what some may not realize is that this song was adopted by Americans from the British. It was written and composed by Edward Elgar in 1857 and used for the coronation of Edward VII, who was the son of Queen Victoria.
When King Edward VII was given an honorary degree from Yale four years later, the song was played and has since been known as the end-all and be-all of graduation songs.
2. With a Little Help From My Friends – The O’Neill Brothers Group
With a Little Help From My Friends was one of the last songs ever written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney as a duo.
Although it was characterized by former Vice President Spiro Agnew as a “tribute to the power of illegal drugs,” the instrumental version by the O’Neill Brothers has been used as a graduation song because of its perfect tempo for marching, and for the fact that it references the power of unity and friendship, which are often recalled as the highlights of many student’s educational adventures.
3. Graduation (Friends Forever) – Vitamin C
Sentimental music and lyrics about friends and the future are the perfect combinations of ingredients for graduation. Vitamin C’s blockbuster hit was co-written by American pop singer, Vitamin C, and Josh Deutsch. It was produced by Garry Hughes and is partially based on Pachelbel’s Canon in D. To add to the sentimentality, the NYC All-City Chorus adds a background mix to lyrics that talk about the future.
4. Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major – Johann Pachelbel
Also popular as a wedding march, Pachelbel’s arresting Canon in D Major consists of a drone of violins and basso continuo to produce a serene but joyful style that is perfect as a graduation march. The song is instantly recognizable, and is certainly timeless and classic as it sets the mood in a way that no other song can for a sentimental occasion such as a graduation.
5. The Climb – Miley Cyrus
This popular Miley Cyrus song is an inspirational graduation tune that speaks to overcoming life’s obstacles and realizing one’s dreams. What better aspiration for the graduating student setting foot into independent life for the first time?
6. Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield
This hip, contemporary tune by Natasha Bedingfield reminds us that graduation time is a milestone in which students begin to make their own life choices and to write their own personal stories that will determine who they turn out to be. It is an uplifting, motivational, and moving song that is considered by many to be a timeless classic.
7. I Will Remember You – Sarah McLachlan
Sarah McLachlan’s nostalgic hit fits right into the scheme of things during graduation by reminding students that one should not miss out on future accomplishments by remaining stuck in the past. The song was written by Sarah McLachlan, Seamus Egan, and Dave Merenda, and was inspired by Egan’s instrumental song, “Weep Not for the Memories”.
8. We Are Young – Fun. Ft. Janelle Monáe
The chorus of “We Are Young” mentions the fact that, in the present time, students are young and that nothing else matters. In other words, the song is about making the most of the here and now and not worrying about what is yet to come.
9. Closing Time – Semisonic
On the surface, the lyrics to “Closing Time” appear to be addressing the proverbial last call at the end of the night in a bar. However, the metaphorical implication goes further to imply that when the final call comes before graduation, it is time for students to make the most of their final days as students before stepping out into the world. The song was written by Dan Wilson upon the birth of his daughter.
10. Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
This Simple Minds tune speaks to the ambiguous nature of friendships prior to students’ going their separate ways after graduation, which is a time for decision-making and new beginnings. While some friendships last a lifetime, graduation can also symbolize departures from familiar relationships as students set off into the world on their own.
11. Forever Young – Alphaville
The somber beginning strains of “Forever Young” by Alphaville impart a nostalgic mood as it talks about savoring youth and dreams to make oneself immortal, lofty but common goals of the graduate. The song was written by German rockers Marian Gold, Bernhard Lloyd, and Frank Mertens.
12. Young Forever – Jay Z. ft. Mr. Hudson
“Young Forever,” similarly to “Forever Young,” addresses those typical feelings of being young and invincible but also addresses other fears of growing up, something that crosses the minds of many graduating students who are facing life-changing transformations from youth into adulthood.
13. Photograph – Nickelback
The third verse of Photograph by Nickelback begins, “And this is where I went to school, most of the time had better things to do…” which is a relatable sentiment for most graduating students, that is until the feelings of nostalgia set in and they begin to feel nostalgic. What better sentiments to portray than those inherent in a graduation ceremony? Everyone tends to review memories from school. The lyrics are actually based on the personal experiences of the band’s lead singer, Chad Kroeger.
14. 100 Years – Five for Fighting
Songwriter and lead singer, John Ondrasik wrote 100 years about the major milestones in his personal life. Graduation is nothing, if not a major milestone in a person’s life, whether it is graduation from high school or graduation from medical school, each graduation is heavy with significance.
15. Goodbye to You – Michelle Branch
“Goodbye to You” deals with the unavoidable goodbyes inherent in graduating and leaving friends behind. This song was actually written about a toxic relationship, but it is about the part of leaving any relationship that can be so difficult.
16. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
The lead singer of Green Day (Billie Joe Anderson) wrote this song about a girlfriend who hurt him by moving away to continue her education. It is inevitable that broken relationships occur after graduation due to students departing for separate schools. This is probably why this particular song is such a popular graduation song.
17. Congratulations – Post Malone ft. Quavo
Few things in life require more hard work than making one’s way through school and reaching graduation. Post Malone and Quavo created this song to pay honor to the accomplishments reached after a period of time of difficult challenges toward meeting a goal, making it an ideal graduation song.
18. Graduation Song (On My Way) – Pevan & Sarah
This cheery tune addresses all the milestones one must pass in order to successfully complete an education. Its upbeat tune is perfect for marching, or even prancing, down the isle to pick up a diploma in front of family and friends.
19. High Hopes – Panic! At the Disco
“High Hopes” is about setting one’s aspirations too high and, perhaps, failing, and urges students to set realistic goals. After stating this problem, the song turns into a reflection about the journey along life’s paths and how one can overcome failure to accomplish his or her dreams.
20. Celebration – Kool & the Gang
A classic hit from decades past, Kool & The Gang focuses celebration on embracing the joy of change and urges listeners to have good times. Going away to study for the purpose of furthering one’s education can be a serious endeavor. Remembering how to laugh and enjoy life can be an important tool for survival.
21. School’s Out – Alice Cooper
The inspiration behind Alice Cooper’s classic rock and roll hit was a warning that was often included in Bowery Boys films that meant to warn people to “wise up.” Cooper is said to regard himself as the Francis Scot Key of the last day of school, a poignant and rebellious final gesture for the graduate.
22. We Are the Champions – Queen
We Are the Champions looked at what it takes to be successful in life, a question that many students address as they embark upon college to further their educations. The song imparts a positive message about emerging victorious after overcoming adversity.
23. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
In this song, Journey stresses the importance of exercising perseverance to achieve one’s goals. The rest is history as this iconic song continues to live on today.
24. Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus
What is graduation if not an excuse to celebrate overcoming the challenges that led to completing an education? Party in the USA provides a rockin’ way to do this.
25. Raise Your Glass – Pink
Raise Your Glass was produced by the Swedish songwriter, Max Martin, and co-written by the artist herself, P!nk. It addresses the importance of diversity and honors those who don’t fit into a traditional mold, an important demographic for any graduation ceremony.
26. Firework – Katy Perry
Katy Perry’s “Firework” is a motivational song that makes those who were invisible during the school year feel more accepted and loved. It is geared especially toward people who suffer from low self-esteem or who have bullying issues and can be thought of as a graduate song that is filled with compassion.
27. Hey Look, Ma! I Made It! – Panic! At the Disco
Hey Look, Ma! I Made It! is a self-congratulatory tune that also deals with the mental duress inherent in any type of self-achievement. This is totally appropriate for the graduate who has, no doubt, experienced this during his or her educational process.
28. I’ll Be There For You – The Rembrandts
This popular theme song from the 90’s sitcom “Friends” talks about remaining loyal to one’s friends in spite of hardships that may come their way, which represents thoughts that many graduates have about their fate beyond school and into the unfamiliar.
29. I Hope You Dance – Leanne Womack
As friends part after graduation, a certain amount of well-wishing and sentimentality arises that is addressed in Leanne Womack’s country hit. As a graduation song, these lyrics contain appropriate messages of good fortune from proud parents to their offspring who are graduating.
30. You’re Going to Miss This – Trace Adkins
Trace Atkins’ country hit “You’re Going to Miss This” relays a poignant message to graduates who are preparing to begin the next stages in their lives, but who might want to carry their cherished memories of school with them. As one can do when he or she leaves home, this song talks about returning to one’s roots, a consideration to make as everything begins to change and adulthood looms.
The Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in Nashville awarded this song the Song of the Year, much to the pleasure of its writers, Ashley Gorley and Lee Thomas Gorley.
31. I Was Here – Beyoncé
This song is a great one for graduation because it addresses the issue of leaving a legacy behind so that the graduate will be remembered, whether for scholastic or athletic accomplishments, humanitarian efforts, or for simply being an outstanding person.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.