Graduation is a big occasion that calls for big sentiments. Whether you’re writing a commencement address or just sending graduation wishes, you’re searching for words that are profound, poetic, inspirational, funny, and preferably, brief. But hey, no pressure.
This is when it might be a good time to lean on the eloquence of others. Fortunately, many people have offered their pearls of wisdom to high school and college graduates over the years. In fact, you could probably fill a hefty book with sage words of advice for graduating students.
Consider this the Cliffs Notes version. To save you from endless research, we’ve put together a list of the best graduation quotes of all time. Note that while many of these sayings are well-known, we’ve taken the road less traveled and avoided some of the more obvious choices.
It’s called “commencement” because graduates are beginning something new. Here are some inspirational graduation quotes to motivate them toward greatness.
- “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”Maya Angelou
- “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”Steve Jobs
- “To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”Anatole France
- “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”Christopher Reeve
- “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”J.K. Rowling
- “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”Nathaniel Hawthorne
- “What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.”Harriet Beecher Stowe
- “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”Winston Churchill
- “The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows what the new rules are. So make up your own rules.”Neil Gaiman
- “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”Melinda Gates
- “You cannot authentically live anyone’s life but your own. That is the deal life offers us.”Gabrielle Giffords
- “This is your time and it feels normal to you, but really, there is no normal. There’s only change and resistance to it and then more change.”Meryl Streep
- “Success is relative. It is what we make of the mess we have made of things.”T.S. Eliot
- “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”Robert Louis Stevenson
- “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”attributed to Mark Twain
Hey, there’s only so much space on a graduation card. Here are some graduation messages that say a lot in a few words.
- “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”Arthur Ashe
- “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”Walt Disney
- “Life loves the liver of it.”Maya Angelou
- “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”Eleanor Roosevelt
- “Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out.”John Wooden
- “Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead.”Nora Ephron
- “I think I’m quite ready for another adventure!”Bilbo Baggins
- “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”Truman Capote
- “Share your sparkle wherever you are.”Dodinsky
- “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”Rob Siltanen
- “In response to those who say to stop dreaming and face reality, I say keep dreaming and make reality.”Kristian Kan
- “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”Robert Collier
- “There is no traffic jam along the extra mile.”Roger Staubach
- “Go forth and set the world on fire.”Ignatius of Loyola
Graduation is a solemn and ceremonious rite of passage, which makes it a perfect target for humor. Here are some funny graduation quotes to keep things loose.
- “You have the power. You are your own professor now. Which I know is a little creepy because that means you’re showering with your professor. But you have tenure. They can’t fire you.”Stephen Colbert
- “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”Will Rogers
- “If you’re still playing beer pong five years from now, you may be on the wrong track.”Eric Idle
- “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”Dr. Seuss
- “Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.”Garry Trudeau
- “Life has no remote… get up and change it yourself!”Mark A. Cooper
- “A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success.”Robert Orben
- “Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. Then by all means follow that path.”Ellen DeGeneres
- “To those of you who received honours, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”George W. Bush
- “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”attributed to Mark Twain
Graduation is an emotional time for the proud parents. Here are some quotes to share with a daughter who’s graduating.
- “Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”Barack Obama
- “I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story – I will.”Amy Schumer
- “She turned her can’ts into cans and her dreams into plans.”Kobi Yamada
Here are some quotes to share with a graduating son.
- “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”Albert Einstein
- “A man may conquer a million men in battle but one who conquers himself is, indeed, the greatest of conquerors.”Buddha
- “Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.”Epictetus
Let us not forget that graduation is a time of celebration. Raise your glass to these graduation toasts.
- “May you live long enough to see your hair grayed, your grandchildren grown, and your student loans paid off!”
- “Here’s to the parents who adored us
The teachers who bored us
The assignments that wore on us
And the friendships that restored us!”
- “Here’s to the graduate. She’s leaving classes, but staying classy.”
- “Here’s a toast to the graduate, because toast is about all he can afford to eat with the cost of tuition these days.”
Of course, graduation is also a time for saying goodbye – to classmates, teachers, and sometimes parents. If that’s your focus, see this list of the best farewell quotes.