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The Best Graduation Songs

by Liz Davies

Whether it’s from your favorite movie, played during a pivotal moment during your childhood, or is a part of an inside joke with your friends, everyone has at least one song that brings back a flood of memories.  Whenever I hear Bye, Bye, Bye, I think of my 12th birthday party at Ficco’s Bowladrome, dancing under the black lights during Friday night glow-bowl in the last few days of summer with my best friends. I also think of how I didn’t live up to the promise I made to my 12-year-old self of marrying JC Chazes, but that’s not really as relevant to this article.

Since it’s the season of graduations, the radio has been littered with songs that spark feelings of nostalgia and new beginnings. I’ve gone through both high school and college graduations, so I’ve heard my fair share of playlists spewing songs of well wishes, advice and hopes for the future. Some are upbeat and deliver the message that anything is possible. Others reminisce times with friends in the past. Some deliver simple messages of hope and happiness. Some pull at your heartstrings so hard that you immediately begin to sob while looking at your Facebook pictures from 2007 (wow, my hair was stupid) and how skinny you were (not in my case). So here is a list of my top ten graduation songs for both high school and college grads.

First, a few songs that didn’t make the top 10:
*Born To Run-Bruce Springsteen
*Baba O’Riley-The Who
*No Such Thing-John Mayer
*Hanging by a Moment-Lifehouse
*(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life-Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
*These Walls-Teddy Geiger
*Thnks Fr Th Mmrs-Fall Out Boy. I left this off the list just like they left vowels out of the title. I don’t care how sassy the band was trying to be with this title, there’s just o excuse.
*Long Live-Taylor Swift. For a few minutes, you and your friends feel like they ruled the world. But now reality has set in and you realize that you have to work pretty hard to stay on top. Damnit.
*The Heart of Life-John Mayer. When you get down to it, life is pretty sweet, even if it shits all over you sometimes.
*Don’t You (Forget About Me)-Simple Minds. From the great high school/coming-of-age movie The Breakfast Club. It’s great on the radio, but never as good as it is while seeing Judd Nelson’s fist of might in a freeze frame.
*Don’t Stop Believing-Journey. Incredible song, but it can be played in so many other situations aside from graduations. Look for this to be included in my favorite songs to belt out while singing alone in my car.
*How Far We’ve Come-Matchbox Twenty. I originally had this in the top 10, but then I listened to it and remembered that this is actually about the end of the world.

#10. We Are Young-Fun. Ft. Janelle Monae

Not my favorite song on this list, or even the ones outside the top 10, but I outsourced help to figure which of the songs outside the top 10 should be bumped up, and my friend Kelly said this one. I can see how it fits: it captures a crazy night between friends and they justify it by saying that they’re young. Over and over again. It’s catchy and fun though, so I guess I can suck it up and leave it in the top 10 for Kelly.  But only if she admits that I was right about the lyrics to “Send Me On My Way” which may or may not be featured later in this countdown.

#9. The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)-Jason Mraz

This might not seem as epic as one of the other classic songs on this list, but it’s still got a really great message. Stop worrying and just live your life to the fullest. Just enjoy the experiences as they come, and let them go if they don’t go the way you wanted. As someone who worries about the most insignificant things, I often have to remind myself of the message of this song. But mostly I just really like Jason Mraz, and even I’ll admit that this is a pretty biased choice.

#8. Breakaway-Kelly Clarkson

One of the only songs on her CD of the same title, Breakaway , that doesn’t immediately make listeners want to castrate any man within eyesight. This is actually a really pretty song about sucking it up and moving on from something that’s comfortable in order to become a better version of yourself. I’m pretty sure it was also the theme song for The Princess Diaries 2, but I’ll look past that and celebrate its message instead. If I ever move away, I’m going to listen to this as my plane takes off into the sunset and make sure that just one tear rolls down my cheek. It doesn’t get more poetic than that.

#7. Don’t Stop-Fleetwood Mac

The message is simple and clear: don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Yesterday is over, and you can focus on where you’ll be in the future instead of dwelling in the past. Things will get better no matter how bleak things may have been yesterday or in the past. High school sucked? Who cares, you have college to look forward to. Also, your true friends won’t root for you to fail, so screw the haters. Although if you have multiple haters you’re either in middle school or may have to reevaluate your behavior.

#6. I Hope You Dance-Lee Ann Womack

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m pretty embarrassed about this song choice. You don’t get much cheesier than this, but you can’t deny that it’s got a pretty deep message. I don’t want to gush much more for fear of ridicule, but this song dispenses some pretty great advice. Thank you, Ms. Womack, I will feel small when I stand beside the ocean and I won’t fear those mountains in the distance.

#5. Forever Young-Rod Stewart

Who doesn’t want to stay in their glory days forever? This song reminds us all to hang onto the good times and memories even into adulthood. We’re all going to get bogged down by work, family and other responsibilities, but this song wishes us the best on our journey. These are the well wishes that all of our parents have for us from the moment we’re born straight through to adulthood. This is probably the best song to put in a video or picture montage, which makes it an instant classic.

#4. Send Me On My Way-Rusted Root

Yup, this is the Matilda song! That’s probably why our generation loves it and has such great memories of it, but it’s still a great song for a send off! This is a great song when groups of drunk college kids are at a party for one of the last nights before graduation. Revel in the fact that nobody knows any of the lyrics except “send me on my way” and “reach out my little hand”. Also, the friends that made fun of me for saying “reach out my little hand” instead of “reach out my hand” can suck it because they do say “little hand” during the second verse. Who do you think I am, my mom trying to sing any song ever? Please, I know my song lyrics.

#3. Graduation Song (Friends Forever)-Vitamin C

This song hit me hard during my 6th grade graduation. This isn’t really much more than a sappy song about missing friends after graduation, but it served its purpose and did it well. And, wait; is that a gospel choir at the end of the song? Preach! My optimistic 6th grade self really believed the message of this song. But if that were true, I would actually still have my own friends instead of just latching onto my brother and his friends.

#2. Here’s to the Night-Eve 6

Unlike many tunes on this list, this is actually a legitimately good song that I could listen to again and again. It’s got artistic integrity, a great beat, and some really beautiful lyrics. It brings me back to the last nights before graduation, realizing that I only have a limited amount of time to do all the things I wanted to do. Well if getting wasted and not dying were the only goals during those nights, then mission accomplished. The uncertainty of graduation and what’s to come can be terrifying, so live it up with your friends for as long as you can. As predicted in the song, I would give anything to go back to the nights before graduation and live carefree with my friends. Unfortunately all good things come to an end, but I’ll always have this song to remind me of the great times and bring the amazing memories back.

#1. Good Riddance (Time of your Life)-Green Day

From the moment you hear those first notes on the guitar, you know you’re in for a rollercoaster of emotion for the next three minutes. It’s one of the most well-known and revered graduation songs of all time, and rightfully so. Even my music-hating mother appreciates this one, even if she sings it all wrong. Mixed emotions are an integral part of the graduation process and this song captures those perfectly. Sure it’s time to move on and seek other opportunities, but there are also memories, teachers, and friends that you’ll miss seeing every day.  Fun fact: this was the #1 wedding song of 1999 despite the bittersweet title. Although I’m no one to judge, considering I locked in my wedding song choice at the ripe old age of 12. If you ever hear This I Promise You by *Nsync blaring from the reception area of an Applebee’s, be sure to stop in and say hey! But seriously, this song is the essential graduation song because it’s so honest when other songs only focus on the positives of graduation. Yes, school was fun, but it was also scary at times. And it’s somewhat of a relief to be done with all the hard work and stress. The journey was worth it in the end and was undoubtedly a lot of fun, but it’s also nice to move onto something new.

I hope that these satisfied your need for sentimental songs that will get you through your graduations. Congratulations 2012, and to quote Vitamin C from her song Graduation (Friend’s Forever), “La, la, la, la, la, la, la. Yeah, yeah.” Truer words have never been spoken.

About Liz Davies

Who's that gurrrrrrlllllll? Who's that gurrrrrrlllllll? It's Liz.

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