Poems for Graduation

Find the perfect poems to read and share at graduation.

On graduation day, friends and family often turn to poetry to express what they would like to pass on to the next generation—a few lines of guidance, a gesture toward possibility. The familiar standards include Robert Frost’s "The Road Not Taken," Langston Hughes's "Dreams," and Rudyard Kipling’s "If—.” Contemporary poets, too have offered many strange, funny, and lovely alternatives to these well-known verses, addressing not only the excitement and beauty of graduation, but also the prospect of changes and new beginnings.

 

Popular Classic Poems to Read at Graduation

Life” by Charlotte Brontë
Life, believe, is not a dream …

Beyond the Years” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Beyond the years the answer lies …

The Choir Invisible” by George Eliot
O May I join the choir invisible …

The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …

Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me …

The Graduate Leaving College” by George Moses Horton
What summons do I hear?

A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tell me not, in mournful numbers …

from Morituri Salutamus” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
How beautiful is youth! how bright it gleams ...

Up-Hill” by Christina Rossetti
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [All the world’s a stage]” by William Shakespeare
All the world’s a stage …

Live Blindly and Upon the Hour” by Trumbull Stickney
Live blindly and upon the hour …

There was a child went forth” by Walt Whitman
There was a child went forth every day ...

To You” by Walt Whitman
Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams …

My Heart Leaps Up” by William Wordsworth
My heart leaps up when I behold …

Be Drunk” by Charles Baudelaire
You have to be always drunk …

It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Guest
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done …

If—” by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you …

Knows How To Forget! (433)” by Emily Dickinson
Knows how to forget! / But could It teach it?

"from Oracles for Youth” by Caroline Gilman
Directions // Let some one hold the book, and …

See it Through” by Edgar Guest
When you're up against a trouble, / Meet it squarely, face to face; …

Aspiration” by Henrietta Cordelia Ray
We climb the slopes of life with throbbing heart …

 

Related Essays & Resources

C. K. WIlliams, photo credit Brian Palmer

Beginnings

In this personal essay, Williams recounts his attempts at becoming a poet after graduating college,...
Jane Hirshfield, photo by Nick Rozsa

Attention, Solitude, and First Books: Jane Hirshfield in Conversation

Academy Chancellor Jane Hirshfield discusses her early literary discoveries; the start of her...
Graduation

Graduation: Poems for Kids

The following poems—perfect for the last day of school—are about graduating, growing up, and moving...

Contemporary Poems for the Graduate

Remember” by Joy Harjo
Remember the sky that you were born under …

Dreams” by Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams …

Next Time Ask More Questions” by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before jumping, remember …

The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz
I have walked through many lives, …

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities” by Chen Chen
To be a good / ex/current friend for R. To be one last …

Instructions on Not Giving Up” by Ada Limón
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out …

Theories of Time and Space” by Natasha Trethewey
You can get there from here, though / there's no going home …

You Can’t Have It All” by Barbara Ras
But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves …

The Writer” by Richard Wilbur
In her room at the prow of the house …

from Pieces of Kate” by Eamon Grennan
Her Junior High Shcool graduation: / she's singing alone …

An Instructor’s Dream” by Bill Knott
Many decades after graduation …

Fisherman” by Kurt Brown
A man spends his whole life fishing in himself / for something grand 

Testimony” by Joseph Fasano
If tonight the moon should arrive like a lost guide …

Meeting and Passing” by Robert Frost
As I went down the hill along the wall …

Relax” by Ellen Bass
Bad things are going to happen. …

In Betweenness” by Pierre Joris
is it a good thing to find / two empty pages between the day …

That Everything’s Inevitable” by Katy Lederer
That fate is whatever has already happened. 

The Future Is Here” by Bianca Stone
Man burns at a certain degree …

Doors opening, closing on us” by Marge Piercy
Maybe there is more of the magical / in the idea of a door …

"For the Graduation: Bolinas School, June 11, 1971" by Robert Creeley
Pretension has it you can't get back what's gone by …

"For the Graduation: Bolinas, 1972" by Robert Creeley
Round and round again …

"For the Graduation: Bolinas, 1973" by Robert Creeley
The honor of being human will stay constant …