10 Great Graduation Songs
Millions of high school students and college grads will be walking across the graduation stage to the familiar sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” soon, but we feel like country fans can do better this graduation season.
Is there a song that you think is among the all-time top graduations songs? Famous songs by Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks make our list of the Top 10 Graduation Songs, but neither singer has the No. 1 song. Most of these hits celebrate the graduate’s journey, but a few — like ballads by Carrie Underwood, Trace Adkins and Billy Ray Cyrus — represent what parents go through as they watch their sons and daughters accept their diplomas, shake hands with the principal and then turn to the crowd and shout “Class of 2017 Trojans forever!” Find out the No. 1 song on our Top 10 Graduation Songs list, and leave your thoughts and opinions on the best grad tunes in the comments section below.
“Ready, Set, Don’t Go”
This ballad from 2007 was on Cyrus’ Home at Last album. It’s a song he wrote about Miley shortly before she was to head to Los Angeles to begin filming Hannah Montana. “This is where you don’t say what you want so bad to say / This is where I want to but I won’t get in the way of her and her dreams / And spreading her wings,” the father sings, explaining the complex mix of emotions a parent feels watching his or her son or daughter move on. While it wasn’t a huge hit at country radio, the lyrical content and Billy Ray’s sincerity earn it a spot on the 10 Great Graduation Songs list.
Kenny Chesney fans often point to this ballad when talking about the best Chesney songs of all time. The singer provides graduates with an inspiring speech in about one-quarter of the time as their official commencement speaker. “Trust me friend, a hundred years goes faster than you think / So don’t blink,” he sings. The fact that it’s only No. 9 on our list speaks to the power of the next eight hits.
“Don’t Forget to Remember Me”
Carrie Underwood’s contribution to the 10 Great Graduation Songs list is a ballad that tells the story of life after graduation. Her character is just 18 years old when she leaves home, the age when one rolls their eyes at Mom’s advice. Throughout the song, the story flips, however, and it’s the girl who’s reminding her mother to “Don’t Forget to Remember Me.” There’s a lesson at both ends for graduates and celebrating parents.
“Letter to Me”
This Grammy-winning hit for Brad Paisley combines his sense of humor with his penchant for writing sweet, endearing ballads. It’s among the all-time great Brad Paisley songs, with a humorous message that reminds everyone to slow down in the drive through life. Strangely, separate songs on the 10 Great Graduation Songs list remind one to slow down and speed up. It’s important to strike a balance.
“You’re Gonna Miss This”
At first, Trace Adkins’ inclusion in this list of graduation songs feels like one for the parents of the graduate, but a closer listen reveals that there’s a lesson for eager young adults as well: Appreciate life’s ups and downs, one at a time. Today’s struggles may become tomorrow’s daydreams. “These are some good times / So take a good look around / You may not know it now / But you’re gonna miss this,” he sings.
“Wide Open Spaces”
While many of the best graduation songs are wrapped in metaphor and symbolism, the Dixie Chicks‘ hit from 1998 is a simple, easy to understand and inspiring tale of a woman ready to find her way in this world. “She needs wide open spaces / Room to make her big mistakes / She needs new faces / She knows the high stakes,” they sing. That’s pretty much a mission statement for high school and college graduates alike.
This 2006 hit from Rascal Flatts spells out the message parents want to leave their young graduate with. “My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to / Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small / You never need to carry more than you can hold,” they sing. Song No. 4 on the 10 Great Graduation Songs list is one that is commonly found in graduation ceremonies nationwide.
“Humble and Kind”
“Humble and Kind” was the right song in the right moment for Tim McGraw. Lori McKenna wrote the song as a message to her own kids about what’s important as they set off into adulthood, and McGraw and wife Faith Hill happened to be in the same season of life, sending their girls off to college when he first heard the song. His recording is so emotionally impactful that it’s hard to imagine anyone else owning the song so completely, and it’s become a career record for McGraw. The simple, universal message of “Humble and Kind” is one that resonates with every child getting ready to leave the nest, and every parent who is sending them out into the world.
“This is what happens when two dreamers get together and write from the heart,” Garth Brooks said. “The River” is a story of inspiration wrapped in an almost poetic lyric. “Yes, I will sail my vessel / ‘Til the river runs dry / Like a bird upon the wind / These waters are my sky / I’ll never reach my destination / If I never try / So I will sail my vessel / ‘Til the river runs dry,” Brooks sings. This song was almost universally applauded, and very much lives on almost 20 years after its release.
“I Hope You Dance”
Lee Ann Womack‘s signature song is the No. 1 song on our Great Graduation Songs list because of its powerful lyrics and overwhelming commercial success. No song has found more ears since its release than “I Hope You Dance,” a song that almost seems written for the high school graduate. From the very first note, Womack inspires. “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder / You get your fill to eat / But always keep that hunger / May you never take one single breath for granted,” Womack sings. If you’re putting together a graduation playlist, this hit from 2000 is a great place to start.