It’s that time of year to put on a cap and gown to move on to the next phase of your life. Get ready for your graduation with these nostalgic tracks!
As flowers bloom and sunsets slip later into the night, the most bittersweet time of the year has come: graduation. This year’s graduating class of 2022 (whether they be high schoolers, college, or grad students) are among the last few to have attended school pre-COVID. Four years of your typical ups-and-downs of young adulthood, marked by significant world events. No matter where you’re from, this May will present an emotional ending for everyone graduating, and their loved ones.
It is often our youth that shapes our music taste–one track can bring you right back to one of your favorite memories or important turning points. Here are ten songs for your graduation playlist this spring that are definitely sing-along-worthy.
“As It Was” By Harry Styles
Lyric you’ll sing along to: “In this world/it’s just us/you know it’s not the same as it was”
Harry’s latest single takes a bittersweet look at the passage of time itself. The upbeat track off of his upcoming third album Harry’s House has nods to the simplicity of childhood (the opening of a child saying, “come on Harry, we want to say goodnight to you!” is from a voicemail his goddaughter left him when he missed her call), but also the need to move on, and “not talk about the way that it was.” It’s a great soundtrack to reminisce on the good times and the hard lessons you learned ahead of graduation.
“Good Riddance” by Green Day
Lyric you’ll sing along to: “It’s something unpredictable/but in the end it’s right/I hope you had the time of your life”
This Green Day track has been a graduation staple since 1997 when it was released. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s earnest vocals over the strings create a soothing bittersweet melody that has stood the test of time. No matter what age you are, this song is always immediately recognizable. It’s important to enjoy the time you have left, and take with you your friendships and life experience, but move forward to what’s next. As Armstrong sings, “So take the photographs and still frames in your mind/Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time.” While the song was originally written about a past relationship, Armstrong told Rolling Stone in 2020 that he was glad that it “took on a life of its own.”
“Long Live” by Taylor Swift
Lyric you’ll sing along to: “Long live/all the mountains we moved/I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you”
This song from Swift’s 2010 Speak Now album is one that many Gen Z Swifties grew up listening to. The song was specifically written in homage to her fans and first touring band, who supported her throughout her early career. In a general sense, the song is a beautiful reflection on humble beginnings that gave way to success and lifelong friendships–the perfect sentiment for graduation.
“Vienna” by Billy Joel
Lyric you’ll sing along to: “When will you realize/Vienna waits for you?”
One of Billy Joel’s most famous songs, “Vienna” offers a unique stance on growing up, one that is even more rare among Gen Z today––to slow down and enjoy the view. While growing up, maturing, and moving on are all important parts of life, it is equally as important to relish in the experiences of young adulthood that high school and college offer. While exciting things lie ahead, they’ll still be waiting for you when you’re ready. Even though it was released in 1977, the song still resonates with young people today–even going viral on TikTok.
“Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield
Lyric you’ll sing along to: “Today your book begins/the rest is still unwritten”
Natasha Bedingield’s Y2K era hit “Unwritten” was literally about growing up–it began as a birthday gift for her 14 year old brother who would soon begin high school. Bedingfield, 21 at the time, wanted to leave him some parting words of wisdom as she left her native U.K. for Los Angeles to record an album: “He was 14 at the time, so I was like, ‘What does a 14-year-old need to hear? What do I wish that I’d heard?” It’s a great look forward to the exciting future ahead after graduation, and Bedingfield was 21 years old when she wrote it, the same age as many college graduates. Though this song came out when many Gen Zers were young children, it hits home even harder now that we’re older.
“In My Life” by the Beatles
Lyric you’ll sing along to: “There are places I’ll remember/all my life/though some have changed”
One of the most iconic songs about growing up, Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney penned this song in homage to friends, family, former bandmates, and exes that made an impact on them. From the album Rubber Soul in 1965, the track has been covered by numerous artists, including Johnny Cash, Ozzy Osbourne, Bette Midler, and most recently, 2022 Grammy nominated folk artist Madison Cunningham. It’s a timeless track that people of all walks of life can relate to–it reflects the bittersweetness of leaving behind a college or high school campus and all of the memories and emotional strings attached to it, but learning to be content with the present and hopeful for the future.
“Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds
Lyric you’ll sing along to: “Don’t you forget about me/don’t you walk on by”
You probably recognize this song from the closing scene of the iconic 80s John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. It’s the perfect exit music, and a way to release those last few confessions before you walk the stage for your diploma. You may even recreate The Breakfast Club scene on your campus–the possibilities are endless.
“Time of our Lives” by Tyrone Wells
Lyric you’ll sing along to: “We have had the time of our lives/Now the page is turned/The stories we will write”
This 2010 track made an appearance in season two of The Vampire Diaries in a touching scene after beloved history teacher Alaric Saltzman’s “death” (spoiler alert, he comes back). It’s the perfect mushy nostalgic song that you can picture over a montage of photos of you and your best friends. Even though it’s hard to walk away and move on, hold tight to all the memories and friendships you made over the years.
“Best Day of My Life” by American Authors
Lyric you’ll sing along to:“This is gonna be the best day of my life/My li-i-i-i-i-i-ife”
This 2014 song by pop rock band American Authors is a positive outlook on the future. While graduation is an ending, it is an opening for endless new beginnings in your career and personal life. You have persevered through the many ups and downs of school, and are all the wiser for it. You’re ready to take on new challenges, so make it the best day of your life.
“The Climb” by Miley Cyrus
Lyric you’ll sing along to: There’s always gonna be another mountain/I’m always gonna wanna make it move/Always gonna be an uphill battle/Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose/Ain’t about how fast I get there/Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side/It’s the climb”
Of course, to top it off, you have to end with this Disney era Miley track. This was one of the first deeper songs a popular artist came out with during the early years of our Gen Z childhood, and its message is still important now that we’re adults–Cyrus wrote the song as a teen, and still performs it at concerts now. The track first appeared in Hannah Montana: The Movie, in which Miley’s fictional childhood friend and love interest, Travis, tells her that “life’s a climb, but the view is great.” All in all, what matters the most is the journey–you made it this far, and no matter what happens next, you deserve to celebrate.
Enjoy these songs with your friends and family, or while you pack up your dorm room or apartment, and reflect on the last four years. These songs will be waiting for you like a warm embrace of the past when you’re ready.