It's May, and that means you're probably being bombarded with tons of inspiration books for graduates. These run the gamut from the super popular Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss to beloved commencement speeches like Kurt Vonnegut's If This Isn't Nice What Is? If you're looking for a book that will inspire, motivate, and captivate any recent graduate up after the emotions of their big day, there is no shortage of beautiful reads to choose from. But what about those of us who graduated many moons ago, or even those of us who never went to college at all? Well, you'll be happy to know that just because a book is marketed toward the recently graduating, that doesn't mean that the advice only applies to them.
In fact, some of the most inspirational books I've read in the last couple of months alone (and I graduated from college...well, more than a couple of years ago) would all make ideal gifts for anyone who need some career, creativity and life motivation. The 13 books below are a mash-up of commencement speeches, memoir-meets-inspiration advice books, creative manifestos and more, all which you might find in the "Books For Graduates" section of your local bookstore this spring, but which you should read, too, even if you cap and gown have long been tossed.
'In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It' by Lauren Graham
In this expansion of the 2017 commencement speech she gave at her hometown Langley High, Lauren Graham reflects on growing up, pursuing your dreams, and living in the here and now. In her hilarious, relatable voice, Graham reminds us to be curious and compassionate, no matter where life takes us or what we’ve yet to achieve. Grounded and inspiring — and illustrated throughout with drawings by Graham herself — here is a comforting road map to a happy life.
'For Every One' by Jason Reynolds
Originally performed at the Kennedy Center for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and later as a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, this stirring and inspirational poem is Jason Reynolds’s rallying cry to the dreamers of the world. If you're struggling to make a dream come true, this poem will re-inspire and reinvigorate you with the passion and hope you need to take that leap of faith.
'Congratulations, By The Way' by George Saunders
Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech posted on the website of The New York Times had been shared more than one million times. And it's not hard to see why. This powerful, funny and wise speech will speak to more than just graduates, as Saunders speaks about tapping into our desires to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives.
'Failing Up' by Leslie Odom Jr.
With personal stories from his life, Leslie Odom Jr. asks the questions that will help you unlock your true potential and achieve your goals even when they seem impossible. What work did you put in today that will help you improve tomorrow? How do you know when to play it safe and when to risk it all for something bigger and better? These stories will inspire you, motivate you, and empower you for the greatness that lies ahead.
'Now Go Out There (And Get Curious)' by Mary Karr
In 2015 Mary Karr’s speech to the graduating class of Syracuse University caught fire, hailed across the Internet as one of the most memorable in recent years, and lighting up social media. In Now Go Out There, Karr explains why having your heart broken is just as — if not more — important than falling in love; why getting what you want often scares you more than not getting it; how those experiences that appear to be the worst cannot be so easily categorized; and how to cope with the setbacks that inevitably befall all of us.
'Am I There Yet?' by Mari Andrews
Mari Andrew's book is organized by universal themes of becoming an adult — including loss, adventure, and ambition. Within each chapter, Mari shares her personal experiences in never-before-seen essays, accompanied by spreads of her signature illustrations. Readers are bound to see some of themselves in this book, whether seeking advice on how to handle growing up, or just looking for a friend who can commiserate.
''Very Good Lives' by J.K. Rowling
In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Very Good Lives offers those words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life, asking the profound questions: How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others? Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with emotional force.
'This Is Me' by Chrissy Metz
In This is Me, Chrissy Metz shares her inspiring life story and how she has applied the lessons she learned from both setbacks and successes. With chapters that alternate from autobiographical to instructional, Chrissy offers practical applications of her hard-won insights. Blending love and experience, Chrissy encourages us all to claim our rightful place in a world that may be trying to knock us down, find our own unique gifts, and pursue our dreams.
'Make Good Art' by Neil Gaiman
In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, in which he shared his thoughts about creativity, bravery, and strength. He encouraged the fledgling painters, musicians, writers, and dreamers to break rules and think outside the box. Most of all, he encouraged them to make good art.
'Things Are What You Make Of Them' by Adam J. Kurtz
From Adam J. Kurtz comes a quirky, upbeat rallying cry for creators of all stripes. Expanding on a series of popular guides he's created for Design*Sponge, this handwritten and heartfelt book shares wisdom and empathy from one working artist to others. The advice is organized by topic, including: (How to) Get Over Comparing Yourself to Other Creatives, How to Get Over Common Creative Fears (Maybe) and How to Be Happy (or Just Happier). This deceptively simple, vibrantly full-color book will be a touchstone for anyone else who wants to be more creative.
'What Now?' by Ann Patchett
Based on her lauded commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, this stirring essay by Ann Patchett offers hope and inspiration for anyone at a crossroads. With wit and candor, Patchett tells her own story of attending college, graduating, and struggling with the inevitable question, What now? As Patchett writes, "'What now?' represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of life." She highlights the possibilities the unknown offers and reminds us that there is as much joy in the journey as there is in reaching the destination.