101 Graduation Quotes That Will Inspire You to Pursue Your Dreams

Whether you're trying to write the perfect graduation card or find some personal inspiration, we have the graduation quotes you need to entertain, teach, love, and inspire graduates.

Joy, fear, excitement, anxiety, relief, stress, pride, and perhaps even a little surprise—graduating can inspire a host of different emotions. And that’s just what the parents go through during the ceremony!

The graduates themselves may ride a similar rollercoaster and it can be easy for everyone to feel like they are in uncharted waters. That may be especially true these days with all of the uncertainty in the world. But the graduating class of 2021 is not the first to graduate into a challenging and exciting situation, nor will it be the last. Whether you are cheering on a new graduate or you are the grad yourself, reading graduation quotes can help you feel less alone.

These graduation quotes will bring laughter, inspiration, motivation to achieve goals, deliver wise advice and smart warnings, and will help overcome fears about the future. For more graduation inspiration, we’ve got Abert Einstein quotes, leadership quotes, quotes about change, and the best graduation gifts.

Funny quotes for graduates

Funny graduation quotes are the perfect way to find the inspiration you seek or to inspire a beloved graduate. They get the point across while still keeping things light and fun! Bonus: Laughter is one of the best things you can do to keep your brain—including all of the things you’ve spent years learning—healthy and strong.

Graduation Quote by Tom MagliozziRD.com, Getty Images

1. “You will never have more energy or enthusiasm, hair, or brain cells than you have today.” —Tom Magliozzi

Make your graduate laugh while also reminding them to be grateful for who they are today.

2. “So, what’s it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don’t recommend it.” —Bill Watterson

It’s true, one of the best things about being an adult is getting to discover and eat your favorite foods.

3. “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.” —Muhammad Ali

It’s always good to remind new graduates of some of mankind’s greatest achievements—even better if you can make them laugh in the process.

4. “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito.” —Betty Reese

You have to give them credit: Mosquitos are tenacious. And tenacity will get you far in life.

5. “Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then, by all means, you should follow that.” —Ellen DeGeneres

We feel like Ellen might be speaking from personal experience here, both in life and in hiking!

6. “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” —Winston Churchill

Everyone is going to fall, so you may as well enjoy the ride down!

7. “To those of you who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you too may one day be president of the United States.” —George W. Bush

Everyone knows a graduate who swore by the “Cs get degrees” motto! It’s a good reminder that grades aren’t everything.

8. “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” —Will Rogers

Sometimes all graduates need is a little motivation to move, in any direction.

Graduation Quote by Lin-Manuel MirandaRD.com, Getty Images

9. “My dear terrified graduates, you are about to enter the most uncertain and thrilling period of your lives.” —Lin-Manuel Miranda

A life wide open with possibilities is the most exciting and terrifying view but it gets more beautiful the more you embrace it.

10. “The unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective.” —Jon Stewart

All of life is your school now! Use these secrets of straight-A students that even post-grads can steal to get the most out of it.

11. “Every year, many, many stupid people graduate from college. And if they can do it, so can you.” —John Green

There’s nothing wrong with being average, in fact, most of us are (that’s the definition of average).

12. “You are graduating from college. That means that this is the first day of the last day of your life. No, that’s wrong. This is the last day of the first day of school. Nope, that’s worse. This is a day.” —Andy Samberg

No one is quite sure what Andy is saying. Remember this feeling of confusion, you’ll feel it a lot more in life.

13. “Be wise, because the world needs wisdom. If you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.” —Neil Gaiman

“Fake it ’till you make it” works just as well in the real world as it does in acting!

14. “Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.” —Gary Trudeau

Feel a little sad about leaving school? Sitting through the graduation ceremony will cure you, quick.

15. “At graduation you get to wear a cap and gown, but it’s a good idea to also wear something underneath it.” —Greg Tamblyn

At the very least, underwear. Clean underwear.

Inspirational quotes for graduates

Want to motivate a new grad or find a little fire for your own inner flame? Inspirational graduation quotes are just what you need, whether you’re writing the perfect graduation card or finding the best quote to stick on your mirror. Or you can write one of these as an inscription in a book to give as a graduation gift.

Graduation Quote by Edward KochRD.com, Getty Images

16. “The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse.” —Edward Koch

Of all the high school graduation quotes, this one will help grow the spark within your graduate into a full fire.

17. “Cynicism has never won a war, or cured a disease, or started a business, or fed a young mind, or sent men into space. Cynicism is a choice. Hope is a better choice.” —Barack Obama

We live in a cynical world, choosing optimism is courageous and brave.

18. “That clock you hear is the sound of your own heart. Sink your teeth into this life, and don’t get let go.” —Lin-Manuel Miranda

We all have limited heartbeats, make sure you are taking advantage of every single one of yours!

19. “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible.'” —Audrey Hepburn

This quote provides simple words of encouragement for graduates, making it perfect to tack on a vision board or save as a phone wallpaper.

20. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” —Anne Frank

You can start with these 100 acts of kindness that instantly make the world a better place.

21. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s easy for new grads to get caught up in the details of the transition. Use this quote to remind them of the big, beautiful picture of their life.

22. “I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.” —Maya Angelou

Graduates have immense power to make a better world, simply by living their own lives better.

23. “Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered.” —Michelle Obama

These five adjectives cover a wide range of wordier advice, perfect for graduates who like brevity.

24. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” —Dr. Seuss

Leaving school can be an emotional and difficult experience but the memories you made will last a lifetime.

25. “So long as your desire to explore is greater than your desire to not screw up, you’re on the right track.” —Ed Helms

Now that you’ve graduated, take every chance to explore the world and make it a part of you.

Graduation Quote by Maya RudolphRD.com, Getty Images

26. “If I must give any of you advice it would be to say yes. Say yes, and create your own destiny.” —Maya Rudolph

It’s so much easier to say no—there will always be a million reasons why you can’t do something—but there is great power in simply saying yes!

27. “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” —C.S. Lewis

Perspective is everything, particularly when it comes to navigating life’s big changes, like graduation.

28. “Life is my college. May I graduate well, and earn some honors!” —Louisa May Alcott

There are many different ways to learn, try them all.

29. “Remember this: You are awesome. I’m not suggesting you be boastful but I am suggesting that believing in yourself is the first necessary step to coming even close to achieving your potential.” —Sheryl Sandberg

Believing in yourself can feel easier said than done. Read these quotes about self-confidence to boost your own self-image.

30. “The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.” —Joy J. Golliver

We are at our best when we are helping others.

31. “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” —Dr. Seuss

Being a people pleaser is a common mistake many new graduates make. Remind your loved one (or yourself!) that the most important opinion is the one you have of yourself. These be yourself quotes are another good reminder.

32. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Within each of us is a whole universe of possibilities.

33. “Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know.” —Winnie the Pooh

Sometimes all new grads need is a little reminder to have faith in themselves. You got this!

Quotes to motivate graduates to achieve their goals

College graduation quotes are the perfect way to share advice and get encouragement to dream big and reach your goals. It isn’t easy but it’s worth it.

Graduation Quote by Jonathan WintersRD.com, Getty Images

34. “I couldn’t wait for success. I went ahead without it.” —Jonathan Winters

If you wait for everything to be perfect before starting then you’ll never begin. Just take the first step forward and go from there.

35. “You cannot dream of becoming something you do not know about. You have to learn to dream big. Education exposes you to what the world has to offer, to the possibilities open to you.” —Sonia Sotomayor

Graduates are the proof that education can be life-changing in every way.

36. “Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.” —Albert Einstein

You are only limited by the borders of your dreams.

37. “There will be times when your best isn’t good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best you’ll be OK.” —Robert De Niro

Do you have a graduate who is a perfectionist? Remind them that it’s enough to try.

38. “If at first you don’t succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.” —William Lyon Phelps

Not all spoils go to the winner and there are lots to be gained—perhaps even more in some cases—from not getting what you thought you wanted.

39. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart you’ll know when you find it.” —Steve Jobs

Too many people, including new grads, find themselves stuck in the wrong career. Just because it felt right when you were studying it doesn’t mean it will always be right.

40. “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” —Vidal Sassoon

Help keep new graduates from feeling discouraged by sharing this quote with them. It will help them to not compare themselves now with where very successful people ended up.

41. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” —Wayne Gretzky

Even if you fall down the second you step on the ice, lacing up your skates was an achievement. And the next time you won’t fall so quickly. Before you know it, you’ll be shooting goals.

42. “You will stumble and fall, you will experience both disaster and triumph, sometimes in the same day. But it’s really important to remember that like a hangover, neither triumphs nor disasters last forever.” —Helen Mirren

Nothing lasts forever. Repeat as many times as it takes to believe it and read these life is short quotes.

Graduation Quote by Arnold SchwarzeneggerRD.com, Getty Images

43. “You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.” —Arnold Schwarzenegger

You also should avoid climbing stairs, riding a bike, or really any type of motion with your hands in your pockets—it’s dangerous.

44. “If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it you haven’t failed and you’re not some loser.” —Stephen Colbert

Parents and grandparents: This quote is a beautiful way to remind your graduate of all the fun (and funny!) things they aspired to be a kid.

45. “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” —John F. Kennedy

Or if Yoda is a little more your speed, “There is no try, only do.” is another quote that gets the same message across!

46. “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing you will be successful.” —Albert Schweitzer

You can search all your life for happiness and never find it but once you lose yourself in hard work and helping others, you’ll be amazed at how quickly happiness finds you.

47. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” —Mahatma Gandhi

Graduates are often (but not always!) young people and sometimes all they need is a perspective.

48. “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Setting big goals can feel more exciting and produce greater results. Use these “dream big” quotes to get inspired.

49. “Patience! The windmill never strays in search of the wind.” —Andy J. Sklivis

Patience is a virtue that not many of us have anymore. These days it’s more of a learned skill.

Quotes that give wise advice for graduates

High school graduation quotes are a beautiful way to give advice to people who are in desperate need of wise advice but don’t yet realize it.

Graduation Quote by Mark TwainRD.com, Getty Images

50. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” —Mark Twain

Sometimes the best lessons happen in the school of life.

51. “The Lord gave us two ends: One to sit on and the other to think with. Success depends on which one we use the most.” —Ann Landers

It’s OK to both sit and think, too.

52. “Empathy has gotten me so much farther in not only my life but in my career.” —Ryan Reynolds

Empathy is a valuable skill and learning how to use it can help you feel better about yourself and others.

53. “Get busy living or get busy dying.” —Stephen King

Many adults know all too well that life gets busy one way or another so encourage your graduate to get busy with the right things.

54. “Your inexperience is an asset in that it will make you think in original, unconventional ways. Accept your lack of knowledge and use it as your asset.” —Natalie Portman

New grads may be put down, or put themselves down, feeling like they aren’t as good as others with more experience. But sometimes a fresh perspective is exactly what’s needed.

55. “Understand that one day you will have the power to make a difference, so use it well.” —Mindy Kaling

Not sure where to start? Use these creative and fun ways to volunteer and make a difference in the world.

56. “You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go.” —Oprah

You’re either swimming against the current or being carried downstream. In life, there is no holding still.

57. “You will find the key to success under the alarm clock.” —Benjamin Franklin

Achieving goals takes action and sacrifice.

58. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” —E. E. Cummings

Need a little more motivation? These 35 empowering strength quotes will give you courage and confidence.

59. “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” —Oprah

Learning to be grateful for what you have is one of the most important adulting skills you can develop.

Graduation Quote by Arthur AsheRD.com, Getty Images

60. “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” —Arthur Ashe

The best place to start is often the simplest place to start.

61. “Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.” —Jackson Browne

New grads can get stuck waiting for the perfect opportunity to come to them, give them a little loving push with this quote.

62. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou

Even though you’ve spent years of your life learning a particular subject, no one expects you to know everything about it, especially fresh out of school. Be patient with yourself and continue to learn as you go.

63. “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” —Thomas Jefferson

People who take big risks, reap big rewards.

64. “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” —Abraham Lincoln

Horoscopes, fortune tellers, and internet quizzes can be fun but when it comes down to what to do with the rest of your life, take control and make it what you want it to be.

65. “Every person you meet knows something you don’t — learn from them.” —H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Remind new grads that the best teachers are not always found in classrooms. Take every opportunity to learn something new.

66. “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.” —George Washington Carver

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time and enjoy each stage of your life.

67. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” —James Freeman Clarke

Little things, done consistently, add up to very big things. A dose of patience helps as well.

68. “Keep your face toward the sunshine and shadows will always fall behind you.” —Walt Whitman

Share your love and optimism for your new grad’s future with this timeless quote.

69. “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is only one you and that’s a powerful thing.

Quotes to help graduates overcome fears

Some of the best words of encouragement for graduates are the ones that give them permission to feel afraid and help them to overcome their fears—particularly their fear of failure. Failing is a given but that’s not the end of the story. Teach graduates how to use failure to come back stronger.

Graduation Quote by Oprah WinfreyRD.com, Getty Images

70. “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” —Oprah Winfrey

It’s not failure, it’s a new opportunity to do something different.

71. “May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears.” —Nelson Mandela

Learning to live a life acting on love and hope, rather than reacting to hate and fear, is an essential life skill, especially in these trying times.

72. “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” —Frank A. Clark

If it feels easy then it’s not helping you grow. You don’t have to always seek out challenges but don’t be afraid of them when they come.

73. “Change takes courage.” —Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

It’s never too late to change your life! That’s true for new graduates and graduates who’ve been out of school for decades.

74. “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.” —J.K. Rowling

This is something new graduates may not want to hear but it’s something they need to hear.

75. “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” —Michael Jordan

If Michael Jordan, one of the most successful athletes of all time, can fail and admit it publicly then there is no shame in you doing the same.

76. “When we show up, act boldly, and practice the best ways to be wrong, we fail forward. No matter where we end up, we’ve grown from where we began.” —Stacey Abrams

It’s not falling down, it’s failing forward.

77. “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” —Babe Ruth

Persistence is the key to success. Plus, parents who model persistence raise happier, more resilient children. It’s the gift that blesses generations.

78. “Don’t be afraid of fear. Because it sharpens you, it challenges you, it makes you stronger; and when you run away from fear, you also run away from the opportunity to be your best possible self.” —Ed Helms

Confronting your fears and insecurities is some of the hardest work you’ll ever do but it’s worth it.

Graduation Quote by George BurnsRD.com, Getty Images

79. “It is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.” —George Burns

Give your new graduate the gift of permission to follow their dreams and do what they love.

80. “You’re going to fall down, but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.” —Andy Sorkin

Or, if you have a graduate who loves Disney, you can always quote Dory: “Just keep swimming!” They’ll also love the 50 best quotes from Disney movies.

81. “Now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.” —Neil Gaiman

Inspirational graduation quotes can be helpful in the moment but may also come back to the graduate’s memory years later when they need your loving words the most.

82. “Real courage is holding on to a still voice in your head that says, ‘I must keep going.’ It’s that voice that says nothing is a failure if it is not final. That voice that says to you, ‘Get out of bed. Keep going. I will not quit.'” —Cory Booker

True bravery is what happens when no one is watching you, in the cold moments where you are truly alone and everything is telling you to quit. Do not give up.

83. “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” —Vincent Van Gogh

Ignore the negative, critical voice in your head! You’ll be happier and more productive.

84. “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” —Kenji Miyazawa

Without pain, we cannot understand joy. Without adversity, there is no growth.

85. “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.” —Rosa Parks

Graduates have to make a lot of decisions which can feel scary and overwhelming. Remind your loved one that making a firm choice also provides freedom and peace.

86. “You don’t have to be fearless, just don’t let the fear stop you” —Charlie Day

Everyone feels afraid. But not everyone lets their fears hold them back.

Warning quotes that graduates should heed

College graduation quotes are a good opportunity to offer a few careful words of warning. Wise graduates will listen and learn so they can avoid common traps others have discovered the hard way.

Graduation Quote by Jerry ZuckerRD.com, Getty Images

87. “It doesn’t matter that your dream came true if you spent your whole life sleeping.” —Jerry Zucker

You have to be awake to experience the joy.

88. “Worry is like a rocking chair—it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” —Erma Bombeck

Anxiety is tempting because it feels productive—but in reality, it accomplishes nothing except increasing your worry.

89. “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces.” —Will Rogers

When does “good” become “good enough”? Help your graduate to reach their dreams by not settling for less.

90. “There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” —Nelson Mandela

Most of us are living below our potential and are capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for.

91. “No job or task is too small or beneath you. If you want to get ahead, volunteer to do the things no one else wants to do, and do it better.” —Bobbi Brown

People who want to do great things need to be willing to do the grunt work it takes to get there.

92. “Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” —Shonda Rhimes

A dream is a wish your heart makes—now turn that wish into reality.

93. “We may live in an age of instant messaging, instant gratification, and Instagram, but there is no way to short circuit the path to success.” —Tory Burch

Modern technology, including cell phones, have a huge impact on our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

94. “You don’t have a job? Get one. Any job! Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical opportunity. Do something until you can do something else.” —Shonda Rhimes

Remind your new graduate that anything is better than nothing—then be ready to help them find a good job.

Graduation Quote by Michael AltschulerRD.com, Getty Images

95. “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” —Michael Altschuler

Nobody gets out of this life alive! So make the most of it now.

96. “Sometimes you find out what you are supposed to be doing by doing the things you are not supposed to do.” —Oprah Winfrey

Everyone has a good story about doing something they were definitely not supposed to do and this graduation quote is the perfect intro to sharing your experiences with the new grad.

97. “Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” —John F. Kennedy

It doesn’t matter how high or quickly you climb a ladder if it’s leaning against the wrong building.

98. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” —Mark Twain

FOMO—the fear of missing out—is painful enough now. Imagine how you’ll feel in two decades. Say yes more often!

99. “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” —Margaret Thatcher

It’s okay to keep making the same mistakes as long you keep learning from them.

100. “The future is not an inheritance, it is an opportunity and an obligation.” —Bill Clinton

Parents and grandparents can share their trust and words of encouragement for graduates with this quote about the future.

101. “Life has no remote. Get up and change it yourself.” —Mark A. Cooper

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.