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5 thoughtful graduation gifts for new grads

5 thoughtful graduation gifts for new grads

Beyond money and gift cards, there are a handful of thoughtful gift ideas to make a new graduate feel extra special. From handwritten notes filled with love to custom artwork capturing their journey, to personalized word art, inspiring books, and song lyrics adorned with wisdom, each of these gifts tells a story.

Read below to find the perfect gift to honor their achievements and wish them luck on the next chapter.

1. Handwritten note or love letter print

A handwritten note or love letter carries the weight of personal connection, reminding the graduate that they are cherished and believed in. There’s just something so special about seeing your handwriting and knowing you took the time to write words of encouragement or advice.

My nephew graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2022 and I wrote a lot in his card. If you don’t know what to say, you can steal my template below.

Start with some compliments. I told him how intelligent, capable, and talented he is and that I’m so proud because not everyone gets to go to or graduates from college.

Congratulate them. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!! *Cue the confetti*… Because it is really exciting, isn’t it?

Give some advice. My advice probably would’ve been very different a few years ago (read my blog about why I quit my corporate job). But my advice to him now is that LIFE IS SHORT, and I hope he focuses on how his life feels rather than how it looks. That he should fill his life with every little thing that brings him joy and he should make a change if he isn’t finding life enjoyable. He gets to decide who, what, and where he wants to be. Make memories, make mistakes, and remember family and friends are always here to help.

Acknowledge struggles or loss. School is not easy and it’s even harder if you’re faced with financial challenges, a learning disability, mental health issues, or loss of a loved one. Half of my nephew’s college education was during a pandemic and tragically, his mom died his sophomore year. I reminded him that his mom will always be with him—whether he’s graduating, starting his new job in Cleveland, or wherever he might go in the future. He carries her with him and there is no doubt in my mind that she’s beaming with pride over his accomplishments.

End with more compliments. I asked him to take a moment to pat himself on the back and reminded him that he’s absolutely amazing!

I've also had parents write letters or poems to their child and asked me to design and print it on handmade paper. This is such a beautiful sentiment and something that can be framed or cherished for a lifetime. Pictured below is a letter from a father to a son for high school graduation.

father to son graduation letter


2. Custom artwork

Another really thoughtful gift is commissioning a piece of artwork or finding something that will help liven up a dorm room, office, or apartment walls. Custom artwork immortalizes their journey, capturing the essence of their alma mater or future destination.

For my nephew, I asked my artist friend, Patricia Shaw, to paint me a couple of pieces of my sister who passed away. One piece shows her in a UCF sweatshirt (where my nephew went to school) and the other was painted from a photo of her in Cleveland (where my nephew is moving after graduation).

Woman pointing up wearing UCF hoodie


This custom artwork idea would be great to showcase a new grad’s college, alma mater, or the city they’re moving to post-graduation.

3. Custom word art

As the owner of a word art business, I obviously love to suggest personalized word art as a thoughtful gift. It's such a great way to inspire and encourage a new grad, reminding them of their chosen path. Let’s say the new high school grad was accepted to the University of Tennessee, then I would suggest gifting them a “Knoxville” print. Or an “Ohio” print for Ohio State (my alma mater!).


Knoxville word definition print


Or if they’re going to be a nurse or a doctor, you could gift them with a word print of their chosen career. The possibilities are endless.


Doctor family physician and nurse definition print


Shop graduation notecards and prints here.

4. Books

Okay okay, I know they just got done studying, but there are so many good and inspirational books to gift a new grad. Books can be such amazing guides, offering wisdom and validation throughout adulthood.

Here are 10 of my suggestions.

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear – I went to business school with and know this amazing author, and I think this book is literally on every recommended book list I’ve ever seen. Such a great book filled with really practical advice.

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama – Obama is an inspirational powerhouse and her story weaves in some thought-provoking wisdom and advice.

  • Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown – I don’t think you can go wrong with any of Brown’s books because she puts a lot of research and heart into her writing, but this is one of the ones I’ve read and appreciate.

  • Heart Talk by Cleo Wade – Cleo is one of my idols and everything she writes is beautiful, sincere, and inspirational, and this book is no exception.

  • Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – I bought this book for my nephew because he’s a phenomenal poet and one of my poet friends recommends it to everyone.

  • Radically Content by Jamie Varon – this book is life-changing, helping the reader opt out of societal conditioning to always want more and be satisfied in every stage of life.

  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – This book is emotional, also funny, and helps you think about what’s really important in life.

  • The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur – This is a deeply moving book of poetry by one of my favorite poets and the hardcover makes a beautiful gift.

  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – I would gift this book to anyone and everyone. There is something for everyone to relate to in this book. And it was turned into a Hulu limited series (go watch it!).

  • Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – If the new grad is introverted like me, this book has some great advice about confidence and making moves.

5. Song lyrics with words of wisdom

Song lyrics, infused with profound messages, can become a sort of soundtrack to life, empowering graduates to embrace every moment with courage and joy.

Do you remember the songs, “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts or “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack? These songs have the best words for any new grad to read and absorb as they start a new chapter in their lives. I also just recently received an order for the lyrics "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, a good one to gift from a mother to son.

Order any song to be printed on handmade paper from my shop.


My wish by Rascal Flatts song lyrics on handmade paper


I hope you'll celebrate the achievements of those who have worked tirelessly to reach this milestone and remind them that they are capable of conquering any challenge. Whether you choose one of these ideas or craft a unique gift of your own, the thought and love behind it will be truly appreciated.

Congratulations to all the new grads!

With love,

Alison Rose

Social media: @alisonrosevintage


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