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Thoughtful graduation gifts for high school and college grads

Thoughtful graduation gifts for high school and college grads

Besides the most welcome gift of money and gift cards (a high school grad needs to eat in college and a college grad probably needs to move to a new city), what other gifts can you give to a new grad to make them feel extra special?

Here are 5 thoughtful gift ideas.

Handwritten note of congrats and advice

I will always suggest including a handwritten note with any gift. 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 just graduated from the University of Central Florida this month 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!

Shop graduation notecards and prints here.

Graduate and adventure definition prints on handmade paper

Custom artwork

Another really thoughtful gift is commissioning a piece of artwork or finding something that will help liven up dorm room, office, or apartment walls. 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 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.

Another customer asked me and Patricia to make a piece that her graduate could hang up in their art therapy office. This was also a thoughtful gift and one that could easily be mimicked for other types of jobs and offices.

Art therapy illustration and quote print


Custom word art

As the owner of a word art business, I love to suggest custom word art as a thoughtful gift. 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


Okay okay, I know they just got done studying, but there are so many good and inspirational books to gift a new grad. 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 so it’s on this one too!

  • 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 – I just bought this one for myself, but I have the feeling it’s going to have a lot of good advice for any 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.

  • 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.

Song lyrics with words of wisdom

Last but not least, there are so many songs with wise and inspirational lyrics. 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.

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

My wish by Rascal Flatts song lyrics on handmade paper

What special gift do you like to buy for high school or college graduates? Share with all of us in the comments below.

With love,

Alison Rose

Social media: @alisonrosevintage


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