8 Books for Recent Graduates

‘Tis the season for pomp and circumstance! Graduation can be an exciting yet emotional time for students as they transition from one chapter to the next. After the diplomas have been stamped and the caps have been tossed, it’s normal to feel unsure about what comes next.

Whether you’ve recently graduated or are looking for something to gift a grad, these eight books offer empowering narratives and thoughtful insight on how to navigate life beyond the classroom.


1. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is undoubtedly one of the most influential women of our time. Her memoir, Becoming, is a reflection on the triumphs and tribulations that have shaped her into the woman she is today. From growing up on the South Side of Chicago to making history on Pennsylvania Avenue, Michelle shares her intimate perspective on being a wife, mother, humanitarian, and the first African American First Lady in United States history.

Page count: 426
Genre: Memoir
Publish date: 2018


2. Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders

Three months after George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University, the transcript of the speech was published in The New York Times. Within days, Saunders’s heartfelt reminder to lead kinder lives was shared more than a million times. While Saunders, admittedly, doesn’t have all the answers as to what to expect after graduation, his advice is sincere, uplifting, and timeless.

Page count: 64
Genre: Speech, Self-help
Publish date: 2014


3. Educated by Tara Westover

Born to survivalists in backcountry Idaho, Tara Westover grew up isolated from mainstream society. When her brother informs her of life beyond the mountains, Tara decides to pursue a new kind of life, starting with attending college. Educated is a coming-of-age story of Tara’s quest for knowledge and a meditation on what lies at the heart of education.

Page count: 352
Genre: Autobiography
Publish date: 2018


4. The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward

Inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Jesmyn Ward gathers short essays, memoirs, and poems from some of the most influential contemporary voices discussing the dimensions of race in the United States. Amid the Black Lives Matter Movement and widespread national protests, The Fire This Time analyzes the racial reality of our country and calls to action the next generation to make a change.

Page count: 226
Genre: Essay, Poetry
Publish date: 2018


5. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Traditionally, retiring professors are asked to deliver a “last lecture” to share their insight into what really matters in life. For Randy Pausch, his last lecture titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” was literally his last after receiving a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer. Intertwined with personal anecdotes and principle life lessons, The Last Lecture is Randy Pausch’s farewell address to the people he loves and the moments that have made life worth living.

Page count: 224
Genre: Self-help
Publish date: 2008


6. This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace

This Is Water is the published text of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College. His candid and articulate address encourages graduates “to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.” This speech is the only public talk Wallace ever gave about his views on life and his lasting wisdom seems more relevant than ever in this age of distractions.

Page count: 137
Genre: Speech
Publish date: 2005


7. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adapted from the TEDx talk of the same name, We Should All Be Feminists emphasizes the need to redefine feminism in the twenty-first century. Drawing from personal experiences and observations of gender inequality, Adichie advocates the need to reexamine the term “feminist” so that it can be used to empower and embrace both men and women. As women continue to fight for their rights, Adichie’s essay has never been more relevant or necessary than it is at this particular moment in history.

Page count: 52
Genre: Nonfiction; Essay
Publish date: 2014


8. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Written in his last year of his life, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air is a profound rumination on life and death. A bright neurosurgeon with a promising career ahead of him, Kalanithi had his world turned upside down when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Kalanithi reflects on his own life and how he manages to hold on to his identity in the midst of a debilitating illness. This book will leave readers reaching for a tissue and inspire a new appreciation for the little things that make life worth living.

Page count: 426
Genre: Memoir
Publish date: 2018