I’ve always been a fan of graduation gift books. When my daughter graduated from high school five years ago, the headmaster gifted each graduating senior a book with a personal message inside —  Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. The following year, my niece’s graduating class received Jessmyn Ward’s novel, Salvage the Bones.

Both of these books have become treasured and meaningful gifts. They also kicked off my commitment to gifting favorite books to new high school graduates — and now, college graduates, since that same daughter is now one herself!

Related: 12 inspirational picture books for graduation gifts, beyond Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

"Every mistake is progress" Illustrated by Lisa Congdon from her book, You Will Leave a Trail of StarsFrom You Will Leave a Trail of Stars by Lisa Congdon

For graduation gifts this year, I bought seven books that have resonated with me over the years. Each one has encouraged me to face challenges, to face fears, to find joy, to dream big and to live the best I can with grace and kindness.

I think they all make perfect high school or college graduation gift books, as they provide words of wisdom, anecdotes, encouragement, and reflection. Plus, much-needed permission to be, to do, to speak up, andto  live fully with intention, love, kindness, and compassion.


7 high school or college graduate gift books that I give to all the grads in my own life

All of these books are available from Amazon, or shop local and support your own favorite community bookstore. This post contains affiliate links, and purchases may generate a small commission to support our work at no additional cost to you.

Our favorite books for high school and college grads | Photo © Jeannine HarveyPhoto © Jeannine Harvey


Outstanding gift books for high school and college grads: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

1. The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations, by Toni Morrison

The Source of Self-Regard should be on every bookshelf, as it’s filled with Toni Morrison’s beautiful, powerful prose, essays, meditations, and speeches. The book comes from her commencement address to the Sarah Lawrence College Class of 1988 which particularly resonates with me; growing up, I was often referred to as a
“dreamer” with my head in the clouds, not always grounded in reality. I felt frustrated. A lot.

In her commencement address, Ms. Morrison describes the preamble to problem-solving: Dreaming.

“I want to talk about the activity you were always warned against as being wasteful, impractical, hopeless. I want to talk about dreaming. Not the activity of the sleeping brain, but rather the activity of the wakened, alert one. Not idle wishful speculation, but engaged, directed daytime vision.”

Every word is precious, and validates the dreaming brain of any recent graduate. It’s so wonderful to be given permission to dream, envision, and to imagine a world as it ought to be.

Outstanding gift books for high school and college graduation: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

2. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown

Brené writes in Daring Greatly, “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where “never enough” dominates and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Putting ourselves out there is hard, uncomfortable, scary, and opens us up to criticism. But when we step back and examine our lives, we may find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, or hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in — and wondering what it would be like if we dared to step into the arena.

“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”

Related: 16 great high school graduation gift ideas that kids actually want. Besides cash.


Gift books for high school and college grads: You Will Leave a Trail of Stars by Lisa Congdon

3. You Will Leave a Trail of Stars: Words of Inspiration for Blazing Your Own Path, by Lisa Congdon

Illustrated in Lisa’s bold, confident, vibrant style that you may recognize, You Will Leave a Trail of Stars is “an accumulation of all of the best, most important things” she’s learned over the years. Quotes by Henry David Thoreau, Booker T. Washington, Elizabeth Gilbert, and others, mingle with Lisa’s advice and illustrations that bring to live inspiration to live one’s life to the fullest.

Lisa Congdon: Find What Feeds You. Inspiration from her new book

The illustrations are gorgeous. The words, inspiring. Just remember:

Every Mistake is Progress.
And, Find What Feeds You.


Gift books for high school and college graduation: The Boy, the Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

4. The Boy, The Fox, The Mole, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy


Charlie Mackesy’s best-seller is a loving, beautifully illustrated, thought-provoking reminder to look for the positive, and to reframe nagging thoughts or negative feelings. Isn’t that a perfect theme for a high school or college graduate gift book? Every page carries little lessons and messages of love, hope, friendship, kindness, and caring for others.

Illustration from The boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse: A favorite gift book for high school and college grads

“One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things.”

“When the big things feel out of control
focus on what you love right under your nose”


5. All Along You Were Blooming by Morgan Harper Nichols: Great gift books for high school and college graduates

5. All Along You Were Blooming, by Morgan Harper Nichols

I’ve been a long-time admirer of poet, author,and  artist, Morgan Harper Nichols, and an avid follower of her Instagram account. So I was especially happy when All Along You Were Blooming, was published in January of 2020. This is a beautiful little book filled with powerful, big messages. It’s described as “the ultimate love letter to your mind, heart, soul, and body,” and I agree.

Excerpt from All Along You Were Blooming: A favorite gift book for high school and college grads

In this gorgeously illustrated book of prose that reads like poetry, Morgan invites you to “stumble into the sunlight” and delight in the wild and boundless grace you’ve been given. I want my daughter — and the other grads I know and adore — to learn that every experience is a source for growth, every mistake is a sign of progress, and every love is meaningful. Every step of the way, we are growing and blooming.


Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, by Luvvie Ajayi Jones: One of the best gift books for high school or college graduations

6. Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, by Luvvie Ajayi Jones

Our favorite self-proclaimed professional troublemaker, author, activist, and humorist, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, released Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, in March of 2021 and it’s quickly become a favorite gift for, well, just about anyone. But it’s a particularly apt gift book for recent high school and college graduates.

Luvvie describes a professional troublemaker as someone “committed to speaking the truth, showing up always as themselves and is almost unable to bow in the face of a world that demands it.”

This is the book for our empathic children (and adult children) who want to change the world; and for those who need the reminder that speaking up, questioning norms, and asking difficult question are good things.

Instead of letting fear keep us from doing, we must use fear as our fuel. We should never shy from our authentic selves. As Luvvie writes:

“We’re all afraid. We’re afraid of asking for what we want because we’re afraid of hearing ‘no.’ We’re afraid of being different, of being too much or not enough. We’re afraid of leaving behind the known for the unknown. But in order to do the things that will truly, meaningfully change our lives, we have to become professional troublemakers: people are committed to not letting fear talk them out of the things they need to do or say to live free.”


Gift books for high school or college graduates: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV

7. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV, with Douglas Abrams

I can’t think of a thinking, open-minded high school or college graduate who would not appreciate the message in The Book of Joy. It is simply a joyful, powerful, loving conversation between two dear friends, who also happen to be great spiritual leaders.

In 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday. Author Douglas Abrams was there to capture their intimate stories and listen in, as they explored the Nature of True Joy. The two “traded intimate stories, teased each other continually, and shared their spiritual practices. By the end of a week filled with laughter and punctuated with tears, these two global heroes had stared into the abyss and despair of our times and revealed how to live a life brimming with joy.”

“Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardships and heartbreaks. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”
~ Dalai Lama XIV

Happy Graduation to your graduates. The future does indeed look bright with them in it.


Guest contributor Jeannine Harvey is an award-winning content producer, marketer, and partnership developer driving social change  She previously worked as the Director, PBS Kids Marketing and Communications and a Senior Manager at the ONE Campaign. She’s currently the Co-Founder and Chief Partnerships Officer of Feed Our Democracy — and one of our all-time favorite cool moms.