Share 11 Inspiring Reads for Recent Graduates

11 Inspiring Reads for Recent Graduates

Tolani Osan joined Simon & Schuster’s Associate’s Program in 2015 where she spent her first rotation in S&S publicity. She recently earned a Master’s in Publishing & Writing from Emerson College. A daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Tolani enjoys literary fiction about the tensions between cultures and classes. Her favorite book is Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” which she’s made a pact with herself to revisit every three years. She also founded and runs women’s interest blog,, and writes on topics such as fashion, food, perpetual “singledom”, and feminism. You can enjoy her musings about pop culture, fashion, and literature on twitter @dresscapades  

At the George Washington University 2010 commencement, Michelle Obama gave an awe-inspiring address and a call to action, which I know my fellow classmates have since carried out in their lives. “Keep going. Keep giving. Keep engaging,” she told us, and her words still inspire my passions today. Graduation season often contains a cocktail of emotion: from joy to confusion to anxiety to relief. Luckily for the class of 2017, there are words—spoken and written—to help with the transition to the next stage in life and beyond.  Even if you’re not graduating, this time of year—the flowers, the weather, and the sunshine—often brings welcome feelings of new beginnings after a long, dark winter. Here are 11 commencement speakers—and their cherished books—to guide you through whatever new beginning awaits you this summer.

Congratulations to the Class of 2017!

Congratulations, by the Way
by George Saunders

Months after George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University, its transcript—posted on the New York Times website—was shared more than a million times. Saunders’s words, now memorialized in CONGRATULATIONS, BY THE WAY, tap into the shared desire to lead kinder and more fulfilling lives.

The American Spirit
by David McCullough

Over the course of his distinguished career, award-winning historian David McCullough has not just given many commencement speeches, he’s spoken before Congress, the White House, colleges and universities, historical societies, and other esteemed institutions. In this collection of his speeches, McCullough identifies core American values which will serve graduates throughout their lives.

Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook of THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

I Remember Nothing
by Nora Ephron

In her 1996 address at Wellesley, Nora Ephron told students: “Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.” Filled with insights and observations that instantly ring true, the reflections in I REMEMBER NOTHING are a reminder of how Ephron lived her life unapologetically.

March: Book Two
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
US Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis gave the 2016 commencement address at Washington University 55 years (to the day) after he and other Freedom Riders were brutalized at a bus station in Montgomery, Alabama. The second installment of his graphic memoir trilogy recalls how he and his fellow Freedom Riders boarded a bus into the vicious heart of the Deep South, where they would be tested like never before.

by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s address to the Wellesley graduates of 2004 overflows with sage advice and inspiring quotes to live by. Morrison’s books will provide you with enough life lessons to get you through life’s most challenging seasons. SULA is a novel about friendship, unforgivable betrayal, and how a friendship survives through sharply divergent paths of womanhood.

Being Mortal
by Atul Gawande

In his 2016 commencement speech at Caltech, practicing surgeon Atul Gawande encouraged students to “[pursue] ideas with curiosity, inquisitiveness, openness, and discipline. As scientists, in other words.” He takes the same approach in his book BEING MORTAL, in which he argues that there should be more focus on how medicine can provide a comfortable and dignified end-of-life experience for patients and families.

The Lacuna
by Barbara Kingsolver
In her address to Duke’s class of 2008, Barbara Kingsolver said, “the arc of history is longer than human vision. It bends.” In her most accomplished novel, THE LACUNA, Kingsolver takes readers on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover.

Year of Yes
by Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes delivered some tough love in her Dartmouth commencement address saying, “dreamers often end up living in the basements of relatives.” Rhimes’s book YEAR OF YES offers inspiration for the dreamers who need to take action. Her straight-forward advice for living out your dreams boldly? Say “yes.”

Dear Ijeawele
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Wellesley invited yet another illustrious writer to address its graduating class in 2015: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her speech she urged students to “make feminism a big, raucous, inclusive party.” Adichie’s latest manifesto, DEAR IJEAWELE, underscores the message of her address by offering insights from her life that can help us to raise young girls as feminists.

The White Album
by Joan Didion
A few years before the publication of THE WHITE ALBUM, Joan Didion addressed the UC Riverside class of 1975. This collection of essays records indelibly the upheavals and aftermaths of the 1960s. Examining key events, figures, and trends of the era through the lens of her own spiritual confusion, Didion helped to define mass culture as we now understand it.

Why Not Me?
by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling delivered a riotous address to the Harvard Law School Class of 2014, where she listed off her outstanding accomplishments, including having a burger named after her at Mr. Bartley’s—Harvard Square’s staple burger stop. In WHY NOT ME? Kaling turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud-funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to.

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