12 meaningful graduation gifts

Finishing high school or college is an incredible achievement. Let these thoughtful and unique gift ideas express your joy, love and support for new grads.

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Every May, cap-and-gown streamers fill stationery store windows, high school hallways and college campuses thrum with energy, and mail boxes (or email inboxes, more likely) fill with graduation announcements and party invitations.

Unlike an invitation to a graduation party, receiving an announcement of a graduation does not necessitate a gift. But if the student holds a special place in your heart, it’s nice to honor his or her hard work and show your support for those crucial post-grad next steps.

But shopping for graduation gifts on a budget isn’t so easy. If money were no object, graduation gifts (and any other type of shopping for that matter) would be a cinch: what graduate wouldn’t love a new car to take them on to their next adventure? A strand of pearls is always lovely, as is a new suit, perfect for internships and interviews.

For most of us, those presents go beyond the realistic limit (which tends to max out at a few hundred dollars or less). So our editors put together some affordable gift ideas that still have that personal, extra special celebratory touch.

Think retro

While only hipster grads might be excited about the bulky weight of a typewriter today, a vintage or retro-styled item can make for an interesting and unique graduation gift. Especially when themed to the person’s major: an old leather-bound book, an old-school accounting ledger, or an antique medical instrument might inspire students interested in those fields.


This antique-feeling leather bound journal with craft paper and a vintage key makes a nice gift for anyone, no matter their major ($65, Notorious Notebooks).

Add a thoughtful inscription

Though this idea requires more time than some others, the gift of a beautiful or wise quotation is just about as affordable as you can get. Try to find words from a scholar the student admires, or someone who serves in a field the student is interested in. (Far from the trite words we read in craft stores, it’s nice to remember that well-chosen quotes can and do motivate us.)

Simply etch a special quote into a congratulatory card or on the front page of a book you’ll give to the graduate (see our literary gift idea below). Or, you might also consider framing a printed or drawn quote. Just remember that the words you choose don’t have to be overly literary or cryptic. Sometimes for framing purposes, the wittiest and pithiest wins. After all, what aspiring writer wouldn’t love this authorly advice hanging on her wall?: Kill all your darlingsWilliam Faulkner.

set of pencil

Don’t feel crafty enough to draw the quote yourself? Consider this pencil set with some choice quotations already on them instead ($17, Etsy).

Also, if you’d like to add words that are more spiritually inspirational, Donna Sparks says she likes to give decorative scrolls of Psalm 139, the famous, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” psalm. Sometimes a psalm is all we need to give us strength, and remind us who we are in God’s eyes.

Commemorate the date

Even just the date of the graduation occasion, inscribed on a piece of jewelry or other token, is a simple but thoughtful gesture. For example, this date-stamped brass cuff is a delicate (and inexpensive!) token to remember the graduate’s big day.

Roman Numeral Hand Stamped Brass Cuff

Roman Numeral Hand Stamped Brass Cuff ($30, accessoryconcierge).

Go literary

Oh the Places You’ll Go has been a graduation best-seller since it’s release in 1990. And it’s popular for good reason: Dr. Seuss delivers fun, adorable, inspirational delight no matter what your age. But it’s not the only book that works well as a graduation gift.

‘Oh, the place You’ll Go!’ Dr Seuss book jacket

Lorliee Craker from Michigan says she’s been giving out copies of Great Expectations for years with a personalized inscription of, “We have great expectations for you, [name]!” And of course, aside from having a perfect graduation-gift title, this classic Dickens tale is a nice reminder of the wild, unforeseen twists and turns of life.

When all else fails, be practical

The best thing about practical gifts is that they’re oh so useful. (Go figure!) So think back to your needs when you were heading off to college or heading into your first job and new apartment. A small $10 hammer with screwdrivers in the handle, for example, is the ultimate practical gift for anyone moving out of the nest and into their own space.

And graduates still need to eat, of course, which is why Kathryn Johnson from Illinois likes giving gift cards to restaurants the graduate is likely to attend. (Or even a cute recipe book.) And high school graduates will still need to haul their books around in college, which is why she also likes to give sturdy L.L. Bean backpacks (only about $40). For college graduates, a beautiful work bag or briefcase can also be a lovely token of your esteem, especially if you’re looking to give something a little more high end.

Cole Haan brown leather bag

For a young man entering the workforce, you can’t go wrong with this leather Preston Brief ($400 with code SPRING50, Cole Haan).

Give guidance

“My son was given a session with an amazing career counselor and I recommend her to everyone,” says Alison Hodsgon, of Michigan. Though one session with a career counselor typically costs between $75 and $150, many students say it can be an enlightening experience, and helps them to avoid ill-fitting jobs. (Though, you might have to be the grad’s mother to give such a personal gift.)

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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