Few events in a young person's life are more important than graduation. Important events are often enhanced by music, especially if the music is chosen with care and creativity.
As much as possible, this list avoids songs with explicit lyrics and ironic elements (both intended and unintended) that may distract from the event.
A typical graduation ceremony includes three basic musical cues: the processional, when the graduates enter to be honored, program music, and the recessional, when the graduates file out at the end of the ceremony. Program music often provides a soundtrack for a graduate slide show. The list below includes suggestions for placement of songs in each of these three categories.
Number 10: Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance." March No. 1 in D, the melody called "Land of Hope and Glory" is a standard in the United States. Used as either the processional or recessional, many people feel that it is a required piece at such events. Commonly, it used as a processional with a pop song as recessional.
Nine: "Graduation Day" by Chris Isaak is a nice, medium tempo slide show soundtrack tune that has the proper title and hook for the occasion.
Eight: "Graduate" by Tomorrow's Forgotten. This song has a good mid-tempo and a sound reminiscent of Pearl Jam. It can give a slide show an edgy yet inoffensive tone.
Seven: "Moments to Remember" by the Four Lads. Grads, do you want your folks in tears during the slideshow? Play this one, but don't forget the tissues!
Six: "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the musical, "Carousel." This may be the ultimate musical parental benediction! Sorry, no artist recommendations for this, among many available versions.
Five: "We Are the Champions" by Queen is a self-congratulatory piece for program or recessional.
Four: "Graduation Day" by the Beach Boys. This is becoming less and less meaningful to audiences as it ages, but it retains, elements that make it a great graduation song. It's a nostalgic, sentimental, topical tune that works well as either program music or recessional, and makes a great slow dance for the kids and their parents at after-graduation events.
Three: "Graduate" by Third Eye Blind. A good topical, upbeat recessional.
Two: "Graduation (Friends Forever)" by Vitamin C is on topic and has popular appeal.
The number one graduation song, best played at the end of any ceremony or gathering, has to be Alice Cooper's "School's Out." This song has something for everybody: it's cathartic, rowdy, and celebratory, not just for the grads, but also for siblings and friends attending the ceremony. Even though they aren't graduating, they will still relate to the end of school. It's old enough that parents and grandparents will recognize it; quite possibly they'll respond as enthusiastically as the kids. As a recessional, it's fast paced and frenetic enough to move the crowds on to the next event (or the exits) in a timely manner. At the end of an emotional ceremony, it can provide a release, and serve to cheer everyone up, perhaps reminding them that this is a rite of passage to be celebrated!