It’s hard to believe that a year of Zoom school and masked classrooms is coming to a close. While this year has been anything other than ordinary, high school graduates are still facing many of the same emotions as years before: excitement, uncertainty, a sense of accomplishment mixed with a bit of anxiety. If you’re not sure what to say to the
grad in your life, these motivational quotes for high school seniors will do the talking for you.
Some of these inspirational quotes were pulled directly from commencement speeches, and some are just inspiring things that have been said. You’ll find quotes from actors, authors, historical figures, and of course, the Obamas. These quotes embrace failure, remind grads to stay curious and kind, and speak to the uncertainty inherent in both the graduate’s personal lives and the world at large.
Whether you write one of these in a card or have your grad read them on their own, these inspirational quotes for
high school seniors will leave your grad feeling hopeful and motivated. And while high school kids are the ones who are somehow motivated to get up every morning and go to school on their laptops, it couldn’t hurt to add these quotes to their motivation toolbox as they head out to college or work or whatever comes next. 1 “Your life is your story, and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.” — Kerry Washington MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images/MediaNews Group/Getty Images
Actress Kerry Washington keeps it simple in her advice that all high school grads should hear. With their whole futures laid out before them, it’s a helpful reminder that the adventure of life is an ongoing journey to find purpose and potential.
2 "Change takes courage." — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Three words can have so much meaning. The graduating class has important, life-changing work ahead of them to make the world a safer and more equitable place and courage will be needed.
3 "Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead." — Nora Ephron
Late author Nora Ephron puts it best. Education is so important, but it’s just the first step.
4 “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think.” — David Foster Wallace
Late author David Foster Wallace said these words in his beautiful graduation speech at Kenyon College in 2005 (which
Time later named the “ greatest commencement speech of all time”). Fun fact: I had the opportunity to hear that speech live as my sister graduated that year, but (eye roll) I chose to go to my junior prom instead. 5 “In an uncertain world… time-tested values like honesty and integrity, empathy and compassion: that’s the only real currency in life… Treating people right will never, ever fail you.” — Michelle Obama
It seems like everything Michelle Obama says is brimming with wisdom and motivation and it can never be stressed enough how important compassion, empathy, and kindness are.
6 “I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success. You’ve got to take risks,”— Denzel Washington
From his commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011, Denzel Washington talks about the importance of taking risks, an essential message for any grads who are afraid of failure.
7 “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” — Maya Angelou Star Tribune via Getty Images/Star Tribune/Getty Images
This lovely quote from Maya Angelou just may inspire college-bound grads to pursue their passion rather than a more “safe” career path they’re not so into.
8 “You can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream. You’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.” — Diana Ross
Motivational and practical, this quote from Diana Ross is great advice on the importance of making things happen for yourself without permission or approval from others.
9 “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”— Albert Einstein
Physicist Albert Einstein, who is credited with coming up with early science that helped develop everything from the
paper towel to solar power and laser pointers, per National Geographic, knew a thing or two about the importance of questioning, and it’s a great quote for grads who may feel they have more questions than answers. 10 “Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.” ― Lao Tzu
Many of the quotes on this list, including this one from ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, touch on the importance of viewing failure and set-backs as opportunities for growth.
11 “As scary and uncertain as these times may be, they are also a wakeup call, and they are an incredible opportunity for your generation.” — Barack Obama
It wouldn’t be a list of motivation quotes without including one from Barack Obama. He said these words at
YouTube’s virtual commencement speech, “Dear Class of 2020,” and it’s definitely worth it for 2021 grads to watch the whole thing. 12 "Once you choose hope, anything's possible." — Christopher Reeve
Late actor Christopher Reeve, beloved for his role as
Superman, and later paralyzed in a tragic horseback riding accident, was renowned for his hopeful spirit in the face of extreme challenges. It’s important for grads to be reminded of the power of hope in hard times. 13 "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." — Thomas Edison
We may not have the lightbulb had Thomas Edison not taken on this tenacious spirit. One of the best gifts you can give graduates is permission to not get it right the first (or second or third) time they try something new.
14 "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." — Dolly Parton Getty Images/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
This short and sweet (just like Dolly herself) quote, is a good reminder to take the good with the bad.
15 “The important thing is to realize that no matter what people’s opinions may be, they’re only just that — people’s opinions. You have to believe in your heart what you know to be true about yourself. And let that be that.” — Mary J. Blige
Hearing this quote from Mary J. Blige is a refreshing breath of air for grads that may find themselves bogged down by the opinions of others. As my mother once said, “what other people think of you is none of your business.”
16 “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. “ — Steve Jobs
This quote from Apple creator Steve Jobs, gives high school seniors freedom to not map out every aspect of their future (an impossible task really) and instead to trust that through perseverance and passion, the dots
will connect. 17 “Your inexperience is an asset in that it will make you think in original, unconventional ways. Accept your lack of knowledge and use it as your asset." — Natalie Portman
Inexperience is often thought of as a bad thing, but as Natalie Portman says, it can also lead to original thinking.
18 “High school was fun but also a bit painful. But like most painful experiencesit helped me become a better writer.” — Mindy Kaling
It’s important to remember the graduates that didn’t enjoy their high school experience. This quote from Mindy Kaling acknowledges that this part of life can be painful at times, and reassures that often something good may come of that struggle.
19 “It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself and the problems you face in life. Sense of humor can save you.” — Margaret Cho
From actress and comedian Margaret Cho, comes this wise and freeing quote on the importance of laughter and not taking yourself too seriously.
20 “Your path is your character defining itself more and more every day, like a photograph coming into focus.” — Jodie Foster
It’s easy to get wrapped up in measuring success in tangible achievements, but high school graduates will appreciate this quote from actress Jodie Fosters, whose words are a gentle reminder that defining your character through your words and actions is just as important as any diploma.