Perk Up the Graduate in Your Life With One of These Great Gifts

A row of coffee makers.
Photo illustration by Slate

Even in ordinary years, graduations are bittersweet. Along with excitement and pride, there’s a hint of melancholy when graduates say goodbye to friends, teachers, and the life they’ve built, as they embark on a new journey. But this year, graduations are tinged with a particular sadness. It’s a scary, difficult time, and the toll that the pandemic has taken on seniors—stealing a period that should be joyful and turning it glum—is one of its many injustices. Given these dark times, it’s more important than ever to celebrate successes. Whether your graduate is gearing up for college, a restful summer, a new job or apartment of their own, or (eventually) globe-trotting adventures, here are a few gifts they’ll appreciate.

For the Reader

Words of Wisdom

My friends and I weren’t fans of our graduation speaker. As we sat there groaning at his jokes, we vowed to find alternative sources of inspiration. I was grateful when a friend gifted me Make Good Art, a gorgeously illustrated little write-up of a keynote address author Neil Gaiman delivered at an arts university in 2012. The speech champions individuality, urging fledgling creatives to break rules and take chances. In return, I gave her If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s campus speeches. The wisdom he imparts is hilarious and heartening, while being as kooky as you’d expect from the writer of Slaughterhouse-Five.

Audiobook Subscription

Is your graduate an audiobook fan? Libro, a subscription service, provides access to a platform of more than 150,000 books—while supporting local bookstores. It’s a wonderful alternative to buying audiobooks à la carte, and includes the added benefit of investing in your local community. As a way to keep in touch with faraway family members, I recently started an audiobook club. Now I’ve got the whole gang hooked.

For the Nester

Comfy Robe

With all this time indoors, cozying-up clothing items have really had their time to shine. Personally, I’ve been giving thanks for my soft, snug bathrobe from Natori. It’s warm without feeling bulky, holds up after machine washing, and is lightweight enough to wear through the summer months.

Upgraded Sheet Set

The most useful item I received as a recent graduate was new sheets. As a student, I’d been sleeping on a ratty jersey-knit set for years, and the upgrade—to sheets that felt smoother and cleaner—made all the difference. My current favorites are made by Brooklinen: They’re soft and satiny enough to feel luxurious, but lack the high price tag often attached to fancy linens, making them the perfect starter set for a new grad.

Coffee Maker and Mug

Nobody says no to a coffee maker. A simple, drip coffee brewer with a glass carafe is the perfect starter coffee pot. This one is easy to program and brews a fast cup, and it tastes richer than any coffee you could make with a K-Cup. For a personal touch, add a customized mug to your gift. My friend bought me one with Oscar Isaac’s face on it, so I can gaze into his eyes every morning. It’s a prized possession.


When I moved into my first apartment, my roommate’s toolkit quickly became the most popular item on the block; everyone was texting her to borrow it. Hanging pictures, building furniture, small home repairs—we hadn’t realized it, but a toolkit was basically a prerequisite for living on our own. True, it doesn’t have the romance of other gifts. But if you’re looking for an item that your grad can log in the Very, Very Useful category, this is the present for you.

For the Sentimentalist

Framed Photograph

A printed photo in a nice frame checks two boxes: In addition to being a thoughtful, commemorative gesture, it’s a practical way to fill up wall space in a grad’s new dorm or apartment. Keepsake Frames makes the process easy: You can upload images straight from your phone, choose a frame color and size, and then have the photo delivered, fully assembled.

For the Tech Enthusiast

Wireless Earbuds

While working from home, I’ve rediscovered the necessity of owning a very good pair of headphones. I love the wireless kind, which I find to be more convenient for subway commutes and more comfortable for outdoor jogging. This Bluetooth-friendly pair from Skullcandy is sleek, affordable, and includes a microphone for phone calls.

Roku Stick

Before I discovered Roku, my friends and I had a pile of tangled dongles that we used to plug our laptops into our TV monitor. It was a mess. Now we stream through our Roku, which offers access to established platforms like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime and new ones like Apple TV+ and Disney+. It’s affordable and speedy—a total necessity for an apartment’s TV room.

For the Voyager

A Suitcase Prepped for Travel

Your graduate has most likely had to put travel plans on hold for now, but a durable, high-quality suitcase is nonetheless an indispensable asset once they reach a certain age. Young people will particularly appreciate luggage that includes a built-in phone charger for extra convenience. To personalize the gift, clip on a cute luggage tag in your grad’s favorite color.