Whether it’s from high school or university, graduation is a milestone that’s certainly cause for celebration, but with it can come a new set of concerns—big-time worries about how to make the grade in college or in the real world. Whether your grad needs direction or already possesses a five-year plan, three new books offer plenty of inspiration, encouragement and practical advice.

Your teen may affect an air of world-weary ennui, but don’t let the cool facade fool you. If you have a teen heading to college this fall, he or she is bound to be feeling unsettled by the changes that lie ahead. The transition from home to dorm can be tough for any first-timer (they don’t call ’em freshmen for nothing!). Luckily, Blair Thornburgh’s pithy, practical Stuff Every College Student Should Know anticipates—and provides solutions for—many of the hair-tearing scenarios students face in their first year.

The book is organized into critical categories, including social life, academics and money matters. In addition to tips on how to make dorm-dwelling tolerable, Thornburgh provides succinct instruction in critical skills such as knowing how to brew a good cup of coffee, keep a mini-fridge clean and interpret the oft-confusing codes of a washing machine. She also provides advice on social savvy, with lessons in finessing potentially stressful situations, like dealing with a music-blasting roomie and landing a date with that special someone (or, conversely, calling it quits). From understanding Greek life and developing smart study skills to answering the question that looms over all college students—what should I major in?—Thornburgh covers all the bases in this pocket-​size guide. Mandatory reading for the college bound.

Listen up, class! Remember the high school graduation oration that David McCullough Jr. delivered in 2012? The talk that went viral on YouTube? That’s right—the “You Are Not Special” speech that the English teacher gave to Wellesley High School grads. Well, you can get your very own copy of that mind-​expanding address, along with some of the best real-world advice contained between two covers, if you pick up McCullough’s new book, You Are Not Special. In it, he explains all the stuff that teens stress over—how to deal with parents, pick the right college, handle peer pressure, choose a career. It’s great, because McCullough really gets where kids are coming from—he understands them on a level that’s, like, micro.

Seriously, though. When it comes to closing the gap that exists between teens and adults, McCullough proves an expert bridge builder. In his book, he uses his now-famous speech as a jumping-off point, encouraging young people to cultivate intellectual curiosity, compassion and self-reliance. He also demystifies parental behavior—an undertaking for which he’s overqualified as a father of four. Smart but not condescending, knowing but never a know-it-all, McCullough—a longtime high school teacher—issues small admonishments to teens (text less, read more) in a tone that’s exceedingly collegial. “The sweetest joys in life . . . come only with the recognition that you’re not special,” he told the 2012 grads. Those who can, teach.

George Saunders is no speechifier. He’s a writer who makes every word matter, so it’s no surprise that the convocation address he delivered to Syracuse University grads in May 2013 was brief, to the point and oh-so-potent. Saunders, the acclaimed and award-winning author of Tenth of December, can cut to the heart of almost any matter in a few select sentences. His Syracuse speech lasted all of eight minutes but had enormous impact. Part of its appeal lay in the delivery—Saunders’ plainspoken, forthright tone. It was a deceptively simple address that packed a punch, raising resonant questions about contemporary values. When a transcript of the talk was published on the New York Times website, it went viral.

In time for graduation season, Random House has released Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness, a gift edition of Saunders’ oration. In it, he owns up to personal “failures of kindness” and proposes that people work on being, well, nicer to one another. Calling for a general recalibration of the moral compass, he suggests that we all try to “increase our ambient levels of kindness” and passes on solid advice to his audience: “Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.” Sparkling illustrations and a special gift card make this a book that grads will treasure.


This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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