Graduations are always super emotional. Whether it’s high school or college, you can guarantee a few tears will be shed. And no one does a dramatic, emotionally-fulfilling graduation better than TV. Sorry, real life, TV’s better at this too. Graduation TV episodes always manage to pull at our heartstrings and get us all misty-eyed. And they usually happen to be season finales, so it’s chock full of weepy goodness!
Our school days were fun, but graduating is such a monumental accomplishment that nothing can beat. Reliving that magic on TV brings us back to our graduation days and it can get a little emotional up in here. Whether you’re a new grad, long done with school, or anxiously awaiting your turn, you’re sure to love these graduation TV eps. Now cue up the Vitamin C song and check out some of our very favorites!
16. The Middle, “Graduation”
Like most things in the Heck’s life, graduation day is a mess. Axl (Charlie McDermott) refuses to cooperate with Frankie (Patricia Heaton) as she tries to plan the perfect grad party. Sue (Eden Sher) tries to get her license for the sixth time. And Brick (Atticus Shaffer) realizes last minute that, as the elementary school class historian, he has to create a slideshow commemorating the last four years. The Middle is one of the only shows on TV that shows what days like this are really like. Big, eventful days are often messy, unorganized, and full of more than a few arguments. That is until the end of the day when you realize how great your family truly is.
15. Gilmore Girls, “Lorelai’s Graduation Day”
Gilmore Girls has some of the best graduation moments on TV, but this is the show’s most unique. When adult Lorelai (Lauren Graham) goes back to school to move forward in life, we can’t help but root for her the entire way. And when graduation day comes, we’re as proud as can be. Her parents, who she often clashes with, even come to the ceremony! But her daughter, who’s also her biggest supporter, misses the event when she opts to spend the day with “friend” Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) and is delayed on her way home. The episode ends on a good note for Lorelai and her daughter, but it stresses the importance of being there for the people you love on their big days.
14. Glee, “Goodbye”
When shows say goodbye to high school after being solely set there, it can be a difficult transition. Even more difficult is planning where these characters are going to go next. This episode of Glee grapples with that as our fave Glee Club members prepare to graduate from McKinley High. We see them struggle with goodbyes and new beginnings, and sing some killer songs! The episode ends with Rachel (Lea Michele) stepping off a bus onto the streets of New York City, ready to start the next huge chapter of her life.
13. Modern Family, “See You Next Fall”
Anyone who watches Modern Family won’t be very surprised to know that Alex (Ariel Winter) was her middle-school valedictorian. She’s our fave smart kid on TV! She struggles with her speech, almost settling on a hate-filled rant about her “unintelligent” peers and how poorly they treat one another. She ends up giving one of the most endearing, and awkward, grad speeches on TV. Saying,
“I find it ironic that I’m up here representing my classmates when…they’re so…awesome, they should be up here themselves. But I’m up here, and I’m saying stuff because everybody’s got their…stuff…whether you’re popular, or a drama geek, or a cheerleader, or a nerd like me. We all have our insecurities; we’re all just trying to figure out who we are. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t…stop…believing…and get this party started!”
Was it perfect? No. But it hit all the right notes. The episode also has a hilarious throughline about Jay’s (Ed O’Neill) botched botox, proving even the emotional episodes of this show are funny!
12. The O.C., “The Graduates”
This is one of the most tragic graduation episodes ever to air on TV. “The Graduates” is also known as “the one where Marissa (Mischa Barton) dies.” The gang prepares to graduate from high school and is deciding what they’re doing with the rest of their lives. It should be the happiest day of their lives thus far, but a vindictive ex and a car accident gone wrong leave a terrible legacy to the day. Marissa’s death propels everyone forward in unique ways, changing the trajectory of their lives. While graduations may not always be happy occasions, they are always life-changing!
11. Gossip Girl, “The Goodbye Gossip Girl”
It wouldn’t be a big occasion on the Upper East Side without Gossip Girl around to blow it to bits. On graduation day, the group is worried about the titular gossip monger, but they note that she won’t follow them to college so they must be safe after grad! Wrong. A Gossip Girl blast comes down the line that gives everyone superlatives that they definitely don’t want. She then announces that she’s coming with them to college, and she is open to all the tips anyone wants to send her way. It’s a bittersweet graduation day as the Upper East Siders realize they’re never going to escape Gossip Girl — or their pasts. And the mission to take GG down begins!
10. The Secret Life of the American Teenager, “And Circumstance”
After the ins, outs, and babies that high school brought the gang on this show, they were finally graduating. Ricky (Daren Kagasoff) is tasked with giving a graduation speech and uses it to do so much more: propose to Amy (Shailene Woodley)! The graduation-proposal trope is a true classic. It’s also just about as ill-advised as having a kid at 16, but there’s never anything stopping these crazy kids!
9. Saved By The Bell, “Graduation”
Saved By The Bell isn’t the most realistic show to ever be on TV, which is mostly why we love it. So when graduation approaches, we know something wacky will go wrong. Zach (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) learns he needs one more credit to graduate. How he finds this out like, two days before graduation we will never know. But in his attempt to graduate, he takes on a ballet class to fulfill that credit and walk with his degree. It’s one last silly plot from the king of silly plots. Obviously he graduates, and we get blessed with Saved By The Bell: The College Years as a result!
8. Modern Family, “The Graduates”
Luke (Nolan Gould) and Manny (Rico Rodriguez) are graduating?! Yep, the pair, who started as young boys at the start of the series, finally graduated high school in “The Graduates.” Something about watching kids grow up right in front of our eyes on TV gets the nostalgic waterworks going! The show deals with that feeling of your youngest growing up and leaving the nest as they move on to the next part of their lives. Graduating is super emotional, guys, in case you didn’t already know!
7. The Vampire Diaries, “Graduation”
Let’s be honest, we didn’t even know if these guys would make it to graduation. Between their heroic world-saving escapades and how many time the school was almost destroyed, it’s not hard to imagine a world where Mystic Falls class of 2013 just didn’t have a graduation. But they did, and it was appropriately emotional and badass. And if you thought it would go off without a hitch, you clearly have never been to Mystic Falls, which was overrun with GHOSTS at the time of graduation. Yep, sounds about right. The gang works to protect their classmates, each other, and the town from this apocalyptic event of the week. Do these guys ever get to rest, even for graduations?!
6. One Tree Hill, “The Birth and Death of the Day”
For all the craziness these people have been through, their graduation day is actually pretty tame. Even if it does end with Haley (Bethany Joy Lenz) going into labor mid-speech! The adorable realization, along with Nathan (James Lafferty) popping up from the crowd to smile at his in-labor wife almost made us want to be teen parents. Almost. Okay, kidding, not at all. Obviously, some more dramatic stuff happens — this is Tree Hill, after all, — but overall the day is a positive display in looking towards the future.
5. Beverly Hills, 90210, “Something in the Air”
On the OG teen show that defined the genre, it was pretty clear that graduation day wasn’t going to be sunshine and roses. Donna (Tori Spelling) is suspended for getting drunk on Prom Night amd she may not be able to graduate. Her friends band together to form a protest to convince the administration to let her walk. Sure, it sounds a little privilege-y, but what else would you expect from Beverly Hills teens? Donna, of course, gets to graduate with her friends. And we’ll forever have “Donna Martin Graduates!” stuck in our heads.
4. Veronica Mars, “Not Pictured”
Graduation day on Veronica Mars brings tons of quips, and the unraveling of a decades-long pedophilia cover-up, the person responsible for the bus crash, and a plane blowing up. Never a boring night in Neptune! Veronica (Kristen Bell) unravels the threads of the mystery that has been building since a Neptune High bus drove off a cliff during the season premiere. On her graduation day, she solves the case and works to take down the culprit. It’s one of the absolute most intense TV graduation episodes of all time, and the epitome of why we love Veronica Mars!
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Graduation Day Part 1 & 2”
Her high school is built on a Hellmouth, so obviously Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) graduation day wasn’t going to be normal. With the Mayor’s ascension looming, on which he would turn into a giant snake demon, Buffy and her friends must figure out how to fight him. In one of the most satisfying graduation moments ever, the Mayor transforms into the monster Olvikan and the entire student body rips off their robes to reveal weapons beneath, ready to fight for their school, their town, and their lives. Students fight and kick ass as they reclaim their victimhood and become unlikely heroes. Sunnydale High 4Ever.
2. Boy Meets World, “Graduation”
Graduation day approaches with lots of changes on the horizon for everyone on Boy Meets World. Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) announces he’s retiring, Shawn (Rider Strong) wonders where he’ll be able to go from here, and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) contemplates whether or not she should go to Yale or stay with Cory (Ben Savage). Topanga’s issue sees a huge resolution at graduation after Mr. Feeny tells her only to stay here if she has something to stay for. So she proposed to Cory at graduation! It’s one of the most heartwarming graduation moments on TV because we all knew they were destined to be together. And she proposed, which was empowering AF. This is exactly why Cory and Topanga are our OTP.
1. Gilmore Girls, “Those are Strings, Pinocchio”
Rory (Alexis Bledel) had to go through a ton of hurdles to graduate from her private high school. She was born to a single, teen mother with nothing to her name, but went on to be accepted to Yale and Harvard and give the Valedictorian speech at her prestigious prep school. She would never have been able to do it without her mother Lorelai, which is why her speech is a testament to her amazing mom. In her moving speech, she says,
“But my ultimate inspiration comes from my best friend, the dazzling woman from whom I received my name and my life’s blood, Lorelai Gilmore. My mother never gave me any idea that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be. She filled our house with love and fun and books and music unflagging in her efforts to give me role models from Jane Austen to Eudora Welty to Patti Smith. As she guided me through these incredible eighteen years, I don’t know if she ever realized that the person I most wanted to be was her. Thank you, Mom, you are my guidepost for everything.”
If that doesn’t make you cry, you’re made of stone. Their deep mother-daughter bond transcended class, their struggles, and every curveball that is thrown their way. Rory’s graduation was as much a testament to her mother as it was to her. Brb, we’ll be over in the corner sobbing!