When we are young, and about to graduate it seems we have nothing but time. Things like mortgage payments, day care expenses, and retirement savings are all alien concepts to us. Up until now we’ve lived a sheltered life, nurtured, guided and protected by our parents and teachers. Yet, like all young creatures, we chafe against what seems at the time to be a smothering security blanket, aching to break free and experience true freedom. Little do we realize that this time before graduation is the most freedom we will enjoy in our lives. The moment we step out through those high school doors for the final time our lives change irrevocably. True, the shackles and strictures of the school system are thrown off us, but are replaced by even stronger chains of responsibility that come with being an adult in society. A huge part of our support system, an anchor of our daily lives has been removed, and it is at once, exhilarating and terrifying.

The strongest, most emotionally visceral memories in our lives always have one of our five senses tied to them. Whether is in a smell, a sight, or something we’ve heard, those memories can come surging back when the cue we’ve attached to them is introduced. Music has been shown to have one of the greatest impacts on our memories. A song we hear on the radio can conjure up things we’d buried deep within a hidden corner of our mind, and surprise us with the intensity of the attached memory.

Each year the graduating class of most high schools throughout North America choose a graduation song. This graduation song will be socially relevant to the era they grew up in, and will, by its nature, elicit strong a strong emotional response that will conjure memories of their school days when they hear the song in the future. Coming up with a list of the top 10 graduation songs of all time was a difficult task because our society is changing so quickly now. What was relevant and emotion-invoking one year may just be so much lame fluff the next. Most bands and songs do not have the staying power of some of the classics of yesteryear in this internet age of instant information and entertainment.

Still, there have been certain all time classic graduation songs that have managed to stand the test of time, and, though many might consider them lame fluff, they still have the rare ability to invoke emotion and stir memories each time we hear them. Here is my list of the top 10 graduation songs of all time:

10 – Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten

A relative newcomer on a list that will be comprised mostly of songs one or two decades old, this song about writing the book of your life will still be on graduation song lists one or two decades from now.

9 – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

Known mostly for his film work, Baz Luhrmann took a brief sabbatical from the movie industry to pound out this strange little ditty, which doesn’t feature singing, just Luhrmann rambling on to a musical background.

8 – The Verve Pipe – Freshmen

Hauntingly melodic, this graduation song classic is performed by another one hit wonder. It is a shame The Verve Pipe never hit it big. This was a great song.

7 – Tom Petty – Learning to Fly

Tom Petty could have numerous songs on the list of the top 10 graduation songs of all time. I Won’t Back Down, Into the Great Wide Open, and Runnin’ Down a Dream could all have made the cut. Petty is one of the all time great artists, and Learning to Fly is really symbolic of graduation and the first step taken towards adulthood.

6 – Rod Stewart – Forever Young

Rod Stewart’s gravelly voice delivers us the first of two songs on this list by the same name. This one lands at number six. How high will the other be ranked?

5 – Sarah Mclachlan – I Will Remember You

Speaking of haunting melodies, few singers are able to tweak the soul like Sarah Mclachlan. This is a graduation anthem, and a promise not to forget all those friends and acquaintances we made in our high school days.

4 – Green Day – Good Riddance (Time of your Life)

Probably the most popular contemporary graduation song. Green Day deftly walks the line between punk rock and mainstream music, allowing them to appeal to a wide demographic. Known for frantic riffs and shouted lyrics, they mellow it out a little with this classic.

3 – Vitamin C – Graduation (Friends Forever)

Another one hit wonder in the top 10 graduation songs of all time. I’m starting to see a bit of a trend. Though this song is so syrupy to be nearly cloying, it’s theme lands it a worthy spot at number 3.

2 – Alice Cooper – School’s Out

Now we’re talking! Finally some full out rock on this list. Who cares about the next step, and promises to remember those we may never see again. School’s out! Time to party.

1 – Alphaville – Forever Young

This German synth-pop band never really hit it big in North America, but they did grace us with one gem that, before Vitamin C arrived, was probably the most popular graduation song going. It hits top spot on my list because the lyrics convey everything about the graduation experience, and because (I am showing my bias here) it was the graduation song in my grade 12 year.