The most appropriate answer is "it depends", I reckon.
First of all, I'd say there isn't one most appropriate date for the events like graduation (which can be anywhere between this year and past centuries if we take the deceased into consideration) or birth date (idem).
I'd rather ask - can you afford setting a default year for each instance of the date picker? Or rather - what do you need to do to set a default year for each instance.
Imagine the following use case- an application form for health insurance in an European country. You, an applicant, must be 18 years of older to apply, children up to 18 years old are insured with their parents and don't apply with the form themselves.
What would be the default year for your (and your partner's) birth year? At least 2001, perhaps earlier - you can run some statistics on the average age of your customers. Why would you set it to 2019 (now)? Why would you make me to scroll for at least two decades since I already am 18 years or older since I'm filling in this form?
What about the default birth year of my children (if applicable)? Leave the age constraints aside, I'd set it either based on statistics of previously filled forms or to the age of 9. Why 9? When needed to change, the distance between 9 to both limits (newborn and 18) is roughly same, hence the least amount of scrolling/clicking.
Coming back to your question - you may try to draw some links between the dates, e.g. we graduate at our 20 something, so once the birth date is filled in and the graduation date not yet, default year for graduation can be pre-filled.
To summarise, I see two possibilities here:
- either try to predict the dates and set each individually (based on some statistics)
- or go the easiest way and set "today" (or the "youngest" when the date range is limited)
But in all circumstances keep the default year consistent.