It’s Over – Graduation!

by Cindy Post Senning on February 21, 2012

This post originally appeared at my parenting blog The Gift of Good Manners. I will be cross posting some of my favorite content from that blog here at the Etiquette Daily periodically. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Graduation is a special time of transition and accomplishment all wrapped up together. As we approach graduation season – both high school and college – we receive many questions from graduates and their friends and families. People often ask us about the differences between invitations and announcements: the grads want to know when you send which, and the recipients want to know if they should send a gift for either or both!

First, the grads’ question: Many schools have to put limits on the number of people grads can invite to the ceremony. Usually this is due to space considerations. For example, the grad might have the opportunity to invite five people to the actual graduation. For any celebration following graduation, there may be all the same considerations you have for any guest list: How much space do you have? Are you serving an elegant meal that might require a smaller set number of guests? What time constraints are there, such as the graduation ceremony or any school party? And there are some considerations specific to graduation: Your best friend may be graduating also and having a celebration at the same time. All your friends might be doing the same thing so your celebration may be mostly family. Teachers have a dilemma as many of their students want them to come to their celebration. They may try to spend a little time at several parties. The important thing is for everyone to realize that graduation is a unique event that requires some special thought as you make out guest lists for invitations to the ceremony and/or the celebration.

Announcements can help address any complications. They are a great way to share the excitement of the event and the day with friends and family who can’t be invited as a result of space constraints at the ceremony or the celebration you may host. Also, rather than send an invitation to someone you know can’t attend, an announcement lets them know when you are graduating but carries no social expectation of a gift or feeling of obligation to attend.

Second – people want to know both if they should send a gift and what are good graduation gifts. If you are invited to a graduation event, you really should send a gift. As with any gift, your choice of what to give should be based on your relationship to the graduate and your personal budget. Parents may give something of special value or personal meaning. Others might give gifts that say congratulations and welcome to the adult world — monogrammed stationery, fine pen and pencil sets, a leather bound journal, framed art or photography, picture frames, or luggage. It is fine to give gift certificates or money.

And finally, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: the graduate should always write a personal thank you note for every gift and also send notes to anyone who entertains or does special favors for them.

To all you graduates, I end with a shout: CONGRATULATIONS and best of luck in all you do!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Cat February 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm

I am graduating from college this year and have many relatives, our commencement has first come first served seating, so is there an appropriate way to invite everyone without promising them an actual view of the graduation ceremony? They would all have to travel to come, and I do not want to ask them to travel to see me unless they really want to. I can not provide them with housing, meals, or seats even… so should I just make an announcement and forgo invitations except to the few who follow up with me?


Jody February 21, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Cat — if you have printed invitations for the ceremony, I’d send those to the relatives you’d most want to be present. At the bottom of the invitation, or maybe on a cover note, you can hand-write something like “Please note that there is no reserved seating; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.”


Elizabeth February 21, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I’m of the school of thought that considers the actual graduation ceremony to be appropriate for immediate family only. The ceremonies are hours long, and the graduating classes so big that they don’t even call individual names. My advice would be to invite only your immediate family to the ceremony (parents, siblings) and for a nice dinner afterwards. Then, later, you can have a graduation party (perhaps at your parents’ home, or elsewhere) where you can actually spend some quality time with your extended family.


Ashleigh February 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Agreed. I had a 6 hour graduation – they did call every single student hence the ludicrously long time. Even my immediate family was ready to jump in front of moving traffic by the end. Afterwards, everyone went home and had a nice dinner. After we received copies of the photos from graduation, we had an announcement/party invite made up with photos from the event and had a larger family party about 3 weeks later.


patricia May 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Please answer this for me. My grown daughter (with her own growing family) is graduating with her masters degree… We are very proud of course. Is there a protocol for a gift, card or whatever? Please advise what is the most appropriate thing to do. We are celebrating with her that night and attending the ceremony.


Just Laura May 2, 2012 at 7:40 pm

The gift from my parents for my M.A. was that they’d paid for most of it. :)

If you didn’t assist her financially, I suggest a gift card for a spa visit, or simply taking her family (you, your daughter, her husband and their children) out for a nice dinner. As a former starving grad student who worked full-time, such a gift is wonderfully appreciated.


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