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The Top Eleven Manners of Graduation for Guests and Graduates

The Top Eleven Manners of Graduation for Guests and Graduates -

By: Maralee McKee

A surprise arrived in my mail; it was a high school graduation announcement from a precious young lady. I remember the day she was born! I also remember her attending one of my children’s etiquette courses when she was no more than eight or nine. I held her announcement in disbelief.

I keep thinking, “It just can’t be that she grew up that quickly.” If you have a child who’s already graduated, you’ll know much better than I, but the insurance TV commercial from several years ago was right, wasn’t? “Life comes at you fast!”

The Countdown

At my home, we love counting down the days until our next celebration! To help I downloaded a clock application to our computer home screen. I input the date and we (especially the boys!) enjoy seeing how many days it is until the big event.

Today the clock reads, “One Year, One Month and 15 Days Until Marc Graduates from High School!” All the other countdowns I’ve anticipated with joy; this one I look at with an odd avoidance. I can’t come to terms yet with the fact that his childhood is speeding to the finish line.

52 Hours and Then It  Began

Marc’s birth was biblical in its intensity. I was in labor for three-days until hard labor began, then it took me 52 hours of hard labor to bring that boy into the world. By hour 35 I was unable to feel anything but dread of another moment of the pain.

I was out of screams.

I was out of tears.

Yet it was as beautiful (in hindsight) as it was beautiful, and at any instant I can transport myself back to the very moment at the end of hour 52 when the doctor said, “One more push, Maralee. One more and it will be over.”

New power came from within me. I exerted myself beyond Olympian proportions. I pushed. At that exact moment his head and shoulders emerged, and the doctor gently pulled him from my womb.

It’s odd the doctor said, “One more push and it will all be over.”

She should have said, “One more push…and it will all begin.”

For the life of me, it couldn’t be… hasn’t been… almost 18 years since that moment. Now, there’s just a year left till he leaves our home for his dorm room. I shouldn’t cry over it; I should rejoice for this new chapter he’ll enter. I’m just not there. I don’t want to not live under the same roof as my first born.

Commence= To Begin

If you think about it, there’s a good reason why a graduation ceremony is officially called a “commencement.” Commencement means “to begin.” I always thought it meant the end of something.

But I was wrong.

It’s the recognition of a future full of brand new possibilities. No wonder it’s celebrated by students, their parents, and loved ones.

Graduation needs celebrating. It helps dry the tears caused by our little ones having grown while our eyes were mid-blink.

The Top Eleven Manners of Graduation for Guests and Graduates

If you have a graduate in your house, or, like me, received an announcement, here are eleven great tips for how you can join in celebrating the new beginning with ease, sincerity, and graciousness!

1. Believe it or not, a gift isn’t required if you receive a graduation announcement. Announcements are simply the family’s way of “announcing” the news to the people in their circle. (One is required if you receive an invitation and attend.)

2. While a gift isn’t required if you receive just an announcement, you can certainly send one if you’d like. However, a card of congratulations and best wishes should be sent in reply to the announcement.

3. If your son or daughter is graduating, here’s something to keep in mind. Because so many people believe they “should” send a gift to the graduate when they receive an announcement, it’s gracious to limit sending them only to relatives and those you’re in regular contact with. Here are two ways to help decide if you should send someone an announcement:

• If you send holiday cards and wouldn’t normally send one to this particular person, then you wouldn’t send him or her a graduation announcement.

• You wouldn’t send a graduation announcement to anyone that the graduate wouldn’t recognize in person. They’re sent to most family members, but to those outside of the family, they’re only sent to people the graduate also knows, not to someone who has a relationship exclusively with the parents of the graduate.

4. If you know of someone who is graduating and you didn’t receive an announcement, you can send a card or gift if you’d like. I’m sure the graduate and his or her family will be honored and happily surprised.

5. If you attend a commencement ceremony or party, then you’ll want to bring a gift. You can bring it with you or have it delivered to the graduate’s home prior to the party.

Grace Note: The best gifts are ones the graduate will use in his or her next stage in life.  Tech school, four-year college, grad school, or first job and apartment, think of what would come in handy for that and buy accordingly.

For graduations, money (or pre-paid debit cards) make for great gifts. While it’s not a very personal gift (you can buy those in the years ahead for their wedding and then baby shower), young people really need and appreciate cash.

How much to give?

That depends on how well you know the graduate and your budget. A causal acquaintance might give $20, an aunt or uncle might give $500. But you should give from your heart, and give only what you can afford. Don’t let a norm put you in a financial bind. If spending less than $20, and you feel embarrassed, (you shouldn’t) you can purchase a store bought gift instead of giving cash. That way the recipient doesn’t know how much you spent.

And besides, with the internet, you can find great deals. For instance, check out the outlet shopping clearance deals page. They offer amazing bargains.

6. Often graduates attend several parties in one night since their friends are all graduating with them and they need to stop by their parties, too. This is the one time when the guest of honor isn’t expected to spend the whole evening at his or her own party. Guests should arrive early to see the graduate before he or she leaves for the next celebration. The graduate should stay for the first 45 minutes to one hour of his or her own party to welcome all the guests.

7. Have the graduate send handwritten thank-you notes within two weeks of receiving a gift. Why handwritten? (You know your graduate is probably going to ask you why he or she can’t just e-mail or text their thanks.) It takes extra effort to choose and purchase a gift. The extra effort it takes to handwrite the note is giving equal honor to their gift. This applies to cash and gift cards, too.

8. Party decorations can be anything, but it’s nice when they focus on the next stage of the graduate’s life. Going off to the University of Georgia this fall? (Go Dawgs!) Then decorate in the school colors—and don’t forget your cardboard cutouts of Uga the Bulldog!

9. Invitations to graduation parties are sent at least two weeks in advance. Invitations to the ceremony are sent up to six weeks in advance, especially to anyone who is traveling from more than 100 miles away.

10. Graduation announcements are mailed anytime between the day after and two weeks following the graduation. Why after? They’re informing others that you graduated, not that you’re about to graduate.

11. One last tip for graduates: Don’t register for gifts! Leave that for your future wedding and baby showers. As your manners mentor, I have to tell you, it’s really tacky at this stage when Mom and Dad are still suppose to supply your needs. When it comes to gifts, whether it’s something you would have chosen or not, know that it’s an expression of the person’s heart for you! Now, if someone asks you or your parents what you’d like, you can certainly answer their question!

The most important etiquette of all: have fun and celebrate! You’ve accomplished something great and it deserves to be celebrated. 

Now for all us moms: whether our children are graduating from kindergarten, high school, or college, as a dear friend once shared with me, “Dry your tears and be glad your children are the age they are. In ten years, you’ll look back and do anything to have them at this stage again!” She’s a wise and gracious lady who raised three happy, wonderful adults. Thank you, Jane Horn!

I’m off to buy that graduation present this morning! I’ll see you on Thursday for Reader Q & A.

What Now?

Ask me your graduation etiquette questions in the comments of this post, and add on any tips you have as well. For other manners questions, send them to me at

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See you Thursday! Until then….

Blessings and hugs,



  • Lisa

    I think the hand-written than you note is essential! It is so appreciated by the gift giver, and opens up the possibility that you might receive another gift when you graduate from college or get married!