Graduation Etiquette —The Top Eleven Manners for Grads, Guests & Families


graduation etiquette

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

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 52 hours of agonizing birthing pangs 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 grueling, 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 pushedddddddddd.

As I did, his head and shoulders finally 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.” The sleepless nights. The distress over every little sneeze or cough. The worry about what schools he’ll attend from Pre-K through twelfth grade. Wondering if I’m doing everything “right” or if I’m “ruining” him. It all began with that last push.

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, yet. I can’t imagine not living 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.

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.


Graduation Etiquette

Graduation Etiquette —The Top Eleven Manners of Graduation for Grads, Guests, and Families

If you have a graduate in your house, or you’ve been invited to a ceremony or party, or received and announcement, here’s the graduation etiquette 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 to the cermony and attend.)

2. While a gift isn’t required if you receive just an announcement, you can certainly send one if you’d like. And, most people do send the graduate a gift. Even, if you don’t send a gift, 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, 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 are rather hard to buy for and they do 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 $100 to $500. For a grandparent, the sky is the limit. However, don’t give more than you can afford. An aunt or uncle can just as graciously give $20. A grandparent on a fixed income, might give a handwritten letter of love and best advice. Give from your heart, and give only what you can afford. Don’t let a norm put you in a financial bind. If you need to spend 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 at the start of the party 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.

Graduation Etiquette


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. And, no Mom you can’t write them if your child is graduating from anything higher than kindergarten. You can sit next to your high school graduate and guide them through the process, but they need to write the cards.

Grace Note:  I’ve received countless letters from frustrated parents who can’t for the life of them get their graduate to send thank you notes.

Let’s face it, it’s easier to make our 8-year-olds do something than our 18-year-olds.

But, there is something you can do to guarantee they’ll have their cards written and in the mail faster than any of their friends. From personal experience, I can tell you it works.

Take EVERY gift they receive: cash, gift cards, physical items…everything— and lock them away. When they show you the thoughtful thank you note they wrote along with the stamped, addressed envelope, exchange the card for the gift! (You supply the cards, envelopes, and stamps for them.) You can drop the card in the mail to make sure it goes out, and they can enjoy their gift. It works. Every. Single. Time.

Will they complain? Yes.

Will they write their cards within days? Yes!!

Will they be complimented by friends and relatives for expressing appreciation for their gifts, and will they like that feeling, and will that feeling make them less hesitant to write thank you cards in the future? Yes!!!

This post shares the formula for writing thank you notes! It makes writing the notes fast and easy while still expressing your authentic appreciation.  (For this season, it’s a must read!) :)

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.


Graduation Etiquette


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! However, if someone asks you or your parents what you’d like, you can certainly answer their question!

The most important etiquette of all for the graduate and his or her family: have fun and celebrate! You’ve accomplished something great, and you and your accomplishment deserve 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!

What’s The Next Step?

If you have a graduation etiquette question or tip, you can mail it to me at I’ll be happy to help if I can!

If you’re new, thank you so much for stopping by! Take a moment and join the Manners Mentor family by entering your e-mail address in the box below to receive all my posts in your inbox! I only send out one or two a week, and they cover, business, social, and family etiquette.

Plus, you’ll receive my FREE, illustrated dining skills booklet when you subscribe to the blog. This is a great resource for you and your graduate! You’ll know everything you need to know for a lifetime of successful social, family, and business meals.  It’s all you’ll ever need to dine with savvy, confidence, and ease at any table!

Please share this post with your friends and family and those in your social media circles. Please Share, Like, Tweet, Pin, Google +, and email this post to people like you who want to know the gold standard for living out the Golden Rule!

Until next time, keep doing what you were put here to do. Bless others by being you…at your best!

Blessings and hugs,

The Top 11 Manners of Graduation for Guests and Graduations

Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette, she's been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post." She is an award-winning book author, and a former TV and radio host. Her advice has been featured nationally on TV, in newspapers, magazines, and major websites. Maralee conducts seminars for Fortune 500 Companies and startups, and she personally mentors everyone from CEO's to new hires sharing her skills and love for helping you shape the way others perceive, interact, and respond to you and the product or service you represent. Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! She's a popular university speaker, and with her amazing testimony, she's also a sought after speaker for churches, women's, and mom's groups. Maralee is a native and life-long resident of Orlando. Before entering the etiquette arena she worked in management and ministry. She's proud to be Kent's wife and Marc and Corbet's mom. She hates laundry, and loves quality tea, London, Southern cooking, dressing up and dressing down, and Miss Lilly the Wonder Sheltie. You can find her picture if you scroll to the bottom of this page. Isn't she the cutest dog ever?!!! PS: Because everyone always asks, "What's your etiquette pet peeve?" It's people who talk on their phones in public restrooms. The person on the other end of the phone must wonder, "What's that noise. It sounds, it couldn't be." Plus, everyone else in the bathroom is held hostage to a one-sided conversation usually spoken loudly to try and cover up the noises. It would be comical if it wasn't plain yuck. ;)

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