By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
Whether it’s high school or college, graduation is cause for celebration! Both mark milestones on the timeline of life. The students, with the help of family, have dedicated four or more years of hard work to get to this day. The last term papers are turned in. The final exams are over. Now the only thing due is celebrating!
It’s a joyful time, but there are ceremonies, invitations, announcements, parties, gifts, and cards to consider. It can be overwhelming.
Graduation etiquette to our rescue! Here are skills for the graduate and all those putting the celebration together. This post shows us how best to handle the unique situations of graduation, because when everyone is on the same page about what to do and what to expect, everything is just so much simpler. And when we combine the trifecta of simple, savvy, and gracious, it’s a winning combination for great celebrations!
Graduation Party and Gift Etiquette, Plus Ideas
I’ve gathered readers’ etiquette questions about graduation parties and presents. You’ll also find a massive roundup of ideas for graduation gifts and parties. The roundup is courtesy of Amber from Crazy Little Projects. Her blog is full of ideas that inspire creativity!
This post is a sister post to one with over 1,000 Facebook shares: Graduation Etiquette — The Top Eleven Manners for Grads, Guests & Families. It’s the foundation for the etiquette in this post and something you’ll want to read!
Let’s start with readers’ questions about the etiquette of graduation parties and gifts. After the questions, you’ll find Amber’s roundup and other posts from around blog land of standout ideas for practically perfect parties and gifts!
Graduation Party and Gift Etiquette
Here is a sampling of readers’ questions about graduation party etiquette.
1. Question about graduates bringing gifts to parties:
Good evening, Maralee,
My daughter graduates from high school in a few weeks. She’s attending almost 20 parties. Is she required to take a gift to each one? We’ll be broke!
Twenty parties! Your daughter has a lot of friends, and that speaks highly of her! Graduates don’t typically gift each other, so none is required at any of the parties. The only exception will be if you’re joining her. As a parent, if you attend a party, you would bring a gift to the graduate.
It sounds like your daughter will be attending these parties without you. In this case, there are some things you’ll want to share with her so she can show her appreciation for each invitation. She’ll want to thank the graduates and their parents for inviting her when she arrives at each party and thank them for a lovely time as she leaves. She may party-hop when she has multiple parties on the same day, going from one party to the next and staying at each for no less than thirty minutes or so (if possible, one hour is best). She should let each host and parent(s) know this when she RSVPs.
If no RSVP is required, she can quietly tell them when she arrives at the party. Letting them know will avoid the parents and their graduate from thinking she left from boredom or wasn’t appreciative of their efforts. She could say something along the lines of, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Smith! Thank you for including me. I’m excited to be here! I wanted to let you know that I’ll need to leave in about an hour. There are two other parties that I need to attend, and the times overlap.”
For any gifts she receives, she’ll want to send a thank you note through standard (snail) mail, handwritten by her, and sent within two weeks of opening the gift. Graduates often find writing one, let alone multiple, thank you notes overwhelming. Here’s my easy formula for making writing heartfelt thank you notes a lifelong breeze.
Again, congratulations on your daughter’s upcoming graduation! I wish her and your family much, much happiness in the new phase of life she’s about to enter. There are exciting things ahead!
All my best,
2. Question about sending announcements and party invitations to parents of students in the same graduating class:
I did a google search on this query, and your blog came up… alas I was still unable to find an answer… hoping you can help me… Is it proper to send graduation announcements to other parents if your child is graduating the same year from the same school? We are having an open house the following day, and I have been inserting them in his announcements. Thank you for your advice.
Thank you for checking out my blog and for thinking of me with your etiquette question. Most of all, congratulations on your son’s upcoming graduation! You have much to celebrate.
About your announcements, they don’t go to the parents of children graduating the same year from the same school. The announcement is to share news (announce) something that someone doesn’t know; however, those parents already know all the details. For them, you can just send an invitation to the open house.
All my very best,
3. Question about guests paying for their meal:
I have a friend who wants to celebrate her daughter’s graduation with close friends and family members at a restaurant. However, she wants to be sure that those who attend understand they will be expected to pay their share of the bill. How can she word that on the invitation in a way that guests aren’t offended?
I hope you’ll have time to answer this question!
Thanks in advance,
Your friend is going to be a hostess, and a host or hostess always provides for the guests. Just like you wouldn’t ask guests to buy their meal at a wedding reception, guests aren’t asked to pay when attending other types of parties, especially those hosted by parents or relatives to celebrate their children.
If she decides to go ahead with the dinner, there is a way to “alert” guests to the fact that they will be responsible for their meals. On the bottom left corner of the invitation, the following words should be printed: Menu Priced. “Menu Priced” means that the guests will be paying the price shown on the menu for their food. But keep in mind that guests might be unfamiliar with the phrase and surprised (and possibly angry) when presented a tab at the end of the meal.
A lovely alternative that’s also guest-friendly is to hold a party at home at a time other than mealtime and serve punch and light refreshments. Both 2 PM and 8 PM are good times because people aren’t expecting a meal at those hours.
I don’t like being the bearer of bad news. However, I thought your friend would want to know the full picture so that she can make her decision with knowledge of all the facts. I receive letters after the fact from people who didn’t know it wasn’t considered good form and are dealing with hurt feelings from family members and friends. They’re asking me how to fix the situation. Sadly, that’s a situation that has no easy solution.
My best wishes to you and your friend,
4. Question about a student who doesn’t want relatives to attend his graduation and who doesn’t want a party:
My son is an introvert. He doesn’t want anyone but his father and me, and two friends, to attend his graduation. He also doesn’t want a party except to go out with the same two friends.
His grandparents who he has always been on good terms with want to attend, as do other family members. He has additional friends that he enjoys being with and has known for years. I think they should receive an invitation.
Please HELP! I don’t know what to do.
You are not alone. It’s the oddest thing, but I’ve received the same question from at least three other parents in the last few weeks. In each case, an introverted son or daughter either does not want any celebration or wants one that limits the guest list to just a few people.
I think it’s a sign of the times. These kids have grown up perhaps so immersed in texting and screen time that face-to-face interactions are uncommon and thus anxiety-producing for some. An introvert would be more likely than an extrovert to feel this way.
Also, a growing number of children are starting to think of graduation as “no big deal.” They define success differently. In our media-soaked culture, a viral video is an accomplishment. Being discovered on the internet as the next Justin Bieber is a reason for celebration. Having 100,000 Vine followers is a success. They see graduating as something almost everyone does; therefore, it’s nothing to be celebrated.
The cause of your son not wanting others to attend his party isn’t that he’s an introvert. I’m an introvert and so is my oldest son. (In fact, there are slightly MORE introverts in the U.S. than extroverts.) We both had graduation parties that included a range of family and friends.
Your son could have social anxiety disorder. To find out, he needs to be seen by a psychologist. Now that he’s older, more in-person contact is going to be required of him than when he was in high school. In college classes or at work, “I’m introverted and don’t want to do it,” won’t get others to change their expectations of him. It will earn him an “F” in the class or get him fired from work.
The psychologist can determine whether this is true social anxiety and begin any treatment so that he can go forward in life without crippling fear or discomfort. Also, if it turns out that he doesn’t have the disorder, the psychologist can help you set up ground rules for his appropriate behavior and get at the root of his anxiety or rebellion in this area.
I would make close family members, especially his grandparents, non-negotiable at his graduation and the party because part of being a family is bearing each others’ burdens and sharing each others’ joys. They deserve to be there. As far as friends, it’s his celebration, so on this, I would allow him to include only the two friends he wishes. Limit the party to 90 minutes and keep it simple, perhaps a casual meal at home. Make your expectations of your son’s behavior during the 90 minutes clear by writing them out and reviewing them with him. Include, on the same paper, the consequences for not following. (Take away the X-box, the car, etc. for a set period.)
Compliment him on a job well done during the party whenever you see him doing something positive. Afterward, congratulate him again, naming the positive actions he took like engaging in conversation with Grandpa and thanking Grandma when she said that she was proud of him. Specifically pointing out the positive things he did will show him that rising to the occasion isn’t as hard in reality as his mind made him believe it to be.
I could write much more on this, Jessica. Since graduation is around the corner, keep the party small in number and short in length, and call now to make an appointment for your son to be evaluated for social anxiety disorder. It can often take weeks for a new patient to be seen. You’ll want to do this before he enters college in a few months or begins a job.
I wish you all the best,
5. Question about only a few people letting the host know they won’t be attending the party:
Thanks for helping me!
We have our daughter’s graduation party tomorrow night. I put on the invitations “Regrets only”! I have only heard from about five people who are not able to come.
Is it appropriate to send a text tonight? I’d say, “We look forward to celebrating Ginger’s graduation party tomorrow! See you then! :)”
Thanks a bunch,
Good Morning, Gwen!
It’s sad that only a few people have let you know their intentions. Unfortunately, people aren’t any better at RSVPing no than they are yes. Here are the current best practices for RSVPing!
A reminder is fine, and yes, you can text or email it. For those you think will check their email, I’d send an email, and keep the group text as small as possible. If you could text each person individually, that would be best. However, depending on the size of the guest list, I understand that might not be possible. Maybe you could break the list into three or four group texts. Some people hate getting caught in a group text and being notified every time someone replies, especially if they don’t recognize every phone number in the group. Plus, they feel awkward publicly saying they can’t attend. Here’s a post with other tips for writing and sending texts.
You can word your text and email something like, “Hello, Everyone! We’re so looking forward to you celebrating Jane’s graduation with us tomorrow at ___ PM. I’m finalizing the food and other details today and want to make sure I have everything in order. If you’d be kind enough to let me know if you’re NOT able to make it to the party, I’d appreciate it. We will miss you; however, we understand and will be thinking of you! All my best, Gwen.”
Congratulations, again! I hope that the celebration is as sweet for you as it will be for your daughter!
6. Question about opening cards and gifts at a graduation party:
Is it appropriate to open graduation cards with other family members present? I do not wish for my daughter to do that; however, if that is what family will EXPECT, I want to be prepared.
Thank you in advance for your suggestions!
Congratulations on your daughter’s upcoming graduation! I wish her every happiness in her next stage of life!
At a bridal or baby shower, people open cards and gifts because the reason for the event is gifting the bride or mom-to-be. However, a graduation isn’t about gifts; it’s about celebrating and reflecting on her accomplishment. (That’s one reason why, in our culture, gifts are opened at bridal showers but not at weddings. The focus of the wedding is the ceremony and celebrating the new couple.)
So, no, she doesn’t need to open, and probably shouldn’t open, the cards/gifts during her graduation celebration. Have a table where everyone can place them. If she does open cards and gifts, she doesn’t read the cards out loud or mention the amounts of the gift cards, checks, or cash received. She would simply read the cards to herself and then say, “Thank you for the gift card, Aunt Sue.” The reason is that you don’t want someone who gave $20 to feel bad because someone else gave $50.
However, she should mention the amounts in her thank you notes (and how she plans to use the gifts) so that the recipients know for sure that she knows how much they gave her. This post shares the best practices for opening gifts in front of others. You’ll want to read it and pass the info along to her so that she’s prepared just in case.
To make sure she handwrites and gets her cards in the mail promptly, make sure to hold on to ALL cards and gifts. When she presents you with the completed thank you note and the addressed, stamped envelope for you to read and review, you trade her the gift for the card. Then, to make sure the card(s) get sent right away, you drop them into the mail for her. Here’s my easy 5-step formula for writing heartfelt cards. And here you’ll find another post with information graduates will need: The seven manners of writing thank you notes after already saying thank you in person.
I did this when my oldest graduated from high school. He wasn’t happy, but he wrote ALL his thank you notes in four days. He learned they’re not hard to write, and that expressing gratitude is part of being an adult.
Again, congratulations on your daughter’s upcoming graduation, Langly!
All my best,
7. Question about giving gifts to students who are walking but not receiving diplomas that day:
I would like some advice on an important matter of graduation etiquette.
Should you give a gift to or congratulate someone who will be walking with their graduating class, but the diploma they receive that day will be blank because they have not completed all their requirements?
Thanks in advance,
Yes, walking with the class is the same as actually receiving the diploma regarding giving a gift and offering congratulations. Those walking are choosing to celebrate with the rest of their class instead of later this summer when they receive their signed diplomas. The school wouldn’t allow students to walk if it weren’t 99 percent sure that they were going to earn their diplomas. It’s a safe bet that diplomas will follow shortly.
When I graduated from high school, my diploma holder was blank. I had a learning disability in math and failed my last math course. Two weeks later I took a test and failed again. The school granted me my diploma perhaps out of pity, or maybe because my other grades were high and they knew I had put ALL my effort into trying to pass.
The great thing is that after having to drop my first few math classes in college, I found a professor who “spoke” my math language. I was able to take everything except statistics with her, and I had a math GPA of 4.02 (I received a 100 on every test and answered the bonus questions correctly.) Sometimes, it just takes people time to find someone who explains a certain subject in a certain way. And then the lightbulb turns on, and that makes all the difference!
All my best,
Here you will find a roundup by Amber of the blog for everything creative, CrazyLittleProjects. Here she has gathered some of the brightest ideas for giving and presenting gifts to graduates. Amber partnered with her friends from around the blog for this post of fantastic ideas! I know that you’ll find more than one idea that inspires and delights you! A special thank you to Amber for allowing me to share her roundup with you! Three cheers for Amber! Enjoy your journey through her amazing collection! (You can click on any of the links or on the picture below to see these smile-worthy ideas!)
Also, here are links to posts not in the above roundup that offer additional creative ideas!
Who Do You Invite to Graduation with FREE Printables to Keep You Organized (From Jamie of Life is Sweet By Design)
This quilt would make an amazing heirloom gift! I don’t know how to sew or quilt. However, I’m having one of these made for Marc, my oldest, from his old T-shirts as a surprise for him to take to college in August.
Here are ideas from her daughter’s 2012 graduation. It was several years ago, but the ideas are still just as lovely. And you can see how she used the quilt from the above post as part of the party decorations.
This post makes me want to host a party. Today! Marc had his graduation party before I knew about this. However, he will graduate from college two years before Corbett graduates from high school. I love this idea so much that if all goes well, I’m going to use it for both. Wait till you see all the photos from what Randi put together. Her Italian Soda Bar is fantastic and will be a hit at your party!!!
Justine’s Graduation Cupcakes are adorable. They would be welcome on the dessert table at any graduation ceremony from Pre-K through college!
By golly! We covered a lot, didn’t we? Graduation party etiquette, gift ideas, party decorations, and more. Everything from a memory quilt to an Italian soda bar. I hope that this post will bless you and your family as you plan your child’s graduation!
They grow up too fast! They just really do! Let’s hug them tight and give them butterfly kisses even if it makes them want to run and hide. Their embarrassment will last for a few minutes, but they’ll remember the feeling of our love lavished on them forever!
This momma is in serious need of tissue.
I can’t believe Marc is leaving for college in seven weeks. I wonder if they have any openings for dorm moms? 😉