Everything You Need To Know To Survive This Graduation Season

Photo of "The Graduate" courtesy of "The Graduate". Right.


As my nephew stepped onto the stage to receive his diploma, 3 generations of family alumni were there to cheer him on.   Choking back tears, I looked around the auditorium and realized…half the people in the audience were clueless dolts!

Another graduation season is upon us.  Here are some helpful hints so you won’t be a clueless dolt while navigating the potentially dangerous waters of graduation events.

To Go Or Not To Go

You’ve been invited to a family member’s graduation.  Unless you live on a remote island and the supply boat is not due back for 3 months, you are expected to be there.  You can’t use your busy schedule as an excuse – it’s May.  EVERYONE has graduations, weddings and other events stacked up 3 to a weekend.  Some points to ponder:

      1)  Do you have a child graduating this year?  The only way to ensure check-carrying     attendees at your party is to go to everyone else’s shindigs.

      2)  Will you have a child graduating soon?  The closer to your D-Day, the more compelling the argument for attendance.  If your kid’s in 4th grade, maybe you could blow it off and trust to faulty memories when it’s your turn.  It all depends on what is coming down the pike for your child.  First Communion?  Bar Mitzvah?  This must all be factored in.

      3)  Do you have a child getting married?  See point #1.  If your child is engaged, or in expectation of eminent engagement, attendance is advisable.  Aunts and other such relatives are your best source for good gifts and hosting wedding showers.  If your child doesn’t have a ring and a date, you probably don’t have to start the pre-reciprocity attendance yet. 

Rarely will a family member directly challenge you for blowing off an important event.  But it will never be forgotten.  Years from now, you and your sister will be arguing about Great-Aunt Ruth’s estate (everyone knows she wanted ME to have her diamond ring), and it will all come out.  Like a puss-filled boil being lanced, the years of built up resentment will erupt; that you skipped Joey’s graduation party because it was darts night at your pub!

The decision may come down to this: do you want to endure the holy wrath of your family long into your dotage? 

The Pomp Is A Victim Of Circumstances

Many seem to be unaware of the protocol at the graduation ceremony.  Be aware of:

       1)  Dress code:  A graduation is a fairly dressy event.  This is the time to shine with your good flip-flops and relatively clean cut-offs.  For young ladies, if the auditorium seats give you rug burn on your butt-cheeks, your dress is probably too short for the occasion.

      2)  Speakers: Unless you’ll be at one of a handful of colleges who have booked President Obama, Snookie or someone else interesting, resign yourself.  This will be a 1-1/2 hours monotonous dirge, delivered by a big donor to the school, who will explain how he parlayed his diploma and a lot of hard work into a chain of carwashes.   You should always introduce yourself to your neighbors before snoozing on their shoulders, and offer to wipe up any drool puddles after.  Under NO circumstances is it acceptable to bring a pillow.

      3) Cheering:  You are proud of your young relative, and rightly so.  When he walks across the stage and accepts his diploma, make sure you have stopped jumping up and down, whistling, cheering and blowing air-horns by the time 2, or at most 3 graduates have gone after him.  I am a stickler on this point.  After all, we want to be considerate.

      4) I’ve got mine:  Finally! Your kid is done and you’re able to leave.  As you and your 24 relatives gather up your belongings and screaming young children, and crawl over the other attendees to get to the aisle, make sure you duck down a couple of inches to convey to the people behind you, who just missed seeing their graduate, that you are sensitive to their plight.  Thank goodness your young relative’s last name is Aarons!

Party Hearty

A graduation party is as American as apple pie.  It’s a coming together of young and old, neighbors, friends and relatives, all there to celebrate a momentous occasion in the young person’s life.  Like weddings used to be, before spoiled princesses started getting married in exotic locales where only young, wealthy, childless people could go. 

If the graduation party is at a restaurant, make sure you find out ahead of time who is taking care of the bill.   I cannot stress this enough.  A discreet question could have saved everyone embarrassment recently at a family graduation party.   Imagine how I felt when the waitress brought the bill, and I learned my sister and her husband were picking up the tab.   I could have ordered surf & turf instead of splitting a burger with another thrifty relative!

If the party is in someone’s backyard, there is only one thing to worry about: potato salad.  If you arrive when the party starts, you should be ok to eat the potato salad.  If it is an open house and you arrive more than ½ hour after it starts, do not, repeat DO NOT, eat the potato salad.  Enough said.

The Graduate

The temptation will be nearly overwhelming, but please resist the urge to clap the young man on the shoulder and boom out a hearty “Just one word: Plastics.”

If he DOES know what you’re talking about, his weak smile will tell you he has already gone through this little exchange with 10 other clueless middle-aged guys trying to be hip.  If he DOESN’T know what you are talking about, he will only be suffering through this in expectation of a big check.

Which brings us to… 

The Gift

This is a minefield.  The problem with the graduation check is figuring out the right amount.  Should you give more for high school and less for college, or vice versa? 

The question is complicated if you have already had some graduations in the family.  Do you remember what you gave somebody 5 years ago?  I don’t.  But I guarantee the already graduated know to the penny what you gave, and if it differs one iota from a sibling’s take, there will be holy-hell to pay.

You don’t want to get the reputation as a cheapskate.  That ensures retaliatory cheapness when it’s your child’s turn.   But you also don’t want to give your niece twice what your cheap brother is going to give your son.

For friends, you just have to wing it.  For family, I suggest a conference.  Hammer out the terms beforehand – establish a pay scale so there are no surprises.  Just make sure you get buy-in from all the siblings so you have parity.  This limit does not apply to the truly wealthy.  An extra-generous gift never comes amiss.

A Word About 8th Grade Graduation

While 8th grade graduation is certainly a milestone, it’s not really much of an accomplishment.  Parents who don’t force their children to at least finish grade school face charges of negligence in many jurisdictions.  A new outfit, a little cake after the ceremony, a few pictures: that’s nice.  Much more than that and you risk looking like a self-important twit who is spoiling his poor child rotten in an attempt to impress everybody. 

Armed with my practical advice, you should have no problem sailing through this graduation season.  And if you do founder on the rocks of graduation etiquette, just send up the flare of hopeful questioning, and I will soon be there with the life raft of valuable opinion.  Just keep bailing.

About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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24 Responses to Everything You Need To Know To Survive This Graduation Season

  1. bigsheepcommunications says:

    Very timely advice. Please share your tips for surviving those graduation ceremonies that are held outside, in June, with everyone sitting on those hot metal bleachers under the scorching sun.


  2. Jackie says:

    “Like a puss-filled boil being lanced” is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever read. Well done!


  3. Al says:

    Just one word: monastics. (It’s the only way out of it)


  4. When I graduated from college, my parents didn’t bring a camera. I think they may have been the only ones who didn’t.


  5. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    This is the time to shine with your good flip-flops and relatively clean cut-offs.
    It’s like you, too, are from Eugene, Oregon!


  6. MKC says:

    Great one Peg. I really loved the bit about who is going to pay the bill. I’ll remember to ask at Liz’s Graduation next week-no splitting dinner with you! I really liked this rambling of yours! Keep up the good work of advising us on the landmines of life and thank you for coming to Dan’s Graduation!


  7. Libby says:

    I suggest, in addition to the pay scale for relatives, you consider inflation as a factor in what is paid out for grad gifts. Given these kinds of considerations, you may have to hire a financial analyst-type person to work up the numbers so it’s truly fair across the board and across the years!


  8. Laura says:

    At the last graduation I went to, a guy sitting in the row behind me had a loud cell phone conversation through most of the ceremony. Except we weren’t sure whether he was really talking on the phone or pretending to in order to cover up the fact that he’d been using his phone to take pictures of the woman who yelled at him for taking pictures of her.


    • pegoleg says:

      Why was he taking pictures of some strange woman?


      • Laura says:

        I’m not sure he was. Both of them seemed somewhat crazy, although they didn’t appear to know each other. My family spent a large part of our post-graduation dinner speculating about which of them was crazier and whether or not the guy had taken pictures or was having a real phone call.


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