Three generations of alumni attended my nephew’s graduation at Michigan State University. We linked arms as we sang the school song. I looked around the auditorium and tears filled my eyes as I realized…most of the people there were clueless dolts.
Another graduation season is upon us. Here’s how NOT to be a clueless dolt.
To Go Or Not To Go
You’ve been invited to a family member’s graduation ceremony. 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, first communions and other events booked 3 to a weekend.
The key point to consider is if one of your OWN children will soon be:
2) having their First Communion or Bar Mitzvah
3) getting married
If your kid is in 4th grade, you’re probably going through a dry spell as far as major life events. You might be able to blow everyone off for a couple of years without serious repercussions. The closer it is to your D-Day, however, the more compelling the argument for attendance. The only way to ensure attendees bearing checks at your party, is to go to everyone else’s shindig.
A family member will rarely challenge you directly for missing their event, but it will never be forgotten. Years from now, you and your sister will be rocking side by side on the porch at Happy Acres Nursing Home. One random remark about her son Joey and the fact that you missed his graduation will be thrown in your face. The years of pent up resentment will erupt like a puss-filled boil being lanced.
The Pomp Is A Victim Of Circumstances
Many seem to be unaware of the protocol at a graduation ceremony.
1) Dress code: A graduation is a fairly dressy event. This is the time to shine with your good flip-flops and relatively clean Budweiser T-shirt. If you get a rug burn on your butt-cheeks from the auditorium seats, your Daisy Dukes are probably too short for this occasion.
2) Speakers: Unless you’ll be at the few schools who have booked the President or Kim Kardashian, the speaker will be a big donor. He will relate, in excruciating detail, how he started with nothing but a diploma and wound up with a chain of 20 car-washes. Resign yourself to 1-1/2 hours of mind-numbing boredom. Always introduce yourself to your neighbor before snoozing on his shoulder. Under NO circumstances is it acceptable to bring a pillow to the ceremony.
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 more graduates have followed him across the stage. I am a stickler on this point. After all, we want to be considerate.
4) I’ve got mine: Thank goodness your last name is “Aarons” and not “Zombrowski.” Your kid is done and you can leave. As you and your 24 relatives stand to gather up belongings and screaming young children, as you step over the other attendees to get to the aisle, make sure you duck down a couple of inches. This conveys to the people behind you, who just missed seeing THEIR graduate get her diploma because of your mass exodus, that you feel bad for them.
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 bridezillas decided they would prefer destination weddings that make it impossible for guests who are old, poor or have young children to attend.)
If the party is at someone’s house, prepare to dine at folding tables set up in their garage. On the plus side, you’re assured of a smorgasbord of yummy, homemade desserts. On the down side, you may end up with questionable potato salad, resulting in 100 guests urgently queuing up to use 1-1/2 bathrooms.
If the party is at a restaurant, make sure you find out ahead of time who is paying for the meal. I cannot stress this enough. A discreet question could have saved everyone embarrassment at a family graduation I attended. It wasn’t until the waitress brought the bill that I discovered my sister and her husband were picking up the tab. Imagine how I felt when I found out I could have ordered surf & turf instead of splitting a burger with another thrifty relative?
This is a minefield. The problem is figuring out the right dollar 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 your sister-in-law knows to the penny. If one kid gets more than the other, there will be holy hell to pay.
You don’t want to get the reputation as a cheapskate. But you also don’t want to give your niece twice what your miserly brother will give your kid.
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.
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 most jurisdictions. A new outfit, a little cake, and a few pictures are nice. If you go for a limo and an all-night party at a fancy hotel you look like a self-important twit who is spoiling his poor child rotten in an attempt to impress the other parents.
Armed with my practical advice, you should have no problem sailing through this graduation season. And if you do find yourself dashed on the rocks of graduation etiquette, just send up a flare and I will arrive with the life raft of my valuable opinion. Just keep bailing.