Tips on graduation etiquette from invites to presents to parties

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GraduationEtiquetteBy Laura Barnhardt Cech

Parents can feel a lack of guidance when it comes to graduation and the etiquette involved. There are potentially thorny issues to confront, from a limited number of seats at the ceremony to teenagers who will be invited to keg parties.

The ceremony dictates a specific etiquette, from whom to invite to what present to give. There also may be unanticipated emotions to navigate as you watch a child move from childhood to young adulthood.

School administrators provide some information, and you might remember a few details from your own graduation, but we also consulted with experienced parents and experts in academic and social circles to help you prepare for the big day.

What to expect from the graduation ceremony

No two graduations are the same and specifics depend on the school. The length of the ceremony will depend on the age level and school. At The Key School, high school graduation is about four hours, and the ceremony is outdoors. At Arundel High School in Gambrills the ceremony, also outdoors, is about an hour.

The ceremony itself can be more moving than expected, because many schools now include personal elements, school administrators say. Graduates at St. Anne's are invited to share a significant school memory during the "Dreamweaver" reflection. At The Key School, a teacher, mentor, relative or friend speaks about each graduate.

"It's a culmination of months and years of work," says Todd Casey, head of the upper school at Key. "There's a roller coaster of emotions for parents and graduates. Be sensitive to that."

Also remember to be respectful during the ceremony and to alert any guests to the tone of the graduation. Try to refrain from calling out to loudly and save any social media posting until after the ceremony. Try and give each graduate the respect he or she deserves.

Who to invite, how to handle tickets

If seats are limited, choosing who attends the ceremony can be more difficult than deciding on a college. At Arundel High, students typically receive six tickets and are asked to request extras from friends if they need more.

In the event of rain, two of the tickets are for the gym where the ceremony will be held, and the others are for classrooms, where the ceremony is broadcast. It's important to think ahead of who should get the priority seating.

If you have to exclude someone, discuss the predicament in person if at all possible, says Diane Cookson, an Annapolis-area etiquette coach. "You can just explain, 'We'd love to have you, but we're limited by the number of tickets.'"

If two sets of grandparents are able to attend but there are only two seats available, Cookson says a family may want to consider asking just one grandparent from each set to the ceremony — after explaining the situation, of course.

It helps soothe feelings if those who don't get a ticket are invited to the celebration afterward, whether it's a reception at your home or a brunch the next weekend, Cookson says.

And if the relative ask the inappropriate question: "Well, who was invited?" Just answer honestly, Cookson says, being sure to add, "I hope you'll understand, as others have."

What to do about invitations

Many schools either provide graduation invitations or give graduates a vendor to order through, along with name cards, which are enclosed in the invitations so recipients know who is graduating.

Customized invitations that include photos of the graduate and reflect the graduate's interests and personalities are becoming popular, says Allison Barnhill, owner of Allison Barnhill Designs in Annapolis.

"It's nice to give a taste of who they are," she says.

While emailed invitations can be used for informal gatherings after the ceremony, printed graduation invitations are still customary, Barnhill says.

"It's an important life event," she says. "The invitation is something you save."

If relatives or friends need to travel to the graduation, sending a "Save the date" card is a nice idea. The graduate's family should also include notes about dress code, directions to the venue and hotel options with the invitation.

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