Advice on Graduation Etiquette

Group of graduates taking a selfie

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Whether you’re about to graduate or know someone who's graduating high school or college, there are certain protocols of behavior you might need to consider. You may have numerous etiquette questions, such as who to invite to which event and how to word thank you notes. Luckily, there are guidelines to follow regarding the various aspects of graduation.

Graduation Announcement Etiquette

You may choose to send announcements to let everyone from friends to distant relatives know that you or your child will be entering into a new phase of life. An announcement is not an invitation to the event. Take the time to word it in such a way that it's not misconstrued as an invitation by following these guidelines:

  • Send announcements a month before or after the ceremony.
  • Include the name of the graduate, the date and year of the event, and the name of the college or high school from which the student is graduating. 
  • Use black or blue ink if you're sending handwritten announcements.
  • Address the envelopes using the formal Miss, Mrs., Ms., or Mr. before the surname.

Graduation Ceremony Etiquette

Once the date and venue of the graduation ceremony are announced, find out from the school how many seats or tickets are given to each graduate. Every school has different seating rules. Families often have the dilemma of who to invite to the ceremony, but most family and friends will understand if it's limited. Once you have that information, you can send out ceremony invitations.

Sending Out Ceremony Invitations

If you have enough seats or tickets for more than a handful of friends and family to attend the ceremony, send invitations two to six weeks before the event. This type of invitation is worded differently than an announcement or an invitation to a graduation party. A graduation ceremony invitation can clearly state that you will need an immediate RSVP for planning purposes. If you are also having a graduation party, mention a separate invitation is forthcoming.

Responding to Ceremony Invitations

When you receive an invitation to someone's graduation ceremony, it's expected that you will respond as quickly as possible. If you can't make it, politely decline with a brief and simple explanation. 

Graduation Ceremony Attire

When you attend a graduation ceremony, it's expected that you'll dress in proper attire. Select something you'd wear to the office or religious service. The graduates will be given instructions from the school on what they should wear under their caps and gowns.

Preparing for the Graduation Ceremony

The day of the ceremony is busy and emotional. Follow this planning advice:

  • Make a practice run to the venue so you know exactly where to go.
  • Double-check the date and on the day, arrive early to the ceremony.
  • Pack your ticket plus wads of tissue to catch the tears.
  • Make sure your camera or smartphone is fully charged so you can take plenty of photos and videos.

When You're Invited to a Baccalaureate

A baccalaureate is a separate graduation ceremony that has religious overtones; it is often held at a place of worship or campus chapel. Not all high schools or colleges have this type of ceremony, but if you're invited to one, wear what you would to a religious service.

Graduation Party Etiquette

Decide with your grad whether a graduation party should include just family or friends as well. If you're throwing a graduation party that includes your grad's friends, it's perfectly fine etiquette to ask your child's friends to be on their best behavior at the party.

Sending Graduation Party Invitations

Always send party invitations three to four weeks before the event. Err on the side of more time because graduation season often collides with wedding season, making it a busy time of year.

Wording Graduation Party Invitations

In addition to the full name of the graduate, graduation year, and school, make sure you emphasize the word "party" or "celebration" on the invitation so the recipient is clear about the event. If you're livestreaming the party, include explicit directions on how to access the festivities if someone can't make the event.

Graduation Gift Etiquette

If you’ve received an announcement about a graduation or an invitation to a graduation ceremony or party, you may want to send a gift. However, if you've received a graduation announcement or a ceremony or party invitation, you're under no obligation to send a gift. If you do want to do so, many new grads appreciate money or practical items, such as home goods, small appliances, career clothing and accessories, or help with car maintenance.

Thank You Note Etiquette

Send a thank-you note as soon as possible to anyone who sends you or your graduate a gift. It's also excellent etiquette to thank a guest for their attendance even if they did not leave a gift. If you are thanking a guest for a gift is money, let the person know how you plan to use the generous present. Here are two examples of what to write in a graduation thank you note:

Sample 1

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones,

Thank you for the high school graduation gift of a toaster oven. I’ll think of you every morning as I prepare breakfast in my college dorm room. I look forward to seeing you and sharing news with you when I come back home for semester breaks.

Your neighbor,

Grace

Sample 2

Dear John and Susan,

Thank you so much for the generous check you sent for my graduation. This will come in handy for household items as I start a new job in New York. I’m excited about this new chapter in my life, and I hope to invite you to my home once I get settled.

Love,

Anna