Etiquette Tips for Addressing and Sending Graduation Announcements

Top down view of blank pink thank you notes or wedding invitation.
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Graduating is a major milestone in your young adult's life, as it marks the transition between childhood and adulthood. Whether your graduate is going to college, joining the military, or entering the workforce, they deserve a moment in the spotlight to celebrate their achievements.

In addition to throwing a party or hosting an open house, some people choose to send formal graduation announcements which can include a party invitation, though it's not required. Traditionally, they simply inform the recipients about the graduation.

Announcement Recipients

Graduation brings up etiquette issues for families as many wonder who to invite to the ceremony or a party. A graduation announcement is a socially acceptable way to inform people of the graduation, even if they aren't invited to the commencement. Since most high schools and colleges limit the number of guests a student may invite to the formal ceremony, an announcement allows the family to inform friends and family who would not have been able to attend.

Graduation Announcement Components

Traditional graduation announcements usually feature several different pieces, including:

  • A larger outer envelope (with a gummed flap)
  • A smaller inner envelope (without a gummed flap)
  • A formal announcement
  • A personal card
  • A photo of the graduate

If you do plan on hosting a graduation party, you can include that information on the announcement or an additional card insert. You can also choose to send party invitations separately.

The Outer Envelope

The outer envelope is the mailing envelope. It should be hand-addressed using black or blue ink, and it should feature formal language. Do not use abbreviations, except in the titles before the surname.

Example:

Mr. and Mrs. Jones
1554 South Wallace Street
Deer Park, Pennsylvania 12345

The Inner Envelope

The smaller inner envelope holds the announcement, graduation picture, and any other materials. It should be addressed informally.

Examples:

  • Grandma and Grandpa
  • Rob and Gail
  • Uncle John

How to Assemble the Invitation

  1. Insert the personal card. If the announcement includes a cardholder, secure your note inside. If not, place the personal card in the fold of the announcement so the name faces away from the text. Do the same with a photo if you have one.
  2. Insert the announcement. Place the announcement in the smaller envelope with the folded edge inserted first and with the front facing the envelope flap.
  3. Fasten the inner envelope flap using a seal or sticker. If you do not have a sticker or wax seal to fasten the envelope, do not tuck the flap.
  4. Place the inner envelope inside the outer envelope. Insert with the flap facing the side that has the mailing address. To complete the announcement assembly, seal the gummed flap of the outer envelope with a small amount of water.

The Invitation Experience

To understand the significance of the invitation organization, it's helpful to picture how the receiver will open the envelope:

  1. They will open the mailing envelope and see their (informal) name as they pull out the inner envelope.
  2. When they break the seal and open the flap of the inner envelope, they are greeted with the face of the announcement card.
  3. When they open the announcement, your card (and photo) will be facing them.
  4. Behind your items, they will find the details of the graduation. 

The formality of these cards is designed to give the receiver an enjoyable experience—peeling back each layer of the invitation reveals a delightful surprise.

Timing

The send date depends on whether you're planning an event or just want to announce the graduation. If you include an invitation to a party, the announcement and invitation should be sent about four weeks before the event. If only announcing the accomplishment of graduation, it's still proper to send your cards up to 14 days after the ceremony.

Graduation Gift Etiquette

You should not expect gifts from everyone who receives the announcement, but many friends and family will send money or a present to the graduate. If you prefer no gifts, indicate that on the announcement. Remind your graduate to send personalized thank-you notes to those who do send gifts ideally within one month following the graduation ceremony.