Everything You Need To Know About Graduation Etiquette

From announcements to gift protocol, we have a guide to proper etiquette for every situation.

Graduates Throwing Caps
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Graduations are important milestones, marking significant life transitions that should be celebrated or recognized. Every June, graduation season approaches, and if you're a soon-to-be graduate, a family member planning on attending the commencement ceremony, or a friend of the family who has received an announcement of the big event, you may be wondering about the correct etiquette for graduations and graduation parties. Manners experts Lisa Mirza Grotts, Maralee McKee of The Etiquette School of America, and the Emily Post Institute offer their advice on invitation lists, RSVPs, gifts, and thank you notes.

Here is the proper etiquette for marking a graduation, whether from kindergarten, high school, college, or beyond.

What Are Graduation Invitations?

There is a significant difference between a graduation invitation, which means attending the ceremony, and a graduation announcement, which alerts friends and family to the milestone.

Remember that many schools limit the commencement tickets allotted for each student. Immediate family members and grandparents typically reserve these tickets. When you send out the invitations, make sure you request that people RSVP quickly.

Respond as quickly as possible if you receive an invitation to a ceremony, but don't be offended if you don't, as tickets are limited.

If you're the one sending out the invites and faced with a ticket shortage, explain to close family and friends who may not get a seat that while you would love to invite them, there's only enough space for immediate family. If possible, invite everyone to a graduation party to celebrate together.

What Are Graduation Announcements?

Announcements inform recipients of the accomplishment and do not include an invitation to the graduation ceremony or, typically, an invitation to a party. Traditionally, you mail announcements after the ceremony, beginning the day after graduation and for the following two weeks.

As for who gets an announcement, according to Maralee McKee of The Etiquette School of America, graduation announcements are typically reserved for people who are both on your holiday card list and whom the graduate would recognize in person. While parents may want to boast about their child's accomplishments, only send announcements to people the graduate knows, not who the parents want to tell.

Should You Send a Graduation Gift?

While people who receive graduation announcements may feel compelled to buy a graduation gift, that's not the case. According to McKee, receiving a graduation announcement in the mail does not mean you need to send a gift, so don't feel obligated. As a courtesy, add a line to graduation announcements forwarded to those not invited to a celebration, reminding them that no gift is necessary, according to etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts.

As an announcement receiver, you can always send something to the celebrant. A gift or a friendly card to surprise the graduate and their family is appropriate.

If you attend the commencement ceremony, you should send a gift. According to the Emily Post Institute, if you can't attend the graduation in person, but wish to send a gift, give it near the graduation date or have it delivered in advance with instructions to wait until the day to open.

As for what that gift should be, the experts agree that mentioning gift registries or wish lists on graduation invitations is a no-no, according to Fox Business. That can make it tricky to know what to give the grad, though. Either ask the graduate's parents for advice on what to send, opt for a gift certificate so the graduate can choose, send a check, or try to keep in mind that the best gifts are ones that graduates will use in their next stage of life.

What's the Etiquette for Graduation Parties?

If family or friends are coming from out of town, send invitations at least six weeks in advance to give them plenty of time to book travel and accommodations. According to experts who spoke to Fox Business, three to four weeks in advance should suffice for local friends and family invitations.

The form of invitation depends on the type of party you plan to host. If it's a formal to-do, send a more formal invitation. An email invitation will work for a more casual party like a backyard barbecue. Just make sure less tech-savvy invitees know the party details.

The Emily Post Institute notes that high school graduation parties require the student's friends and family to mingle. That means the rowdier crowd may need to moderate their behavior. Before the event, remind the grad that they need to speak to each of their guests, not just their friends, and remind them to be on good behavior.

That said, according to the etiquette experts at Emily Post, the guest of honor may not spend the entire evening at their party. After chatting with all the guests and making the rounds, if your child wants to celebrate on their own, or visit another graduation party, don't let manners hold them back.

Are Thank You Notes Necessary?

Graduates should send a hand-written thank you card for every gift received. The professionals agree that sending e-mails or text messages to express gratitude is inappropriate. Thank you notes should go out as soon as possible, but no later than two weeks after the present is received.

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