Graduation Etiquette


It's that time again! Graduations from college, high school, middle school, and yes, even from pre-school! I admit that when my son graduated from his 4-year old pre-school and was going onto kindergarten, I was one of those crazy mothers who cried, took too many pictures, and video-taped the whole thing!

Whether you are attending a graduation ceremony or party, or your son or daughter is graduating, here are some tips below that will help you know what to do.

You may also view this 4 minute TV segment from Charlotte Today on graduation etiquette that I did on May 4, 2015 by clicking HERE

Q – When and to whom do you send graduation invitations?

Most graduates are only given a limited number of invitations to the actual graduation ceremony. The graduate should give those to the closest family members as soon as possible (3-4 weeks for in-town guests and 6 weeks for out of town guests).

If you receive a graduation invitation, you should RSVP immediately so the graduate can give the invitation to someone else. Also, if you receive an invitation, you should still send a gift even if you can't make it to the ceremony or party.

Q – When and to whom do you send a graduation announcement?

These may be sent before the graduation, but it is even better to send them after the graduation. Those receiving an announcement are not obligated to send a gift, but it is nice to at least send a card congratulating the graduate.

Q – When and to whom do you send a graduation party invitation?

If the graduate is having a party, then its best to send the party invitation 3-4 weeks for those in-town, and 6 weeks for guests from out of town. If there will be a lot of people from out of town then it would be nice to provide them with hotel information (maybe even book a block of rooms).

A formal paper invitation is best for this formal occasion, but if money is an issue, you may use an electronic invitation instead where people even RSVP online. Make sure that everyone you want to invite is tech savvy.

Q: How much should you spend on a graduation gift?

Spend or give what you feel comfortable giving. It will also depend on how close you are to the graduate as you will want to give more for a family member or close friend. For a high school graduation gift you would give a minimum of $25 and for college $50 would be the minimum.

If you don't want to give money as a gift you could give a high school graduate going to college a dorm room essentials gift like a laundry basket filled with bath items, or study aids, snacks, or a dorm room essentials basket.

For the college graduate going off into the real world, getting him a gift that gets him ready for work is a great choice. This could be a professional looking bag, new work clothes (if you know his or her size) or even a "commuter" gift of a subscription to the daily paper, a travel mug and maybe a gift card for morning coffee to a place like Dunkin Donuts or a gas gift card.

Q  How should I behave during the graduation ceremony?

  • Be respectful of those around you (ex, don't stand up and video tape blocking others' view)
  • Put your cell phone on vibrate during the ceremony and restrain from posting anything negative (or unflattering pictures) about the event on Facebook or Twitter
  • Don't yell or be really loud when they are calling your graduate's name because it means others might not hear the name of the next person called. Also, don't yell out things that would embarrass your graduate (i.e., "Thought you'd never graduate!")

Q  What should I do if I'm hosting a graduation party?


  • Invite family and friends of the grad (send invitations at least 3-6 weeks prior)
  • Offer and clearly label non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Have alcoholic beverages manned by someone (even hire a bartender) so that under age kids cannot drink (bad for them and you!).
  • Provide activities for young guests (a room with a movie playing, games, etc.)
  • Provide a variety of food to accommodate dietary restrictions (vegan, gluten-free, peanut-free etc.)

Q – How should I behave if I'm attending a graduation party?



  • RSVP on time.
  • Behave yourself and don't drink too much.
  • Know your table manners (buffet tips & basics like elbows off table).
  • Bring a hostess gift.
  • Bring something for the graduate (gift and/or card).
  • Understand that the graduate cannot just hang out with his/her friends, but should in fact talk to all of the guests especially those coming in from out of town.

Q  When should the graduate open gifts and thank people for the gifts.

Unless a guest has requested that the graduate open his/her gift in person, it's best for the graduate to spend time mingling with the guests and then open the gifts later when everyone is gone.

Within a month, the graduate should send a hand-written thank you note for all gifts received. A "thank you" email or text is not appropriate.

Looking for an etiquette class for your kids? If you'd like one for your group or school please email me at Information on my classes, videos, and other etiquette tips can be found on my website –

Impressions: A Modern Cotillion for the New Generation. Fall class now open for rising 5th – 8th graders. Information and registration HERE.