THE BLOG
06/13/2014 10:26 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2014

High School Graduation Etiquette Q & A

What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do. -- John Ruskin

Ruskin may have said it best. We all have a story with a beginning and an end. What's most important is what we do along the way. The way for many begins with earning a high school diploma, the all-important milestone in a teenager's life. It's a major accomplishment, and one that deserves to be shared with loved ones. High school graduation etiquette involves several steps, for both future graduates and their friends and family. Following are some helpful tips on graduation etiquette:

Tips for the Graduate-to-Be

I'm allowed only five invitations to my high school graduation. How do we break the bad news to family members? This is a common dilemma for the graduate-to-be. Simply explain the situation to close family members, and devise a lottery if necessary. You can still invite everyone to attend an after-graduation party.

Is there a proper way to announce a high school graduation? Graduation announcements often include two envelopes: one holds the announcement itself and is inserted into the larger mailing envelope. The announcement includes the time and place of the graduation ceremony. Most announcements come with name cards with the graduate's name. Insert the name card into the name cardholder in the announcement. If there is no holder, insert the name card into the fold of the announcement with the graduate's name facing up. Place your graduation photo on top, if including one, and the sheet of protective tissue that comes with the announcement on top of that.

You may address the announcement envelope with informal family names such as "Aunt Bess" or "Uncle Harry." The announcement should be inserted into the mailing envelope with the front side facing the envelope's flap. Your school may provide you with foil seals embossed with your school's logo if you order announcements through them. Seal the announcement envelope with the foil seal. If you don't have a foil seal, don't tuck the flap into the envelope; simply leave it unsealed if you don't have foil seals.

If you are inviting your recipient to attend your ceremony or a graduation party, include a reply card and its envelope. List a deadline on the card for your recipient to reply by. Place the reply card inside its envelope, leaving it unsealed, and add a stamp and your address. Put the reply card and its envelope on top of the announcement envelope, with the front facing forward.

To properly address graduation announcements, hand-write the formal title and name of the recipient on the mailing envelope. If your announcement is for a couple or family, write the names of both adults on the outer envelope. Use black or blue ink and spell out common address abbreviations such as "Avenue" or "Street." Be sure to write your return address in the upper left-hand corner.

When do I send the announcement? June is a busy time of the year, so e-mail a save-the-date for the ceremony three months in advance, especially for out-of-town visitors. The announcements themselves should be mailed one month in advance. Announcements that only inform the recipient of your accomplishment and do not include an invitation to a party can be sent up to one month after the actual graduation. As a courtesy, include a note that says "No gifts, please" to recipients who are not invited to a celebration.

Who gets the announcement? Announcements should be sent to all your close family members, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. Close family friends should also be included, as well as any of your friends who are not in school with you. And finally, don't forget tutors, members of your church, and anyone else who has made a difference in your life.

What do I do about receiving gifts? Be sure and send a thank-you note soon after receiving each gift. In the note, mention something about the gift and perhaps what you plan to do with it.

Tips for Friends and Family

If the announcement includes an invitation to a post-graduation party, you should reply to the invitation in a timely fashion so the graduate's family can make their plans for the party. You should also send a gift of some kind if you can't attend, or bring one with you when you come to the party. Announcements that do not include a party invitation can be responded to simply with a graduation greeting card, though of course you can also send a gift if you like. Graduation gift selections can range from cash to books to computers. You may want to ask the graduate's parents for advice on what to send, or send a gift certificate so the graduate can do the choosing.

Cheers to the 2014 graduate!

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (Lisagrotts.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.