Etiquette Tips For Celebrating Graduations

05/17/2017 10:09 am ET Updated May 25, 2017

There are few milestones more celebration-worthy than a graduation. Whether moving on from high school or completing college, it’s an accomplishment that signifies the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another - not to mention the result of a lot of hard work.

Celebrations take many forms, but they often involve a mix of friends, family and multiple generations, along with ceremonies, parties and gifts. With so much pomp and circumstance, comes the potential for confusion about proper behavior. Follow these tips to ensure a smooth celebration that everyone will enjoy.

Invitations vs. Announcements

An invitation means you are being asked to attend the graduation ceremony itself. An announcement is designed to shares the news with friends and family. Because seating is limited at these events, do not feel hurt if you receive “only” an announcement. It’s common to send announcements to a wide range of people such as relatives, family friends or special supporters of the graduate over the years.

An entirely separate invitation is sent for a party. That guest list will certainly include everyone invited to the ceremony and more. As with any invitation you receive, remember to RSVP promptly so the host(s) can plan.

Do I Need to Send a Gift?

When you receive a graduation announcement, you are not required to send a gift. Depending on how close you are to the graduate or their family, you may wish to, however, a congratulatory card or phone call would be an appropriate gesture as well. If you attend the graduation party, it’s customary to bring a gift for the graduate and a small gift for the host.

Feel Free to Email Invitations

Email is a practical medium for sending party invitations, especially if you are inviting the graduate’s friends and you don’t have mailing addresses (or they are in flux due to moving at the end of the school year). This is a better choice than texting which feels too informal and is easy to delete or forget. Do send a mailed invitation for guests you suspect are not frequently checking their inboxes.

Put the Party on a Time Frame

It’s good to set a start and end time to the party. The graduate probably has other friends who are celebrating and that frees them up to move on to the next celebration without looking like they are abandoning their guests. However, the guest of honor (the graduate) should stay for at least an hour to greet each of their guests and make small talk with those who made a special effort to attend their party. Make sure the graduate verbally thanks each person for being a part of their graduation fête.

Be Ready for Polite Party Chat

While the graduate needs to make pleasant conversation with every guest, it’s up to party-goers to do the same. At such a milestone, it’s easy to default into nosy questions with young people: “So are you up to your ears in student loans?” Or even thinly veiled critiques of their plans: “What are you supposed to do with a liberal arts degree?” Keep questions and comments positive and convey your genuine excitement for the person you are there to honor.

Plan for a Mixed Crowd

There’s no need to throw two separate parties unless that’s your preference. You just need to plan one party that has something for everyone. While the younger people might want to play volleyball in the pool, the grandparents and aunts and uncles might prefer to relax inside in the air conditioning.

With mixed generations, make sure you have a supply of water and non-alcoholic drinks in addition to whatever adult beverages you may have planned. While it’s not necessary to provide entertainment, something fun like a photo booth with props is an activity that everyone can enjoy and will capture fun memories.

Thank You Notes are a Must

As with any gift-giving occasion, thank you notes are mandatory. The best thank you notes are handwritten and mailed. This is great practice for graduates who will need to use this skill during their job search and other situations as they embark on the next phase of their lives.

You may also like Graduation Etiquette Quiz. For more of Diane’s etiquette tips, visit her blog, connect with her here on Huff Post, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Buy her new book, Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.

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