05/01/2014 03:53 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2014

The Best Graduation Present to Give Your Classmates

2014-05-01-graduation.JPGQuick. Your apartment or your house just caught fire. Besides your phone and whatever computer drives you can stuff into a pocket -- especially those filled with photos -- what do you grab on your way out the door?

I'd grab the stash of handwritten letters people have written me over the years. Letters from my little sisters when I was in college -- with a quarter tucked into them so I could buy a package of gum. Letters from my college roommate to remind me something I told her is still a comfort after -- what? -- 30 years. Letters from my daughter now that she's in college that remind me how fleeting our time together is.

When Katie's friends graduated from high school a year or two before she did, she started a tradition that went full steam in her senior year. She showed up at parties with a sealed envelope. Inside was a handwritten letter for the guest of honor. Her compact, painstaking handwriting often filled the page with barely any white space left over.

What did the letters say?

Heck if I know. They're between her and her friends. But as Katie's mom, I've been lucky enough to get a few of those letters myself -- even when she lived at home. I can make an educated guess they were packed with gratitude, with anecdote after anecdote detailing just what about their time together Katie most cherishes. They highlighted what about those friends she most admires and would do her best to emulate as their trajectories veered off in different directions.

Katie used to write long letters to her teachers at the end of every school year. Now granted, most of them already knew how much she appreciated them. I'll never forget the report one of them gave us at conferences. He'd tracked down teachers Katie had the year before to ask if she'd thanked them when class was over. Indeed she had. "Every time?" Yep. Those teachers won't have to wonder if they dreamed that. There it is, in Katie's handwriting -- how much they meant to her.

In a world where texting is the norm, nothing spells "you matter to me" more than old-fashioned pen to paper. You can hold a letter in your hand and post it on your bulletin board and go back to it again and again to remember how great it made you feel the first time you read it.

Sure, you can give someone cash. Cash is good. Wrap a gag gift and hope for a few laughs. Find the perfect storage container that'll make residence hall living more manageable. But years later, long after you've graduated and moved on from whatever high school persona you perfected, what's going to make you smile?

I bet there's someone right this very minute who's longing to hear how important he is to you. What's the worst that will happen if you log off the computer and wrote that out?



No, wait. Do whatever you want. I'm logging out, though. I have a letter I owe someone, and a text isn't going to cut it.