The week leading up to my Sarah Lawrence College graduation was mostly a blur of endless parties, excruciatingly late nights, and boxes and boxes of tissue. Not necessarily from tears of joy or sadness, although after four years at my alma mater I was feeling pretty nostalgic, but from an especially strong New York pollen season that had me reaching for a limitless stash of tissues.
Somehow, when my name was called, I managed to shake hands, accept my diploma and return to my seat before anyone was the wiser. All that blowing, however, must have made me lightheaded because I haven’t the faintest clue as to who was in attendance, where we celebrated or which parties I attended afterward. All I do remember is that I felt a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment knowing the four years of incessant studying, paper writing and test taking were behind me.
Graduating from college was a big deal then and has only become an increasingly arduous endeavor. With tuition hitting record highs and academic standards reaching new plateaus, the pressure cooker to stay in school and get good grades can be debilitating. It demands a student’s fierce dedication and a family’s unwavering commitment. As a show of appreciation, here are seven ways for the graduate to shed their dazed-and-confused demeanor and turn on the charm for guests who have come to celebrate their achievement.
1. Cordially invite
Eschew the electronic invite in favor of customized printed invitations to distribute to family members and close friends two months in advance. Out-of-town guests will appreciate a “Save the Date” including hotel options at least six months in advance. Colleges located in especially tony towns tend to fill up very quickly. While you want to make everyone feel special, tickets are typically limited to attend the ceremony. Circumvent hurt feelings by making sure all guests receive an invitation to the celebration afterward.
2. Dress to impress
Although you’ll be covered from head to toe in cap and gown, graduates should dress to impress in appropriate commencement attire. Ladies should wear a dress, slacks or skirt with a nice blouse. Wear flats or low-heeled shoes for comfort and safe walking. Limit accessories to only those that are necessary. Have a family member hold your purse. Men should wear dress pants or khakis with pressed button-down shirts and a belt. Tied shoes or loafers for footwear. Caps are worn flat on the head with the tassels on the right side unless otherwise instructed for photos, etc. Caps are removed by men only as a sign of respect during the National Anthem.
3. Receive the diploma in a dignified manner
You will rehearse countless times how to approach the stage to receive your diploma, but here are a few extra pointers to be mindful of. Posture, posture, posture! Stand tall, shoulders down and back and walk with dignity being careful not to trip on your gown. Make good eye contact, administer a solid handshake with your right hand using two pumps, and use your left hand to accept the diploma. Move the tassel on your cap if directed by the photographer and be sure to smile with your eyes, as well as your teeth. Continue offstage confidently and return to your seat.
4. Glean jewels from commencement speeches
This is not the time to take a snooze. Put down your phone, sit up straight, perk up your ears and lean in. After years of schooling, you must now apply what you’ve learned in the real world and that is no simple task. The commencement speech delivers the goods on exactly what it will take to not only survive, but thrive. Legendary commencement speakers like Steve Jobs offered priceless pearls of wisdom that still resonate. Listen with intent, take advice to heart and aspire to live up to the standard your education has provided you.
5. Split time sensibly between guests and grads
Guests have come from far and wide to witness the occasion and they deserve a little quality time and undivided attention before you run off to party with your friends. If your family is hosting a celebratory luncheon or dinner on your behalf, make it your mission to be charming, gracious, interesting, interested and grateful. Connect with each guest and personally thank them for coming.
6. Allocate announcements
If you have extended family and friends who you’d like to share in your joyous occasion, limit announcements to those who actually know you are graduating. “No gifts please” should be added so recipients understand this is purely a gesture to include them in your achievement.
7. Hand write appreciation
By now, you hopefully own personalized stationery, as you are going to need it. Not only for gifts received for graduation, but also for the countless interviews you will be taking with prospective employers, mentors and other advisors. Thank-you notes should be written within a one- to two-week period. Monetary gifts may include a sentence on how the money will be used such as toward future savings or a summer trip. Being the gracious graduate you are, an expression of gratitude will also be mailed to those who came to support you, but did not bring a gift.