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April 15, 2021 | By justin

Parent’s Guide to Graduation Ceremony Prep

Everything a parent needs to know for their child's big day!

There may not be a guidebook to parenting, but there are graduation ceremony preparation guides for parents. Before you know it, it’s for your child to graduate and you’re one proud parent! You may even be more excited about your child’s graduation than they are. After all, graduating is a major accomplishment in any young person’s life; a true milestone. Yet, even if you’ve gone through your own graduation ceremony, it’s different to go through it again as a parent. So, how can you best prepare for your child’s graduation ceremony? We’re here to help.

What is a Graduation Ceremony?

A graduation ceremony—also sometimes referred to as commencement — is when someone is awarded their diploma after conferring their degree. The ceremony is rather traditional, and each student is (usually) called up one-by-one to claim their diploma and be acknowledged for their academic achievements. Graduation ceremonies can start as early as preschool, and can follow someone through the end of their academic career as a postgraduate student.

No matter how old your child is, attending their graduation ceremony will be meaningful for both you and them, and you’ll carry the memories with you forever.

High School Graduation Ceremony

A high school graduation ceremony is considered the first “major” graduation, and boy, is it a sight to see! When you child graduates from high school, they will often be responsible for staying up-to-date on graduation deadlines and information, though parents are usually kept in the loop to some extent.  

What makes a high school graduation different from other graduation ceremonies? To start, you’ll have to find that balance by having some oversight of your child’s graduation obligations, while seeing expectations for your child to take the lead as they transition into adulthood.

College Graduation Ceremony

A college graduation ceremony is a bit different than a high school graduation ceremony. For one, while a high school graduating class will do the commencement together, some colleges will separate each commencement ceremony by the program or major. Parents will, therefore, need a graduation program to know where to go.  

What if my child is a double-major?

If your child is a double-major, you might be wondering where they’ll do their commencement. As a double-major comes as one diploma, your child will likely be told which program’s ceremony they should be joining. Or, they may be able to choose. As a college student, they should be responsible enough to find the answers on their own.

What if I have two children graduating at different locations?

Are you a parent to twins or siblings in the same graduating class, and each one is studying in a different academic program? This can be a challenge. See if other family members can attend the commencement, so that there’s at least one person there for each child.

Consult your children about this, because they may have a preference of who they want at their ceremony. If you are a single-parent and the only one who can attend, then see if your children can talk to the school about coordinating the times of when they will each be called up, so you can make it to both ceremonies and watch each one get their diploma.

What to Expect at Your Child's Graduation Ceremony

Even though you may have been envisioning your child’s graduation ceremony for their entire life, it’s good to be a bit open-minded in terms of your expectations for graduation day. Each school may do things differently, but you can expect that students will be called up by their name, usually in alphabetical order. Your child will collect their diploma (while you cheer and shout!), and they’ll go back to their seat. There might be speeches from faculty, students, and special guests, photo-ops, announcements, and words of encouragement. There may even be tears!

High School Graduation Ceremony Expectations

High school graduation ceremonies typically start with the students walking out to where they’ll be seated during the commencement. This could be in chairs facing the podium, or on bleachers behind it. There may be a speech by the student body president, the valedictorian, and the salutatorian.

College Graduation Ceremony Expectations

For college graduation ceremonies, you can expect to have a commencement speaker. This speaker is often someone that’s widely recognized, whether it be a CEO of a major company, a politician, an author, or a celebrity of some sorts. Usually, some members of the graduating class will also speak. Professors and other members of the university faculty will be up there as well, and when they call your child’s name to get their diploma, they will usually shake the hands of these faculty members.

Before the Graduation Ceremony

Before graduation day, there are several things you can do as a parent to prepare for the graduation ceremony. A lot of this will, of course, depend on where your child is graduating from and/or whether or not either of you have experience with attending a graduation ceremony. Here are some tips to help you both prepare:
  • Make sure your child has ordered their cap, gown, cords, and/or sash for graduation, as well as whatever else they need ahead of time. Ensure these items fit long before graduation day, and that they are laid out and ready to go the morning of.
  • Make sure your child has paid any dues or fees to attend the graduation ceremony, including purchasing tickets for friends and family members who wish to attend.
  • Make sure your child can walk at graduation. Some students may not complete courses that are required for graduation. The last thing you would want to do is show up and find out your child is not going to be walking!
  • Determine how long it will take you to get to your child’s graduation, whether you’re the one dropping the moff or you’re going to “meet” them there. Always account for traffic and delays, and make sure you know where you’re going!
  • Review the graduation day schedule (which you can also do with your child) to make sure they know where they need to be and you know where you need to be, and when.

Before High School Graduation Ceremony

Before your child’s high school graduation ceremony, they’ll probably want to spend &me with their friends. In fact, some high schools also host their prom a few days before graduation, and teenagers will usually want to keep the fun and excitement going up un&l the very last moment. Set some ground rules with your teen long before prom and graduation—often, schools will have their own rules, too.

For instance, some schools will have a graduation rehearsal the day before, and they require students to be at the rehearsal or else they cannot participate in walking at graduation. Sit down and talk to your teen about the consequences for not showing up for something like this, and reiterate how important the moment is to you as it should be to them.  

Before College Graduation Ceremony

For your college graduate, you may not be as involved as you were during your child’s high school graduation, and that’s okay! This is part of them growing up and moving onto the next stage of their life as an adult entering the “real world”. Simply ask your child if there is anything you can do to help at all, whether it’s purchasing attendance tickets, finding a hotel, or helping your child pay for their graduation attire. Be attentive, but also give them the space to take care of this on their own. 

Read more: Graduation Day Attire and Stoles

The Steps of a Graduation Ceremony

Now you’ve arrived on the actual day of graduation, it’s time to get ready for the day. Both you and your child should have prepared everything by now. And, with a good sleep the night before, you’ll have the energy to wake up and get moving. As part of the graduation ceremony prep guide for parents, here’s what you can do to make sure you’re following the day’s agenda step-by-step: 

Steps for High School Graduation Day

For high school graduation day, you’ll either drop off your child to where they need to report and/or they will get their own ride there. Know what time YOU need to show up at your child’s graduation, too. Are seats assigned or is it first-come first-serve? If it’s the latter, you’ll want to make sure you get there early enough to reserve enough seats for whomever in the family will be attending.  

As you take your seat, send a message to your child to ask if they got to where they need to be. But, keep in mind that students may not be allowed to have cell phones, so you may have to unfortunately just try and settle your nerves until you see them walking out to their seats. There’s also a chance your child may already be seated out in the audience before you arrive, in which case you can try to find them and give them a little wave and acknowledgement that you’re there. Wait patiently until the commencement starts, and listen to the instructions. With a lot of people attending, there will surely be safety instructions and others of the like.   Lastly, take the graduation program/brochure and read it carefully. This is so you can know what students will be called up to receive their diploma before your child is called. It’s easy to get &red or distracted during a graduation ceremony, and you want to make sure you’re not running to the bathroom or taking a phone call when it’s your child’s turn to be called up! Listen attentively to the names so you’re ready to support your child (and, maybe even take a photo or video!) when their name comes.    

Steps for College Graduation Day

For college graduation day, it might be a bit more overwhelming than a high school graduation ceremony. (Although, there are some high schools that have larger senior classes than some colleges!). Colleges sometimes hold their graduation ceremonies on the college campus itself, or at a different location depending on the size of the graduating class.  

Most likely, your child will see you after the commencement is over, but in some cases, students are able to see their families before the ceremony begins, too. Arrive at the destination and contact your child to see what they are up to if you want to see them before. Otherwise, wait for the ceremony to start and you’ll see them after!

What to do After Graduation Ceremony

While the graduation ceremony is certainly one of the most exciting aspects of your child graduating from high school or college, oftentimes, this is when the fun is just beginning. Many families host graduation parties for their children, and your children will also most likely be attending other graduation parties, too. Again, this is something you’ll want to organize/discuss ahead of time.

Some families may also want to take their new graduate out to lunch or dinner immediately following the graduation ceremony. But, this might look different depending on whether your child is in high school or college and what plans they might have afterwards, too. Just discuss it before, and if need be, make reservations ahead of time.   

After High School Graduation Day

After high school graduation day, parents may want to spend &me taking pictures with or of their graduate. But, your graduate will probably want to be taking many photos with their friends and fellow graduates as well. Even though your child is off to the next stage of their life, this is their last chance (unless you count the summer) to have these high school experiences and make memories.

Your child may want to go to a graduation party that evening. If you want to hold a graduation dinner, make sure to coordinate that with your child, as chances are they won’t want to miss out on the party or spending time with their friends. Remember, whatever rules that you have established with your child should still stand on graduation night. Make sure you know where they’ll be and that they'll be safe.   Of course, there are students that may prefer to get away from their high school friends as soon as it’s possible. Ask your child how they might want to spend the evening or the next few days following graduation, so that you can make it special for them. Some students may want to be alone, take a trip, or go right into a summer job. Whatever the case may be, try to be there for your child as much as possible during this important time.    

After College Graduation Day

College graduation day will look quite different than high school graduation day, but for some students, this is really their &me to shine. Many students don’t come out of their shell until college, and they might be much more excited about their college graduation and festivities than in high school. As your child is a full-adult now, don’t be afraid to let them take the lead on after-graduation dinners and events.

If you have a close relationship with your child, chances are they will want you there, too! Also, if your child plans on returning home with you for the summer after graduating from college, they’ll probably want to spend as much &me with their college buddies as they can before returning home. This may mean they don’t necessarily catch a ride with you back; they may come back on their own terms. Finally, if your child is moving out of their college housing, this is another added element that’s not common with high school students (unless they go to a boarding school, of course). If your child IS catching a ride home with you, gently remind them that they should be all packed up before the graduation weekend starts.  

Tips to Remember

If you’re a parent preparing for your child’s graduation day, you should be all set now. But, there are a few other tips you should take into account to make sure the day goes smoothly and you can revel in all of the beauty and excitement. As a parent, understanding your role in your child’s graduation day—whether they’re in high school or in college—can make the day truly memorable for both of you.

  • Understand how involved your child would want you to be. If you get too involved, they may feel they’re not getting the experience they hoped to get, for instance, if they want to spend more &me with their friends. On the other hand, if your child wants you to be more involved and you take too much a step back, they may hold some resentment.
  • Let your child approach you, whether it’s before, during, or after the ceremony. If you want to take pictures, talk to your child about that before; ask them when would be a good &me for you to snap some photos.
  • Depending on the weather, it may be beneficial to bring sunscreen and wear a hat while you’re watching the commencement. Bring water, too, and be aware of what’s permitted and what’s not permitted. Alternatively, if it’s going to be raining that day, make sure you’re prepared with an umbrella and rainboots!
  • If your child attends college out-of-town, don’t wait until the last minute to book your flight and your hotel. There will be many, many other parents and family members also coming out from out-of-town, and you don’t want to be too late! Luckily, colleges often provide information on things like this ahead of time.
  • Save whatever you can. Graduates often keep their graduation regalia for years to come, and may one day share it with their own children.
  • Do you want to give your child a graduation gift? This is certainly not a requirement, but if it’s something you’d like to do and/or if it’s something you want your child to choose, have this discussion in advance.

Thank you to Hannah LaRock for guest writing this blog post!

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Image credit: Charles Deloye

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