To Graduate with Class, Brush Up with Etiquette

Seniors prepare for commencement at high schools, colleges.

By Lisa Pemberton – The Olympian

Her class’ “Senior Skip Day” is this week, and their prom is just around the corner.

But the day Juli Curtiss, 17, of Lacey is most looking forward to is June 11 — the day she’ll don a dark green cap and gown and march with “Pomp and Circumstance.”
“I’m ready to graduate, like, tomorrow,” the Timberline High School senior said. “I’m ready to go.”

Saturday kicks off the graduation season in South Sound, with a 1 p.m. celebration for students at Saint Martin’s College. And during the next six weeks, students from other area colleges and high schools will join in celebrating the class of 2005.

Curtiss said she received her cap and gown about a month ago, but she still hasn’t decided what she’ll wear to the ceremony.

“I was thinking of wearing something comfortable because I’m going to the senior grad night (trip) afterward,” she said.
Most high schools in South Sound hold their graduation ceremonies at Saint Martin’s College Pavilion. Since seating is limited to 3,500, students usually receive between five and seven tickets, depending on the size of their senior class, school officials say.

Many students don’t use all of their tickets, so kids who want additional ones can put their names on a waiting list, according to Valerie Parret, the athletic and activities secretary at Timberline.

“I try to keep it fair so that one family doesn’t bring 30 (guests) and one family gets shorted because they want to bring an extra one,” she said.

All the Trimmings

Parret said students often wear their older siblings’ caps and gowns, which cost about $45, and opt to just buy a new tassel for the ceremony.

And students who can’t afford a cap and gown should check with their school counselor to see whether the graduation vendor has donated extras, Parret said.

At Capital High School in Olympia, there are some scholarships available to help pay for caps and gowns, mainly for students who are on the free and reduced lunch program, said Clare Tynan, the Associated Student Body secretary.

Tynan said that most students already have ordered and received their graduation announcements, which cost about $1 apiece, and usually are available in boxes of 25 or more.

Because announcements aren’t considered “invitations” unless a ticket for the ceremony is included, they can be sent up to two weeks before or two weeks after the graduation ceremony, said Deborah King, president of Final Touch Finishing School in Seattle.

She recommends that students send announcements to family members and close family friends.

“It’s really a time to celebrate, and anybody who’s been significant in a child’s life would be appropriate,” she said.

Go Formal

Like weddings, graduation is a time when society falls back to formal protocol, King said.

Students should formally address the outside envelope of the announcement, using titles such as “Mr. And Mrs. John Smith” and spelling out commonly abbreviated locator words such as Avenue and Southeast, she said.

The inner envelope, which holds the announcement, should be addressed to the recipients informally. For example, a student would write “Uncle Jim and Aunt Karen” on the front of it.

Some students tuck senior pictures, tickets to the ceremony or grad-party invitations inside the announcement. Most students include a small, printed name card, which is the proper way to personalize the announcement.

Students who want to share the good news but are concerned that an announcement looks like “a plea for presents” can write “No gifts please” at the bottom of the card, King said.

Graduates who receive gifts should show their appreciation with a personalized thank-you note within a month of the ceremony, she added.

“A thank-you note is so important,” King said. “We all feel like we can say, ‘Thank you,’ and that can be wonderful, but we don’t just take enough time to give the written word.

“It should be handwritten; it shouldn’t be typed,” she said. “It should be personalized so it doesn’t look like a form letter.”

If a student receives money, he or she should include what they intend to spend it on in the thank-you note, King added.

And for those graduates who want to give a teacher, a coach, a youth pastor or even their parents something special, King recommends they skip the knickknacks and write letters of gratitude.

At one time, it was common for people to write such letters, letting others know that they made a difference in their lives, King said.

But in the era of e-mail and text messaging, those types of thoughts are no longer written down as often on paper. That’s what makes them even better, King said.

“Those written words of what you have meant in my life are treasured,” she said. “We tend to tuck away and keep them, and they warm our hearts over and over again.”

Gift Ideas

Just because you’ve received a graduation announcement doesn’t mean you’re obligated to send a present, said Deborah King, president of Final Touch Finishing School in Seattle.

But for people who are interested in gifting, there are no social rules on minimum or maximum values.

“Gifts should show affection and connection, and they should be based on the relationship with the individual,” King said.

Some ideas for graduation gifts:

  • Checks or cash.
  • Housekeeping items that a graduate could use in a college dorm or apartment, such as a popcorn popper, a microwave or a coffee maker.
  • Luggage or travel kits.
  • Jewelry.
  • Prepaid calling cards.
  • Personalized stationery or note cards.
  • Gift cards to Starbucks or other retailers.


Graduation Checklist

  • Make sure you have your cap, gown, announcements and thank you cards. Some vendors take last-minute orders, so if you haven’t ordered yet check with your school’s representative or the vendor’s Web site.  If you don’t want to buy a cap and gown, consider borrowing a set from a sibling, a recent graduate or your school’s counseling office.
  • Address and mail your announcements so that they arrive two weeks before the ceremony. If you’re not including tickets to the event, it’s OK to send announcements up to two weeks after the ceremony.
  • Make sure that all of your school records are current. Most schools and colleges hold diplomas until library books are returned and fees are paid.
  • Try on your cap and gown. The gown should fall midway between the knee and ankle. Remove any wrinkles according to instructions on the label.
  • Select the clothes and shoes you will wear to the ceremony, and make sure they fit within your school’s graduation dress code. For example, Timberline High students aren’t allowed to wear shorts or flip-flop sandals to the graduation ceremony, said athletic and activities secretary Valerie Parret.”We try to remind them that while it is their ceremony, it’s for their parents also,” Parret said.Traditionally, men usually wear dark pants and a dress shirt and tie, and women usually wear a lightweight dress or top and skirt that does not hang below the gown, according to a Web site operated by Jostens Inc., a company that sells graduation products.
  • Obtain and distribute tickets to the ceremony, if needed. Request additional tickets from your school office or friends.
  • Agree on a place to meet your family and friends before or after the ceremony.
  • When wearing the cap, the shorter point of the crown faces the front, and the mortarboard is parallel to the ground. The mortarboard can be secured with hairpins. Tassels are usually worn to the right side. The tassels are shifted to the left when the graduates receive their diplomas.
  • Give appreciation letters or gifts to teachers, coaches or other people who had a major influence on your high school career.
  • Celebrate your graduation with a brunch, dinner or party, or take part in your school’s senior trip. Last year, Romy Hoppe of Lacey organized a casual meet-and-greet with friends and family members in Saint Martin’s Pavilion shortly before her daughter Jennifer’s graduation from Timberline High School. There wasn’t time to meet afterward, because that’s when students boarded the buses for their senior trip, Hoppe said. Graduation can be an emotional day for kids and their families. To get through it, Hoppe recommends keeping things simple. “Less stress makes it much more enjoyable,” Hoppe said. “Just let things happen and don’t try to overplan.”
  • Send out personal, handwritten thank you notes for graduation gifts. E-mail is not appropriate. If you receive money, mention what you plan to spend it on.

Sources: Graduate Service Inc., Saint Martin’s College, Timberline High School, Jostens and Herff-Jones

Mind your Manners

If you have an etiquette question, send e-mail to Deborah King, president of Final Touch Finishing School, at, or visit her Web site at