As my 17-year-old son approaches his high school graduation, all sorts of expenses are aiming for my wallet. But I’m deflecting one commonly overlooked graduation expense: Gifts for the half dozen or so graduates who will invite us to their open houses. Cash is the standard graduation gift these days, but face it, cash is crass. And it’s expensive! So instead of a card filled with cash, consider one of these seven alternatives if you’re faced with a slew of graduation open houses:
1. A framed copy of the graduation announcement
I’m guessing that all of my son’s classmates are buying the standard-issue graduation announcement, which is approximately 4 x 6 inches. I’ll buy some decent mattes and frames for that size item, carefully lay in each kid’s announcement, add a line of calligraphy at the bottom congratulating the student, and voila! I have perfectly acceptable gift to give.
And, unlike a $50 gift card, the graduate will keep this gift and probably display it on his nightstand in college (at least until he moves and it gets shoved into some cardboard box).
2. A school memory book
Many photo developers, such as Shutterfly and Walgreens, offer remarkably inexpensive photo books. If you know the graduating senior well, dig out a handful of photos of him or her, add a bunch of generic ones from the school, and create one of these books. A guaranteed winner. If you don’t know the kid all that well, still make the book but focus on the generic photos from the school, together with any that you can find of your child together with the graduate.
Yes, official school yearbooks are basically fancy photo books, but nothing beats a semi-custom book — and you don’t need to limit yourself to one year when making your own books.
3. A cool t-shirt
Our town, and probably your town, has a custom apparel shop (if you can’t find one, go to any independent sporting goods store that makes uniforms for local teams — or buy a custom t-shirt online). These places are clever, and can make a cool t-shirt out of about any image or collection of images.
Bring in a favorite photo, your school logo, a favorite saying, an image of your school mascot, whatever, and they can put it on a shirt. This is one of those gifts the graduate will not be getting from anyone else. And since multiple copies of the same shirt cost much less than the first, make a batch of them to cover all the grads on your list.
4. An engraved mug
A mug is an exceedingly useful item for someone starting out on her own. She can drink out of it, store pens or change it, use it to keep a window open, or make it into a candle holder. And if the mug says “Smithville High School Class of 2012… The best ever!” or something like that, it’s a seriously cool gift.
If you have a set of these made, either online or from some bricks-and-mortar business, you’ll have enough gifts to go around without spending mugful of moolah.
5. A box of stationery and stamps
OK, this one will label you old-fashioned, but… If you don’t mind that, this is a gift that will be appreciated long after most graduation gifts are consumed. Who writes letters anymore? Kids who need to thank all the people who gave them graduation gifts, that’s who. And kids with grandparents who remember when mail was the primary way to communicate. And kids who will eventually be going on job interviews and will need to thank their interviewers.
6. A small, strong box
For the first time in their lives, graduates who leave home will have to keep track of all sorts of small items, from Social Security cards to passports to student loan papers. And they’ll want these things to be safe.
A steel box, which you can pick up at any office supply store, will seem like an odd gift at first, but soon the graduate will be delighted to have somewhere to store the growing pile of important items. And that box will follow them throughout their lives.
7. A blank book
True, most books have been obviated by the Kindle and its ilk, but there’s still something enchanting about a book full of blank pages waiting to be sketched on, written on, filled with scrap-book items, etc. The next decade of the graduate’s life is going to be jam-packed with memory making moments, and having somewhere to note some of these will be a joy. Rediscovering this book many decades later could be a truly moving experience.
One thing is for sure about all of these gifts — it’s unlikely the graduate you care about will get anything similar from someone else. And these gifts will long outlast the usual claptrap, cash, and gift cards. Congratulations!