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How Do I Include Grandparents at Graduation?

Shari Bender

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You are thinking about your child’s college graduation. Me too! What an exciting, and sometimes stressful time. Your student’s grandparents want to attend, but there will be certain challenges. 

I enjoyed a 2019 college graduation with my extended family, and I am knee-deep in preparing for the graduation of child #2. Four years have passed (what four years it has been) and a lot has changed.

Some things, of course, have remained the same. Graduation, whether it be from kindergarten or from college, is a milestone worthy of pomp and circumstance. And no doubt, the commencement ceremony is a life event made more meaningful when shared with friends and family members. 

So with that logic, graduations are to be celebrated and the more the merrier, right?

Not so fast.

Tickets, Tickets, and More Tickets

Did you know some graduation events are ticketed only? This means if just your nuclear family is more than four, you may be scrambling to find tickets from other graduate families to accommodate your own — if such a thing is even allowed. 

Hopefully, there are unlimited tickets to the main large commencement. Then there is likely a smaller, departmental graduation to consider. These smaller graduate ceremonies are often where your child will actually receive their diploma and enjoy a more intimate experience within their major or particular school within a school. 

Tickets are sometimes limited there due to space limitations. Then it becomes a question of how to select which relatives come to the second formal event.

For those lucky enough to have Grandma and Grandpa still with them, a beaming grandparent can be a very special addition to the graduation festivities. My older child had all four grandparents, plus a step-grandmother in attendance. 

Fortunately for us, festivities were outside and tickets were unlimited. At the time, mobility was not an issue, so relatively speaking, things were smooth sailing. This time around, not so much.


Participation from older relatives may require a little extra planning to have graduation weekend be less stressful. Within my own family, as my parents and in-laws have rounded the 80 mark this year, there have been new health considerations. 

Accessibility, eyesight, hearing, and balance are just some of the things I needed to think about before my elderly parents could decide whether or not to make the trek to college graduation this spring — and we’re not alone. Many other families will need to accommodate people with disabilities at graduation. Some may even need to bring along family caregivers.


Unless your child is going to school close to the extended family, travel expenses for guests can add up quickly. Expenses can take the form of transportation, accommodations, and food.


Whether traveling to your student’s college by car or by plane, both can be a bit pricey these days. Gas prices and flight costs can be quite expensive, particularly for those seniors on a fixed income. 

A candid conversation about transportation with grandparents may also include not just expense but also accessibility. Wheelchair considerations and bathroom breaks all should be taken into account when evaluating the cost/benefit ratio.


I had to reserve the hotel for my daughter’s graduation a year in advance. I was on a contact list and even then had to scramble to secure a hotel. Fortunately, the commencement was within driving distance for the grandparents so they did not have to stay overnight. 

If you miss the deadline for nearby hotels, some colleges offer on-campus housing (dorms, suites) for graduate families. Airbnb, Vrbo, and other short-term rentals can also be an option. Staying a town over from the college location is another way to widen the net of places to stay, but can complicate things when accounting for getting to and from campus, and parking.


Getting to and from graduation venues may be tricky for older adults with mobility or impairment issues. An inquiry with the university’s office of disabilities can often allay your fears, and can assist with coordination if needed, particularly with rental equipment such as wheelchairs or scooters.


Keep in mind that Senior Citizens may be on a different schedule than is planned for commencement weekend. Have conversations with your loved one about meal times, and encourage them to bring snacks especially if blood sugar could be an issue. 

Best advice? Most colleges will have an office for commencement events with a website for all the guest information. Consult it early and often. Even if you’re super early with planning, you can likely get an idea of things from last year’s commencement activities and schedule. Pre-planning will result in smoother sailing not just for graduation and grandparents, but for anyone of any age attending commencement.

This year, my son’s grandparents all independently decided that they are unable to make the long trip required to attend the graduation in person. It is definitely a bummer, but understandable given where they are with their current health conditions.

And just because a loved one cannot attend your child’s graduation, doesn’t mean they cannot participate in the festivities. The proliferation of post-pandemic video options means that many, if not most, graduation ceremonies will have a live stream component.

That means my parents and in-laws can share in the joy of my adult children’s graduation from the comfort of their own homes. I will send them photos in real-time, and we can all celebrate closer to home at a time and location that works for everyone.

Congrats on your graduation, Class of 2023!!!!!


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Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University and freelances all things Communication and Marketing. She is a cat-loving spiritual vegan and former admissions interviewer. With two grown children, Shari is happily and sentimentally embracing her Empty Nest along with her husband of more than 30 years. Her musings delight parents in numerous publications and online platforms, including CollegiateParent and Grown & Flown.
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