My College:

No Matter What Graduation 2021 Looks Like, It’s Going To Be Special

Shari Bender

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In-person graduations are happening in Orlando, Florida. Modified in-person graduations are popping up in northern California. Some schools are giving students choices, like a full-on commencement ceremony with just two guests, or a graduation walk without the ceremony, but five guests can attend.

Other places, like Mississippi where many schools have been full-time since August, are planning mostly in-person graduations. Some schools are getting creative with drive-up ceremonies spread over a few days. Schools across the country have adopted a “students only” graduation, while others have kept the pandemic platform and are having another online/Zoom graduation.

It certainly has been a challenging year for our students, and for us. We have watched our worlds turn upside down. These kids have been through a lot. They have sacrificed much of their senior year and in some cases, lost any semblance of a normal in-person graduation. Even in-person graduations are likely scaled-down.

You know what hasn’t been scaled back? Parental pride. Perhaps we are even more proud (is that possible?) of how our kids have powered through this pandemic. They have experienced highs and lows and developed a resilience many of us never thought possible. And no matter what your child’s graduation looks like, it will be special.

Sure, easy for me to say, as my oldest child graduated from college and my son from high school in 2019 (the “before times”). Both graduations were attended by all grandparents, siblings and a cousin in tow. There were crazy hats and parent schmoozing on the university quad. There were hugs and kisses, lots of them. The college graduation was a days-long event, with hotel rooms reserved years in advance. For both kids, there were celebrations with friends and family dinners upon family dinners, indoors.

Regardless of what the ceremony looks like, the essence of all graduations is the same — an acknowledgement and observance of scholastic and social achievement. There are more pressures upon these kids than ever before, and they have made it to graduation day which is a cause for celebration.

As we creep back towards more traditional celebrations, here are five great ways to help you and your graduate feel extra special during this very unique time.

1. Decorate

Just because you may not be having that huge graduation bash doesn’t mean you can’t go all out with the decorations. Graduation may be modified, but it isn’t canceled. Decorate your front door or fill your dining room with 2021 decor and balloons.

2. Cook or Cater

Bring the restaurant home or cook your graduate’s favorite meal — invite the besties and close family (according to local rules and personal levels of comfort, of course). Your teen’s favorite place may cater — yes, even Chipotle and Chick-fil-A. Food trucks are also a fun and COVID-friendly buffet alternative. And don’t forget the goody bags!

3. Create a Memory Book

You'll be amazed at the photo book apps available on your phone. You can design a trip down memory lane with a few simple taps. Photo gifts are great ways to commemorate your student’s high school or college years.

4. Plan a Family Vacation

As the world is opening up, plan a family trip — as elaborate as your taste and budget allows. For those of us with grown and flown children, we know too well that the natural order of things means family vacations become less frequent. So now is a great time to get a one on the calendar.

5. Find the Perfect Gift

Need some graduation gift inspiration? Check out CollegiateParent’s 2021 Gift Guide.

No matter how you mark the celebration, a high school or college commencement is a tremendous milestone. It's a time to reflect on all your student has accomplished, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Whether your child is getting a job, or off to higher education, the graduation ceremony — no matter how big or small, in person or virtual — is a time to reflect and cherish.


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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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