Ten Tips for Attending a College Graduation

Chirped by Cass

We recently returned from Arizona, where we celebrated our son’s graduation from Arizona State University. There were 11,000 undergraduates receiving diplomas from ASU this year. We attended the university’s graduation ceremony the first night – along with about 30,000 other people when you combine undergraduates and guests! The second night we went to the convocation of the W.B. Carey School of Business for graduates and undergraduates. Needless to say, it was a little overwhelming. If you have a son or daughter graduating from college in the not-too-distant future, here are a few tips for not just surviving, but enjoying this milestone event.

Tip #1 – Book Ahead!

I called and booked our hotel for this year on the day after last year’s 2018 graduation ceremony. No lie… the hotels book up fast – especially those closest to the university or college. Tina’s favorite inn at one of her boys’ colleges requires reservations in writing no earlier than one year in advance. Check on the policies for your go-to accommodations well before your child’s senior year! About six months before the event we booked the rental car and the airline tickets. Then, a month before graduation day, we started researching restaurants for dinner plans. We needed two that took reservations and had kitchens open late, since both ceremonies started at 7:30 pm.

Tip #2 – Pay Attention to the Details

Some colleges have stadium or venue policies and restrictions in place, so make sure you review them. ASU has a clear bag policy. I ended up purchasing this crossbody clear purse. It was not too big, but fit my wallet, a camera, programs, tissues, and even my water bottle.

Tip #3 – Plan Out the Day

Make yourself a schedule for eating, pictures and travel time to the venue for the day of graduation. Since the stadium gates opened at 6:00 pm, we planned for a late lunch at 2:00. Next was picture-taking and then a stop at the bar close to the stadium for drinks beforehand. After the ceremonies we ate a light dinner at 9:45 pm. We didn’t feel rushed, got good seats in the stadium, and we weren’t starving during the ceremony.

Tip #4 – Packing Considerations

ASU’s colors meant maroon gowns and gold sashes. When planning what to wear for the big day, consider the school colors so you and the family don’t “clash” with your graduate. You’ll be sharing and treasuring these photos for a long time – and you don’t want to be cringing about your color choices forever! Also, wear comfortable shoes. Not only will you be climbing up and down stairs in the stadium or auditorium, you will also be walking around taking pictures, trekking to and from the event, and standing in long lines. Both days we logged about four miles each when all was said and done!

Tip #5 – Picture Taking

Check the university’s social boards: ASU had recommended spots to take pictures. Our son even had places he wanted pictures, like in front of the business school building, the dean’s building, etc.  Also, have a mental list (or written one) of pictures you want to make sure you take, like the graduate alone, the graduate with mom, the graduate with dad, the graduate with mom and dad, the graduate with the whole family, etc. Make sure you take some candid pictures as well, such as your graduate having a toast with his friends, mom fixing his gown, etc.

Tip #6 – Finding Your Offspring

Locating your child and figuring out where he or she will be sitting may be a challenge! We thought we were sitting on the side of the field that our son would be on, but it was like musical chairs until he and his friends decided where they wanted to be – on the opposite side. In a sea of gowns and caps, everyone looks alike! Luckily, at many colleges students decorate the tops of their caps with a unique decoration you can spot from a distance. If your child and friends didn’t decorate their caps, find a unique cap nearby to help you keep track of where they are. Luckily our son’s friends had green and white plastic cups stuck to the top of their caps, so we were constantly looking for the cups to spot our son.

Tip #7 – That magic moment

Many schools have a professional photographer that will take the graduates’ pictures as they accept their diplomas and shake hands with faculty. Don’t count on them getting a good shot. We just received a preview and our son had one eye closed in one photo and the other had the diploma half across his face. So plan to get your own shot of the magic moment. Also, many schools have a jumbotron showing what’s happening on the stage. We had at least two cameras lined up for the shot, one zoomed in on our son and one zoomed in on the huge TV screen. Needless to say, our pictures turned out better than those the university took.

Tip #8 – Programs and Other Souvenirs

Make sure you pick up at least two or three programs from the event. Then you can keep one, your child will have one and any extras can be given to special people who couldn’t attend, or used to scrapbook the celebration. At the graduation you may even find an item that is not being sold at the school’s bookstore, like this t-shirt listing all of the graduates for 2019. And we enjoyed the guest speaker’s commencement speech so much that once we got home, I ordered his latest book, The Second Mountain, to give as a gift to our son.

Tip #9 – Uber/Lift

Even though we rented a car, we ended up taking Uber to and from the ceremony. If you drive, not only are you looking for parking, you also have to navigate traffic gridlock before and after the event. It was so much easier having an Uber drop us off close to the stadium, and then afterwards walk a few blocks away from all the congestion and call an Uber to come and get us. Of course, this tip works best in nice weather, with able-bodied guests who can handle the extra walk!

Tip #10 – Experience Joy!

Not everything is going to go as planned, and you may end up winging some parts of the day. Have a little bit of patience for the crowds and wait times for the event. Most important, take it all in and enjoy the moment!

I think David Brooks, the commencement speaker, said it best:

There are two kinds of emotion present at any graduation ceremony. For the graduating students there is happiness. They’ve achieved something. They’ve worked hard and are moving closer to their goals.

There is a different emotion up in the stands among the families and friends. That emotion is joy. They are not thinking about themselves. Their delight is seeing the glow on the graduate’s face, the laughter in her voice, the progress of his journey, the blooming of a whole person.

Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.

The core point is that happiness is good, but joy is better. It’s smart to enjoy happiness, but it’s smarter still to put yourself in situations where you might experience joy.”(“The Difference Between Happiness and Joy,” 2019)

Have you attended a graduation ceremony lately? Got any tips that you can add?



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