by Mary Jane Butters

Moving On -- Graduation. Commencement. Endings. Beginnings. It's more than likely you know someone who is graduating this month -- from college, from high school, or perhaps from kindergarten into a world of full days at school next fall. It's a time of reflection for those of us who are personally connected with the graduate. It's a time of celebration and joy, and maybe a little heartache. Whoever it is, whether a daughter or son, a niece or nephew, or a next-door neighbor, passing on some wisdom and grace to mark the occasion is well worth your time.

A friend told me about a card that her daughter, a graduating college senior, gave her for Mother's Day. The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow proved to be the gift of a lifetime.

Yes, we must ever be friends;
and of all who offer you friendship
let me be ever the first, the truest
the nearest and dearest!

Had she been alone, my friend said, she would have cried a river. As it was, surrounded by a table full of family members, she allowed only a few tears to wet her cheeks. What, she wonders, could she possibly give her daughter in return for her upcoming graduation party?

Here, then, are some ideas, though none match the bond of friendship and love that parents and children share. These gift ideas also work for other graduates, whether it's your six-year-old son or a favorite niece.

High on my list of suggestions is taking an adventure together. The nature of the adventure depends upon your relationship with the graduate, your ability to take some time off, and your pocketbook. I happen to know that my friend's daughter is planning to apply to graduate school, but hasn't yet decided which school to attend. A trip to one or two of the schools under consideration is a definite option, especially if one of them is in a city with great food and shopping possibilities.

If the graduate is a kindergartner, then a special day trip may be just the thing. If you know what child's favorite foods are, then create a special-order picnic. For the full effect, let it be a surprise! Be careful not to mix up your own idea of a special day with theirs. Maybe you think that a hike to see the giant pines or a beautiful waterfall is just the ticket -- but they'd rather play video games at the mall or go bowling or to a movie. Get out your quarters and challenge them to a car race. (Make sure they have a good chance of winning.) Put on your dancing shoes and try out DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) if that's their favorite. Or prepare to enjoy a movie that you would never pick out on your own.

For a meaningful and long-lasting gift, try a book. Be careful though, because the wrong choice may set off a pair of raised eyebrows and a deep sigh, with a weak reply of "Gee, thanks." Be knowledgeable about the graduate and visit your favorite bookstore (you know which one....) College graduates may have been so busy over the last few years that they hardly remember reading for pleasure. This is a great time to reintroduce them to this wonderfully fulfilling pastime, just in time for summer. I know, for instance, that my friend's daughter enjoyed yoga classes, but never had much time to practice. Now that she's graduated, time may be more available, so a beautifully illustrated resource book on yoga is a great idea. I also know that despite the recent Mother's Day card, she wasn't all that familiar with Longfellow, so a book with that special poem may be appreciated. Or if she missed the Harry Potter craze because of her studies -- well, what better time to start? For a Spanish major, purchase the Spanish versions! For those kindergarten graduates, what better joy than browsing the bookstore together and letting them pick out their very favorite book?

If you have time, create an original and simple memory book. Using a blank book, select some photos and write your own captions. Visually, let graduates know how and why they've been special in your life. Add a favorite poem or lyrics to a song. Sketch your favorite memory; it doesn't matter if you "can't draw." Pretend you don't know that and draw something anyway. Make a list of wishes for them. Share your most embarrassing moment and let them know how you got through it. Tell them ten things that make you smile.

If you have no time, you can always fall back on the green stuff, but make it fun -- like a fanny pack filled with Sacajawea gold coins.

Publication date: 05/22/03

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