Graduation season is upon us, from preschool to college. As parents, it's our job to mark the passage of time with deep sighs, head shakes and appropriate gifts. I don't consider myself a protocol professional, but I am a veteran of too many graduations to count, having grown up in a family of eight kids who seemed to be constantly graduating from somewhere. In addition, my own children have been through a few ceremonies themselves, so I want to offer a short and sweet graduation handbook.

Preschool and Kindergarten
What to expect: Adorable children fidgeting, waving indiscriminately and singing "This Little Light of Mine" while all the moms cry.

What to bring: A camera. Because, trust me, no matter how special their preschool or kinder years are, they will not remember a thing about the entire experience. Except, of course, the time little Macaulay fell off the swing and the fire truck had to come.

What to give: Nothing. Save your money. Really, they will not remember.

What to serve afterward: Ice cream sundaes.

Middle School
What to expect: Awkward children fidgeting, laughing indiscriminately and singing Green Day's " Time of Your Life" while all the moms cry.
What to bring: Your enthusiasm. Because, chances are, your child will be too self-conscious to muster any on his/her own behalf.

What to give: Electronics. If you've held off on the cell phone or laptop, now is the time reward your young teen for making it through the worst years of their lives...and making you relive the worst years of your life.

What to serve afterward: Nothing that will get stuck in their braces.

High School
What to expect: The full cap-and-gown experience, with classic clichéd speeches by the valedictorian and the most popular kid in class. Extra cheers from the crowd for the quarterback, the class clown and anyone admitted to an Ivy League college. Somebody's family will bring an air horn, despite warnings. And a small percentage of the class actually sings the words to "Seasons of Love" from Rent, while all the moms cry.

What to bring: Sunscreen or an umbrella, as it will either be the hottest day of the year or the rainiest.

What to give: Cash.

What to serve afterward: A lovely chicken salad that you can make ahead and dish up in a jiffy, as your graduate will be in a hurry to get to a better party with friends.

What to expect: A full day of high-minded speeches, processionals and conversations about the weather with fellow graduate's parents but very little interaction with your actual graduate. When the degree is finally awarded, all the dads cry—tears of joy—as tuition payments end.

What to bring: Younger siblings to act as a scouting party for seats in the shade for the parents and grandparents. Provide scouts with provisions and packing tape to mark off saved chairs, as they will be holding down position for hours. Extra tape can be used later to box up all of graduate's possessions to put in minivan.

What to give: Whatever you can afford after four (or five!) years of room and board.

What to serve afterward: A hearty meal, as everyone will be starved after daylong ceremony.

Is your child graduating this year? Leave your comments below.

Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, writer and talk show host. She writes and talks about her adventures in modern motherhood for her website,, and her weekly podcast, The Chaos Chronicles.


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