Graduation Gifts by Age: What to Get the Graduate in Your Life


My husband and I celebrated a special milestone one evening earlier this week. Our “middle” daughter graduated from VPK. I say middle in quotes because she is our sweet and sassy second born, but we also have twins younger than her, so I feel she’s a middle child even though she’s one of four. She, the little girl who cried her eyes out on her first day of school, hates change. To see her standing up on stage in the Sanctuary of her school’s church singing and dancing and accepting her diploma was a major milestone for us. She wasn’t going to VPK. She doesn’t like change.

She wasn’t standing on stage in front of people and singing and dancing and smiling; she doesn’t like people, and she really doesn’t like people staring at her. She might even tell the little girl next to her to be quiet because she’s too loud and it hurts her ears (we made her promise not to ask her that in the middle of graduation). Last night, she stood tall and proud in front of her friends, her family and her classmates and she smiled three or four times, almost put full effort into her dance moves and she even made eye contact while she sang her graduation songs.

She kind-of smiled for photos afterwards, and she was a genuine doll. Then she told us she’s looking forward to kindergarten. Our daughter; the hater of change and new people and new places. We had tears in our eyes. She’s grown up so much. As loving parents who are quite proud of our sweet daughter, we brought her a bouquet of beautiful yellow roses. Not regular roses; the little spray roses that are more appropriate for a 5-year-old.

We thought it would be sweet for daddy to give her some flowers for graduating, smile with him in her cap and gown and make it official for her to be a little graduate. Imagine our shock when family showed up with gifts. Jewelry, cash, stuffed animals in caps and gowns, new toys, new clothes, more flowers; the girl now has four bouquets of flowers – some of them really big bouquets.

She just turned five. She’s graduating from Pre-K. I’m pretty sure she would have graduated from Pre-K if she stayed home most days, failed all her work and decided to kick her teacher in the kneecaps. It’s voluntary. We were shocked at how many of the kids had gifts and toys and flowers and were loaded down with items during their graduation. Additionally, we were a little annoyed that our celebratory family dinner out turned into a barrage of “When are we going so I can open my new toys?” every 5 minutes (please note we are appreciative of everyone and everything, and I do not intend to sound annoyed or unappreciative).

When is too much actually too much? She’s five. We are a little concerned now what she might expect when she graduates from high school. A vacation house on the beach? Since it’s graduation season right now, we thought we might offer you a few age-appropriate suggestions for gifts for the grads in your life.

Pre-K and Kindergarten

These are kids that basically need to do little more than be able to identify their letters and numbers, write their name and read their sight words and a few small books. They’re pretty much graduating no matter what they do; and they didn’t have to really put much effort into graduating other than showing up for school and choosing a crayon. If there is a graduation ceremony for kids this age and you are invited, a flower is nice. A little bouquet of flowers that aren’t more than $15 is nice. Take the child out for ice cream after the ceremony; that’s nice. Anything else seems a bit over-the-top and a bit extravagant.

Fifth and Eighth Grades

Why are we celebrating graduations for these kids? I’m genuinely asking this question. Is it because they are done with one school and moving on to another school and another age group? It’s been a minute since I was in these grades, but we did not graduate. We just…went. If you’re invited to a graduation of a child this age, I’d say a small gift card in the $20-$30 range to their favorite store is probably a good idea – if you even feel compelled to get them anything. They’re not moving to Yale. They’re moving down the street.

High School

When a child graduates high school, the most appropriate gift here is just cash. This is a kid that is about to get the shock of his or her life in that college is not cheap and paying for it is not always easy. If you want to ensure your gift is going toward classes or something, offer to pay a class fee or to buy books for the first semester or something. Otherwise, it might go to that graduation trip to Cancun or to moving. If you’re fine with that, good.


I’d guess that cash is acceptable here, too, though I prefer the idea of something really nice for the ‘real world’ that is about to occur. I love the idea of a beautiful yet professional watch, a gift card to a store that sells quality work-appropriate clothing, a restaurant gift card, a lovely briefcase or a very nice pen with an engraved name.

At the end of the day, it’s really up to you what you do or buy for those who are graduating, but we really do think that there are some suggestions that are more appropriate for certain age ranges and children than others.

Photo by Getty Images  


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