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Making Graduation Memories Special for the Class of 2020

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Graduation for the Class of 2020 will be very different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it a treasured memory. Images: Lisa Tate

Like millions of other high school seniors, my daughter’s graduation and summer plans have been tossed into disarray. In addition, like many parents, we had some special events planned for her like a graduation/birthday party, family flying in for a surprise visit, and a special summer trip 12 years in the making.

Of course, we’re not the only ones who had to make a few adjustments. It also isn’t as if her school hasn’t done what they can to help these seniors mark the occasion. They brought by yard signs and had a drive-through drop-off for textbooks, where the kids were treated with a pizza to take home. They are also hosting a social distance ceremony where the seniors visit the “graduation stage” one at a time, and the final result will be spliced together so all can watch.

Not ideal, but there are schools trying to make things memorable.

However, it is still difficult to watch promises and plans get turned upside down for the Class of 2020 who have worked so hard for that diploma. I began wondering how, as a parent, I can help stack up some good memories for my daughter without that continual reminder that we’re experiencing a worldwide pandemic. We know it and our kids know it, but that isn’t where I want my focus to be during the end of my daughter’s high school years. I want to give her some hope, some sense of real accomplishment, and some reason to look forward to the future.

I came up with some ideas to try and make graduation in the year 2020 something to celebrate that might be helpful for other parents in the same situation.

Create a Memory Book for Your Graduate to Finish

I like to put together old fashioned “cut and paste” scrapbooks of our travels and adventures, so I started a special one for my daughter. I say “started” because most of it will be left blank for her to fill with her own memories and future experiences.

It would be easy enough just to give a blank photo or memory book, which is a good gift, but giving them one where they can start out being reminded of their journey so far and be able to fill in the next phase goes the extra mile. Include a page with their class photos over the years and other favorite memories. Write a few inspirational quotes, verses, or song lyrics (including some from some of their own favorite songs or role models).

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You don’t have to spend a lot of scrapbook materials. You can create a unique cover by printing and pasting favorite images.

Use a book with a plain cover so you can personalize it with a style that is special to them. My daughter was so excited to be part of her own “Roarin’ ’20s,” and this first year has already been a crazy ride. I made her a cover that mixed her current interests with some favorite images of the 1920s.

If your graduate has a special style or fandom, make sure that it is prominent. Let them know you have been paying attention to their interests.

We always hear about the importance of people “mattering” to the world. For your graduate, what means the most is that they matter to you.

Write a Sincere Letter and Encourage Others to Do the Same

Some of us have gotten into the habit of sending online greetings; often, notes we send by “snail mail” are just simple well-wishes accompanied by a card and a gift card or check. This year is the optimal time to get back into the habit of typing out or writing longhand a full-page letter.

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A heartfelt personal note can be more appreciated than the most expensive note card.

My husband and  I included ours in the scrapbook, but even one their own left on a desk, a pillow, or breakfast plate is fine. A full note gives us a reason to share our memories, laughs, advice, and hopes far beyond the space just a card allows. An extra page added to a card sent to a graduate who might be niece or nephew or a family friend’s graduate we might have known all their life will let them realize they are worth more than just the time it takes to sign a card. Share with them a time that made everyone laugh or a talent or skill you noticed they possessed.

A personal letter to someone, beyond the obligatory graduation card, is something they will want to read—even teenagers.

Put Together a “Promise Pack”

For those planning a big celebration or family trip, cancellations or postponements can be a huge disappointment. This happened to us, as the discussion of the places we would see on our summer trip was something we enjoyed up until everything on the planet was canceled or temporarily closed. That’s a huge blow to the spirit, no matter how many others out there are experiencing the same thing.

Finding a creative way to let them know there will still be something in the future they can look forward to makes a big difference. If they are heading off the college, there might be delays in when classes start. That doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy some items with their college name on it or items representing the area or city it is in.

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Plans may be thrown off course this summer, so make sure you let your graduate know there are good things to come.

In our daughter’s case, we wanted her to know we will still take the trip she had been looking forward to in the future. To do this, I sent notes to some of the museums and attractions she wanted to visit, asking them to send a brochure or guide and, if they have it, a free promotional item like a pen or sticker. Three of the places she wanted to see were Las Vegas, The Mob Museum, Meow Wolf at Area 15 (which had been planning on opening this summer), and the Neon Museum, which sent some great promotional items such as buttons, pens, bookmarks, and promotional bracelets. The Area 15 crew even wrote my daughter a personal note congratulating her, which to me was just above and beyond cool.

Some museums have items you can purchase online if you won’t get them something more substantial like a t-shirt or mug if you want to add to it. That is also a good way of saying “thank you” to some of these smaller businesses who been forced to temporarily close.

We included all the swag together in a package to bring a little of our planned trip to her. We might not be able to visit these places when we first intended, but a little promise kit will remind her we will do our best to make it happen as soon as we are able.

My wish for the Class of 2020 (and all their parents and guardians) is for everyone to treat every day as an incredible journey. I’ll share with you one piece I wrote to my daughter, who loves to find the humor in every situation:

“We have been laughing at those ads that say ‘In these uncertain times…’ but the truth is they are no different from all other times. Every day brings a new mystery to solve. There will be new challenges to overcome, roadblocks to maneuver, and new discoveries to be made (not all of them will be good, but some of them will be amazing).”

Don’t be afraid to take that journey.

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