By now it’s become very clear that there will be no normalcy in the final months of college or high school for 2020 grads. All the previously expected traditional ceremonies, parties with friends and family, and traditional celebrations have now come to the end, as we have had to accept that nothing is as expected. Whether you have a child graduating this year, or another loved one who is finishing their education at the moment, you may be stumped on how to properly celebrate their accomplishments in the midst of lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and a global pandemic. While you’ll definitely have to be more creative, there are still ways to make those 2020 grads feel properly celebrated.
Put in Effort and Energy to Connect
If you want to make them feel special and truly celebrate their accomplishment, the easiest and first thing to do is reach out. Make sure they know that you care and are proud. Don’t just send a plain old card. Send a handmade card, call them on the phone, or plan a video call to celebrate more visually but virtually. And when you talk, provide as much practical inspiration for the future as you can. Now is the exact moment when they might actually get the most value out of it. Remind them that this moment in time may be hard, but it will pass, and that even if this untraditional graduation feels discouraging, one day it will be nothing but a cool story.
Give Practical or Fun Gifts
Giving gifts or money to grads is standard practice, but think about how you can be creative in light of the pandemic. Giving them ways to stay connected virtually is one thought. A new laptop, tablet, or e-reader will be a massively appreciated gift, now more than ever. But if you prefer to go a bit more thoughtful and simple, you could always go with something personal or even personalized. Think about their interests and passions, and choose a gift that will have great value to them. If they’re college grads, think about things that will help them as they enter the working world.
You could also be practical and provide a gift that will give them more comfort at home, or something fun they can use all summer from their own house (yard games or video games, anyone?). Or, perhaps most fitting, for those college grads, a classy bottle of wine or liquor might be most appreciated of all. They did have to finish college during a pandemic, after all.
Celebrate However You Can
If you can do so safely, holding a small socially distanced grad party is an option. This would be ideally done with members of your household and perhaps one or two other households. Alternatively, postpone the grad party for safer days. There will still be reason to celebrate later this year or next when things are safer. The party can be all the more thrilling for the anticipation. And if you really want to get creative and do something now, you could also try a car parade party. On the day of the grad “party” have local friends and family drive past your house (if possible), leaving gifts or stopping for a moment (safely) to give their well wishes.
The grad in question can sit out on the lawn and enjoy the surprise of who will show up to wish them well next. To take it up a notch, have them all bring something specific, like a favorite book or bottle of beer or anything else appropriate for the grad. Or send them party decor they can use to deck out their car before heading over.
Annie Burdick is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon, but transplanted from the Midwest. She also works as a community inclusion specialist for adults with disabilities. Previously she's edited and written for magazines, websites, books, and small businesses, on an absurdly wide range of topics. She spends the rest of her time reading, eating good food, and finding new adventures in the Pacific Northwest.