Surviving College Graduations

As readers here at Before and After My Empty Nest, you know that I am mom to twin boys. We’ve raised them, sent them off to college and now it was time for them to graduate. How could four years have flown by so quickly?

Besides regular everyday life, there were so many things to handle for each graduation that I decided to take time off blogging. It was just one more responsibility that I decided I didn’t need to deal with along with everything else. Thank you for your patience and understanding while I have been away.

Knowing that we had two graduations, as well as two after-graduations, I was glad to be a planner. I am going to share a few hopefully useful tips. Some may come naturally to you, some may not. Like anything you find here on Before and After My Empty Nest, take what you want and leave what you don’t.


Tip #1 Follow the Parents Facebook Page

Maybe you aren’t big into Facebook, maybe you are, but there is so much fantastic information shared by parents who have gone through this journey before you that you don’t want to miss out. It’s also a great place for the college to post stuff as well. Links to their Commencement Page, deadline lists, and updates from people more in the know.

Be prepared though. People, when stressed, can get a bit testy or judgmental in their replies. Don’t play that game. If you have a question, ask it. Don’t like a response? Don’t get into a verbal fist fight, just move on once you have an answer.

PS… People may call you a helicopter parent because you ask a question. Whatever! I call it being a prepared parent.  Do you know how many parents I ran into that didn’t know half the stuff I knew because they didn’t ask a question? Not every child out there shares all the details of their everyday lives and sends you everything you may possibly need to know… hello, mom of twin boys here.


Tip #2 Book Your Hotel Early

Check the dates of graduation and as soon as they are posted, start thinking about what you will need and for how long. Booking early is especially important if the college is in a small town with limited hotel rooms. Consider alternatives like Airbnb and camping (if that’s your thing) or be prepared to travel a good distance or pay out the nose.

Josh went to school in Pullman, Washington.  College town with very limited hotel rooms.  We literally booked it the day the hotel opened up the rooms. I kid you not, there were people walking in asking if the hotel had rooms the day we checked in.  Don’t be that parent.  Be prepared for increased rates.  Our hotel room rate was almost twice the normal rate. Yeah. Deal with it, right?

Make sure you check their cancellation policies.  Just in case.

Zach went to school in Baltimore, Maryland. Add time to plan a plane trip if you need to as well.  Again, book early, preferably on an airline with great changing policies and generous baggage allowances.  Since we were going to be out there for graduation and a couple other school related events, we decided to extend our stay to include time to hit a few sites in the area.  Look for that trip in a later blog post.

Because Baltimore is a bigger city, we had many more options.  We researched hotels around the graduation venue and went out from there.  We decided to stay at a Candlewood Suites.  This was one of our best decisions.  It’s like having your own furnished apartment.  Kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom.  Since mom was with us, she slept on the pull-out.  It was less expensive than most hotels, allowed us to make our own meals when we wanted and snack if we needed in the middle of the night.  While lunches were mainly eaten away since we were adventuring, getting to have coffee made when we woke up and eating breakfast in our jammies on our own time made traveling for 10 days better.  Kinda like being at home. Kinda.  They also have free washers and dryers so you don’t have to pack your entire closet.


Tip #3 Allow Time for Packing Their Crap

Remember to include extra time for assisting your graduate with packing up and transporting their stuff if that is the case for you. Both of our sons were heading back between graduation and the job market.

Josh was “local”, meaning a six hour drive, but he had an apartment full of stuff. He was responsible for deciding what was coming back, getting rid of stuff that wasn’t and packing stuff. Much to our surprise (um, NOT) most of that hadn’t been done. He had finals up to the day before graduation, so we had that much more to get done before we and the moving trailer headed back over the pass. Since we personally have moved nine times, we had a system down. Need pointers? Don’t be afraid to ask.

Zach was not “local”, he was a six hour flight. Luckily, he had a week between finals and graduation so he was spot-on getting rid of stuff. He had also been renting a furnished place so there wasn’t as much stuff to deal with. We pre-shipped some great rolling duffle bags (thank you Amazon Prime) we could take back on our flight (thank you Southwest for two checked bags with no fee) and the rest was shipped home slow mail.

Leave time to clean said apartments and the plastic gloves to do it. Dang, I thought I raised them better than that!


Tip #4 Planning Around Their Schedule

OMG! I’m guessing a lot of the moms out there with daughters wanted them included in everything.  As a mom of two independent boys, I had to remember to take our cues from them.  This did not always go well.  We have two boys with very different personalities and we needed to deal with that.

Josh wasn’t really interested in doing a lot of the events around graduation.  He was also feeling a bit overwhelmed to actually be done with it all and was so busy up until the last-minute that he didn’t have time to digest it.  He literally had a final 3-6pm the night before! Seriously people, do better with scheduling!

After graduation, since there was just four of us, we had planned to grab a light dinner. Nothing fancy since we did that the night before to avoid the craziness.  He was staying an additional week to finish some research, that he asked if he could just have a quiet night and see us in a week.  It was kind of anti-climatic, but we listened to him.  When we returned to help him move out, he thanked us for giving him that space and acknowledged how hard that had to have been for all of us.  It made it worth it.

We arrived in Baltimore, excited to see Zach and get to do some sightseeing.  Zach was busy.  Really busy.  Busy getting adjusted to leaving friends he had made amazing bonds with.  Since he was so far away from us, we were thankful for these friends.  It did, however, put a little crimp in the planning. He wanted to spend a lot of time with them, going to events and just going out.  These plans did not include us.

We became much more flexible with our plans and admittedly much more frustrated.  We still went places we wanted to go, we just didn’t have him with us as much as we thought we would.  In this case, I think we definitely needed to talk with him more about our plans and expectations.  He also needed to be open and clear instead of just not returning texts and calls.


Having shared all this, do you see why I recommend planning around their schedules?  It is their graduation and you want good memories, not angry bad memories.  It also means communication before is huge.  I wish we had done that a little more as it would have led to less frustration, tears and hurt feelings.

Tip #5  Graduation Day Planning

There are several things to take into account on the actual day of graduation.

  • location of the graduation (at the college stadium or off-site venue)
  • parking (where to actually park and is there enough)
  • seating (when it opens to get seats and where to sit)
  • meeting up before and after with your grad
  • graduation day celebrations and photo ops
  • what to wear (ugh)

Overwhelmed yet? Yeah, do it for two! Planning is key. Again, two kids, two different venues and two different plans.

Location.  This is where that Facebook Parents page comes in so handy.  Read it.  Review what people suggest and decide what you need to do based on who is with you and who you may be meeting that day. Most venues have their own rules as well.  Read them and know what to expect.  Protein bars fit nicely in your purse and make great snacks to stave off the hangries.

Parking. If you can, Uber.  If you can’t, check for handicapped parking options because even if grandma says she can walk all that way…she can’t in those heels she insists on wearing.  For city center venues, think about going extra early and grabbing brunch at a local hotel.  That’s what we did.  Graduation was at 1:30pm so we had a leisurely morning getting ready, headed into the city from our Candlewood Suites, parked easily right at the venue and walked across the street to the Holiday Inn that had a great brunch.  Then we simply walked over right before the venue opened for seating.  Easy-peasy, no sweat no stress.  This is why you do your research and plan, right?

Seating. For both boys we had a layout of the venue and knew where they would be sitting, kinda.  We made our seating plan accordingly and modified where we needed to.


Meeting Up. Making a plan for where and when to meet your grad if they aren’t with you before is crucial.  Also, a plan for where to meet after since wading through a sea of over 400 graduates and their families does not make meeting up afterwards easy when you are all filing out of the same place.  A good zoom on your camera is awesome.  Graduation day photos before and/or after need to be planned with your graduate as well.  Do it.


What to Wear.  This is going to sound like a scene from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but people people people wear appropriate attire!  Again, take a cue from where you are going and what this event is! Seriously!  I kid you not, we saw a guy in cut-off shorts, tennis shoes and a sleeveless tank.  We also saw people who looked like they were headed to the prom.  Your graduate may say they really don’t care what you wear, they are just happy you are attending.  Don’t listen to them.

Two kids, two different choices in what we wore.  With Josh, we went a little more casual more like Sunday brunch out.  Zach we went a little dressier, especially since we were going out after and wouldn’t be able to change.  We were dressed in the middle for both graduations from what we could tell.

Ladies, think shoes for what you are doing before and after.  Walking a bit, go with the flat for sure.  Another idea, bring those cute folding comfy flats in your purse and pop them on when you can.


The End

Graduation is done…Breathe!

I hope some of these tips help you or at least get you thinking.  If you don’t have a graduation coming up, remember to come back when you do.  I’d love it if you have a friend with a graduation coming up and you share it with them.

Up next……Blogfest!!!!


  1. I’m a couple years out from graduation, but will keep these tips in the back of my mind. I think the expectations are going to be the toughest for me as well……I’m practicing how I handle the unanswered texts and phone calls already. As much as it would be nice to celebrate with the graduate, I’m preparing for the brush off for friends. Watching them cross the stage is the most important part after all, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

    1. You’ve got the right attitude for sure! The unanswered texts are the worst! Especially when they are so far away!

  2. I also went to WSU and when I graduated, we had to stay in Lewiston 45 minutes away because my Mom didn’t realize how quickly hotel rooms get booked. It’s crazy!

    1. Exactly! Know the town, right! That’s what I loved about the Facebook Parents page, people shared every year the same…book early. So we did!

  3. Thank you for this. Lots of helpful, practical tips. And I appreciate the honesty about how it is.

    1. Thank you. I hope you have a smooth graduation season.

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