How to Plan a Homeschool Graduation Ceremony
What goes into a successful Homeschool Graduation Day?
Whether you have one student graduating or are planning for several, there are three main points to consider. Communication, delegation, and participation are all key to honoring your graduate and putting together a day that everyone will enjoy. Some families mark the completion of high school with a special dinner or a party; others “roast” their student in good fun. For others the transition to post-high school life is seamless and not marked in a particular way. As a long-time member of a home school co-op and a veteran homeschooling parent of three, I have heard a variety of ideas from different families over the years. Our local community of homeschooling families has enjoyed conducting a graduation ceremony to mark the day for whichever students are finishing up that year. Three years ago we had eight students who participated in this ceremony, including my oldest two children. Last year we graduated three students, including my youngest child.
The first step in planning a successful graduation ceremony is communication.
Make a list of graduating students, and then contact them to ask if they would like to participate. Conduct a meeting with these young people and at least one of their parents to get their input. We began with an informational meeting to talk about ideas. Most people who attended ended up participating. A few opted to attend a larger state homeschool graduation and some decided to celebrate in their own unique ways. One thing we have learned from 17 years of homeschooling is that homeschoolers as a group can be quite individualistic. We planned our ceremony to have some structure but to accommodate the ideas of our students.
At this initial meeting try to select a date, time and place for your commencement so you can get it on everyone’s calendar. Adjust quickly if needed to accommodate the availability of your location, then reserve that time as soon as possible. Get everyone’s contact information and communicate clearly and often to the whole group. My primary roles in the planning of our graduation ceremonies were serving as a co-catalyst for making it happen and the communications clearinghouse for the group. I learned how to send out group e-mails and quite a bit about delegation and follow through.
You’ll need to discuss expectations at this meeting and talk about just how your students want to mark their day. Make sure everyone’s voice is heard and remember that a bit of humor can help smooth the negotiations. Define your budget during this communication step, and then add a bit more to account for unexpected expenses. We found that our students had some definite ideas about what they did and did not want in the way of celebrating this educational milestone. Reach an agreement early on for how simple or elaborate you want your ceremony to be and decide which elements are most important to you. Our students were adamant that they did not want to wear caps and gowns so we struck that as an option. They decided on dress clothes such as they would wear to church. Determine if you want music and try to reach an amiable consensus on style and quantity. Remind everyone that gracious compromise is an excellent thing!
Select a date, time and place for your ceremony. Decide if you’re going to have a key note speaker, live or taped music or performances of some other kind. Some students may wish to showcase a particular skill, so decide how you will accommodate their wishes. Others will become quite shy or afraid of becoming emotional in front of an audience and just want to sit back down after the conferring of the diploma. Determine if you will need someone to run the PA system at your location and arrange for a backup just in case.
Discuss the reception after the ceremony. The primary goal should be to enjoy the time together and let the students visit with friends and family who want to wish them well. Think simple and throw perfection out the window! Some groups might do a pot-luck meal or a barbeque. We had a pot-luck dessert reception with each graduate’s family bringing their favorite dessert and culinary donations from friends. Our church secretary made a beautiful cake with all their names on it as a gift to the graduates.
Decide as a group what each family’s responsibilities. Our graduates decided that each student would be in charge of their own announcements, photos and diploma. That way each family could go as simple or elaborate as they wanted. Some people ordered custom invitations online or at local print shops, our family found nice ones ready made at a local office supply store for about $20 for our two students. A parent of one of our graduating seniors volunteered to make a diploma for whoever wanted one. When we saw her mock up design on beautiful paper with seals and ribbons we were so impressed that everyone ordered one. Each person was in charge of getting his personal information to her and paying her a nominal fee to cover her expenses. These now hang proudly in our children’s rooms.
The second key point to a successful graduation ceremony is delegation.
This step ideally occurs at the end of your initial meeting, so make sure everyone has the privilege of participating in some capacity. Many people will volunteer at this time for some task they would like to handle. If volunteers don’t materialize, ask and delegate. Be very specific about what you have in mind, one person’s idea of simple might be powdered lemonade and paper plates, while others prefer nicer party ware and would rather scrimp in another area. It is important to be accountable with the budget and encourage planners to be creative. My idea of party punch is Koolaide, so it was humorously suggested that perhaps another mom could volunteer to head up the food portion and coordinate the drinks and paper goods aspect of the party. She did a beautiful job, and I was grateful to not have to handle those details.
Decide if each student will set up a table showcasing their interests, education and hobbies. This was something we implemented, and our guests enjoyed getting to know each student better through looking at her table. We learned things about the graduates that we hadn’t known before, and everyone had a lot of fun.
Younger siblings could be involved in serving in many different ways. Some of ours supervised the potluck (young children first in line tend to get carried away with the goodies and run amuck). They also helped with decorations and cleanup, as well as passing out programs before the ceremony. We decided to keep our decorations simple to focus more on enjoying the day, ease the cleanup and lower cost. Poll your participants to see if you can incorporate things from their homes. We were able to have flowers and greenery gleaned from family yards, tablecloths and serving ware brought from home and borrowed from church.
The third key to success in your graduation day is participation.
Confirm that all key people have saved the date, that your location is reserved, and that you have helpers to run your PA system or play music, slides, etc. Plan on getting an update from whoever is in charge of each portion of your ceremony. It helps to keep a master checklist to keep you on track.
One of our graduate’s parents volunteered to put together hand-crafted thank you notes, and we upped our budget a bit to include small gift cards to Barnes and Noble or Starbucks as thanks to our sound system operators and others.
If you are holding your graduation at a church, try to arrange to decorate the day before or a bit early prior to the ceremony. To save time and stress, plan on plenty of help for this step. You may or may not decide to have a rehearsal. A brief one is helpful if you have a large graduating group just to get the timing right. However, be considerate of family time constraints and the fact that many will have out of town guests. Do not think in terms of a wedding rehearsal: keep it simple, low-key and above all, short.
The day of the graduation plan on arriving an hour early to make sure all is ready and to complete any last minute preparations. This should also give you a few minutes to breathe and remember why you’re doing this: to thank God and to honor these amazing home school graduates and their parents. This is a day of celebration, a marking of a passage. Take the time to be in the moment and just enjoy it. It does not matter in the grand scheme of things if there are some “oops” moments. Try to stay relaxed, laugh a bit, and keep some tissue handy! Most of all just enjoy this young adult that God has given you to shepherd for a time.
Karen Ray is a freelance writer and graduated homeschooling
parent based in New Mexico. She earned a BA in Journalism from UW
Madison, WI. Karen and her husband Ian homeschooled their three adult
children from toddler days through high school. During their early
childhood she was extensively involved in the MOPS (Mothers of
Preschoolers) organization. She also served as a board member of the
Mesilla Valley Christian Home Educators Co-op for several years and
taught classes on NM history and wildlife to area children as part of
the co-op. She has tutored home schooled students in writing and has
been published in “Southern New Mexico” magazine. Currently she is
actively involved with high school students at church and enjoys
encouraging other parents in the homeschooling lifestyle. She has
represented the homeschooling community in public speaking via radio
interview and seminar. In her free time she enjoys traveling New
Mexico’s back roads and collecting the stories of its lesser known
citizens and places.