Give a Different Kind of Graduation Gift

By Amelia Nierenberg

The class of 2020 is graduating into an off-kilter world. Ceremonies are canceled and it’s not safe to throw an in-person party. But graduates are still celebrating. And gifts are still in order, though in interviews many graduates acknowledged the country’s economic problems, and did not want to create a stress or burden on their families. For many joy and pride are enough.

“The greatest gift can be just spending time with the ones I love,” said Zeeshan Parupia, a senior marketing major at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Based on dozens of suggestions from real graduates, here are some gift ideas to help them celebrate their accomplishments.

Emma Lingo, an 18-year-old from Kirkwood, Mo., wants to make memories, to make up for experiences she lost because of the pandemic. “I missed out on a lot at the end of senior year, from banquets to bonfires,” she said.

Kirkwood High School held a parade for seniors, where they wore their caps and gowns and drove through their community in decorated cars. She thought it was fun but not quite the equivalent of a formal graduation ceremony.

Once it’s safe to go outside, she wants her aunt to take her out for coffee, or to visit an aquarium with her little cousins.

To give an experience to your graduate, create a certificate redeemable for a future hang.

Dylan Campos wants to concentrate in English literature and political science when he begins at Hampshire College in the fall. Mr. Campos, 17, has been doing his schoolwork remotely on the shared family computer. He’d like a laptop.

“I have no expectations, and I know that if they could provide me with the latest state-of-the-art technology, they’d do it in a heartbeat,” Mr. Campos said.

Mr. Campos, a first-generation American, knows he will need to use videoconferencing once classes start, either to attend them from his home in Branford, Conn., or to keep in touch with his family from campus.

Money is not an uncommon graduation gift, but this year’s recipients may be spending it in different ways. Amelia Loeffler, a senior at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky., is trying to save up for a geology course she is taking this fall at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The class takes an annual trip to California over fall break, the coronavirus permitting.

“Students have to pay about $500 in fees for the trip, so I’m saving the money I’ve been gifted by friends and family to pay for this experience,” she said.

Lexie Overstreet, 18, loves her job at a coffee shop in Louisville, Ky. Before she goes to Centre College in Danville, Ky., this fall, Ms. Overstreet wants to spend time with her friends out and about in Louisville.

“I would take exploring downtown or going to a coffee shop with them one more time over any material item,” she said. “If I did get a gift, I’d love anything local or that gives back to my hometown community.”

Supporting the area’s businesses is especially important to her now, so a gift certificate to one of them would be perfect.

“Walmart and Amazon don’t need support during this pandemic, but the little shops that donate to local events and charities throughout the year do,” she said.

Also: They will not have photos of prom or graduation, but all those Zoom screenshots need to go somewhere, so consider getting prints and frames for grads. And portable Bluetooth speakers bring the beat to even socially distanced events and will be useful whenever dorms reopen.

It can be expensive, but your graduate might wear a class ring for the rest of his or her life. It’s one of the most enduring symbols of honest-to-goodness graduation.

Leah Abrams, who majored in public policy and history at Duke University, has worn hers since the fall, when her grandmother helped her buy it. Her friends have been teasing her, “Why don’t you wait until graduation?”

“I guess graduation never came, and now I’m so happy to have this physical reminder that my experience at Duke is always with me,” she said.

It’s especially meaningful because the virtual commencement ceremony, over in 30 minutes, was such a letdown.

“My grandma was like, ‘Was that it?’” Ms. Abrams said. “And I had to be like: ‘Yep, thank you all so much for coming! It means a lot!’

“I hadn’t cried yet, but I cried after that.”

It was hard for Marcella Anderson to miss out on a traditional ceremony. She has three older sisters and remembers their blowout parties. She tries not to think about what she is missing. It makes her too sad.

Instead of gifts, Ms. Anderson, who is graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in food and nutritional sciences, wants the physical acknowledgment that remote graduation can’t provide.

“To know that my family and friends are still supporting me during this time is all that really matters to me,” she said. “I think a graduation card, or even a piece of paper folded into an envelope, is all I really need right now.”

Victoria Eavis wants photographs taken by her father. He takes a camera with him wherever he goes.

“I’d like four of his photos — in whatever size he sees fit — that are in some way representative of my four years in college,” said Ms. Eavis, who graduated with a degree in cultural anthropology from Duke. “I don’t want to be in them, rather I want to look up at them on my wall and be reminded of the beauty of Durham’s sticky light and infinite skies.”

In usual times, many recent grads specialize in takeout for dinner. After spending much of the last semester at home eating family meals, they may be more inclined to cook. Help them.

“I’ve been spoiled by my kitchen at home, equipped with any cookware I could ask for,” said Hala El Solh, who studied at Yale University.

Both a wok and a cast-iron skillet truly last a lifetime. They distribute heat more evenly than most other pans and are not coated with chemicals. If your graduate also loves to bake, present him or her with a piece of cookware, a few printed-out recipes and some spices, tied up in a bow.

Amanda Gordon, who majored in journalism and history at Northwestern University, has been reading more during the quarantine and knows that the first few months out of college can be daunting.

“I would love for the women of my family to send a book they read in their early 20s, one which helped them through tough moments in early adulthood,” she said. “It’s my hope that these stories can shed some light on the very murky waters I find myself wading into.”

Also: Consider a coffee maker and a thermos. The real world starts a lot earlier than college and making your own coffee and taking it with you saves money and cuts down on the waste of disposable cups. You could also go for a mixology kit: Bars will most likely be among the last places to open, so D.I.Y. refreshments and entertaining at home may take precedence. And one final idea, a watch: Even if it is the most traditional gift ever and may seem obsolete in the age of cellphones, it’s a sign of adult life. And punctuality is always in.