Mortarboards aloft (Courtesy of the author)

Once upon a time, when your kid was graduating college you gave him a briefcase.

Mazel tov, sweetie, and here’s your gift. Carry it well.

Or… fountain pens. Fountain pens were the go-to bar mitzvah present, but they also stepped up for commencement. Fine writing implements to treasure for a lifetime, to match your fine education and your fine job to treasure all your fine life.

These gift options are, not unlike fine lifelong jobs, obsolete.

Oh, calm yourself. Maybe you still use a briefcase and fountain pens, maybe even the ones you scored for college graduation. Good for you. It’s a big world; some folks in it are still listening to 8-tracks. Just because you appreciate the utility and charm of certain retro trappings doesn’t mean I will wrap those very things up with a bow and party like it’s 1959.

I won’t commit sacrilege against our cultural imperative; some form of parental gift to the graduate will mix in with the pomp and circumstance. Just what exactly to give the boy? That is, as we say in the cursed news biz, developing.

Yes, this is all about me. And my progeny.

I have a child graduating from college.

I will pause here while you comment on how I hardly look old enough to have a child graduating from pre-school, even.

During that pause — and thank you, you are too kind — I reflected upon said child’s aforementioned pre-school graduation and how I wept then over the passage of time and his enduring adorableness. As I did when he graduated from his K-8 school. And from high school. And as I will do when he walks across that stage later this month. And as I expect to do again eventually when, should he stick with his plan, he finishes grad school. Which I assume you are about to send me the money to cover? Because, it takes a village, right?

Excuse me? If you are now shirking your pledge to pay his grad school tuition — if you are now in fact pretending you’ve never met me, much less promised to finance my kid’s advanced degree — then the least you could do is tell me what to do about a college graduation present.

Because as of now, I don’t have a gift. Other than, you know, the gift of having loved and supported my son in every way, shape, and form for two decades and counting. Including, but not limited to, sending him to the university of his choice. Made possible (in part) by a scholarship that he earned (entirely) thanks to my having read aloud to him in the womb. You’re welcome.

Such love and support is not nothing. It’s about as far away from nothing as he is from having a job. And that is, trust me, far enough.

Still, a tangible something would appear to be in order. Or so I’m told by my peers. Other parents of college seniors remind me that this is a big deal, and absolutely a gift-giving occasion. He isn’t just a bachelor anymore; he is a Bachelor of Arts! Huzzah!

Still, a little part of my brain — not the wee subsection that’s admirable and benevolent, but the dominant zone devoted to laziness, frugality and moral grandstanding — begs to differ.

Isn’t education about intrinsic reward? Does my son really need loot to go with that diploma? Especially given all that’s come before? Can’t I just hug him and cry and say congratulations and embarrass him by calling him “sweetie” in public? Isn’t that plenty? I cut this child’s grapes in half until he went to junior prom, pretty much. Without me, it’s clear, he would not have survived to adulthood, never mind known to major in something, anything, other than journalism, so help us God! Shouldn’t perhaps the gift here be for me?

JK, I say. In the parlance of youth.

Just because you appreciate the utility and charm of certain retro trappings doesn’t mean I will wrap those very things up with a bow and party like it’s 1959.

I won’t commit sacrilege against our cultural imperative; some form of parental gift to the graduate will mix in with the pomp and circumstance. Just what exactly to give the boy? That is, as we say in the cursed news biz, developing.

And as I mull over that choice, my mind wanders. As it often does when confronted with a task at which I am piss-poor — in this case, selecting a meaningful gift for a young man who I still, forgive me, think of as pedaling a shiny red trike in his velcro sneakers.

In wandering, my mind has tangled up in these weeds: Did I receive a college graduation present?


I remember my joy at welcoming my parents to campus, where they could swelter under the southern sun on metal seats in a football stadium and give up trying to pick me out among thousands of identical mortarboardians.

But a present at commencement? I remember nothing. Then again, I expected nothing.

My parents, of modest means, gave me everything, including freedom from student loans. They also put up with my considerable mishegas. Who needs a trinket?

Besides which, they’d already outdone themselves. Four years earlier, my mom and dad had bestowed upon me a high school graduation gift that was nothing less than killer. It rendered me the envy of every sentient being I met while in college, and for at least a decade thereafter. As a mere 17-year-old, otherwise unremarkable, I became the ecstatic owner of a reconditioned off-brand clone of the IBM Selectric typewriter.

Holy element balls, Batman. Nobody else in my universe owned a contraption like this. Oh, yeah. That was me. Hardcore.

And hey, that perfect gift from the ‘rents is right here in the basement. So, sweetie… I could dust it off?

Tags: Family

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  • Flo

    Well, let me be the first–this is so funny, and yet pretty much on the mark.

    Because, yes,when you think about it the ‘rents’–as Brody puts it–have presented–play on words though not exactly a pun–their children with lots and lots and lots of things over the years.

    This includes advice–which often is not received graciously.

    Brody made me laugh out loud early in the morning–or lol-in the parlance of today. And that is something rarely accomplished. Good work Ms. Brody!

  • Pmsingirl

    The best present I received for my graduation that I still cherish and will hold on to for as long as I can is a self-made graduation card. Nothing fancy – a paper folded in two with a preschooler drawing. It has some meaningful words written that every now and then I read and ponder on. Depending how you and the society had raised your child a simple “con-matriculation” followed with a couple of thoughtful sentences will be present enough!

  • Carolyn

    You hardly look old enough to have a child graduating pre-school, even!

  • martha

    sharon, very funny. you will figure this one out :) congrats on your big boy’s graduation; it’s your’s, too mommy :).

  • paducah1983

    A boy graduate is always harder than a girl, I think. And when you write, “Shouldn’t perhaps the gift here be for me?” it makes me laugh and think of my mom. Every year on my birthday (after I was old enough to understand, if not appreciate the humor), my mother always said it was she who deserved the gifts and celebration. Wasn’t it she, after all, who did all the work that day- my birthday? And now as a mother myself of two late teens girls, I sure have to agree!

  • Ann Silver

    Love this, as always. I wish I hadn’t given my typewriter away……

  • Springfield VA friend

    I believe I received a new-fangled “boom box” player for my college commencement gift (1982) — I must admit I was a bit confused as to its relationship to my degree in Museum Science.

    An example of a great gift I’ve seen given to new graduates is stock in a related field, or at least in a blue-chip company. It represented the family’s optimism in the graduate’s chosen profession!

  • Johnny

    Great Piece. I had to read this because I printed a book over the course of 8 years that I have always thought is the perfect graduation gift. It’s called Pictorial Webster’s and it has about 4000 wood engraved images from Webster’s Dictionaries printed alphabetically. I like to inscribe to graduates: “Here is your World. Read it with Imagination and figure out something fun to do with it.” The book is available at all fine retailers – published by Chronicle.

  • sjw81

    once upon a time a four year college degree didnt require another mortgage loan and most middle class families could afford 3% of their household income to pay for it with minimal loans. today its risen700% since the author graduated so that most of america cant afford to go unless they incur huge debt. so for my college grad this year, no gift other that we paid for her BA degree and all the debt she incured as well. this article was funny , yet also very sad