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The Perfect Graduation Gift

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, Science Teacher

It's that time of year again. 

There will be pomp and circumstance, robes and mortarboards, parties and celebrations to which you will be invited.  According to the rules of etiquette, that lovely invitation with an overly posed portrait and a little name card that you’ll hang on the fridge (or not) means you owe a gift.  What will you buy the graduate?  Your pride in their accomplishment is simply not enough.  Money or a gift card is always nice, but where's the sentimentality?  Before you opt for the cliché gift of Dr. Seuss' Oh the Places You'll Go, let me provide you with a little insight.  These naïve, wide-eyed 18-22 year olds think they're going somewhere and they'll post the selfie taken with their handy selfie stick on Instagram just to make sure you know it.  What they need is something that will help them get to and stay where they're so boldly dreaming of going...etiquette.

While there are many young entrepreneurs these graduates may go to work for, many of their future bosses and co-workers will be of a generation that appreciates the teachings of Dear Abby and Miss Manners.  I recently read the book Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  Its pages, full of a drama induced by coming of age and quarter-life crises in NYC in the late 1920's, introduced me to George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.  While Washington cannot be credited with authorship of these rules (the story of their origin is traced back to a group of French Jesuits), many historians claim that he was tasked to write all 111 rules as a penmanship exercise, and they had such an impact that he held on to them and referred to them often.  These rules shaped the man that earned the respect of men who founded our country and appointed him its first leader.  These pearls of wisdom still ring true today and will be very helpful to any new graduate.  While some of them discuss the obvious such as chewing with your mouth closed, covering your mouth when you cough, sneeze or yawn, and respecting your elders, I’ve chosen a few to highlight and translate into modern language.

Rule #1 - Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

            **Everything you do should be respectful to those around you. 

i.e. No talking on your cell phone/texting while in a meeting or in a movie theater. 

Movie tickets are expensive!

Rule # 55 - Wear not your cloths, foul, or ripped, or dusty, but see they be brushed once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any uncleanness.

**Take pride in your appearance and know that people often correlate a tidy head to toe ensemble with competence and proficiency-“Dress for the job you want.”

Rule #56 - Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.

**People will pass judgment on you based on the friends they see with you.  If you hang out with loud, obnoxious people then observers will think the same of you.

i.e. Show me your friends and I'll show you your future.

Rule #73 - Think before you Speak; pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your Words too hastily but orderly & distinctly.

**Always take a moment and think before you speak or text.  Once the sound comes out of your mouth or you hit send on a text, there is no retrieval.  Once it’s out there…it’s out there.

Rule #111 - Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

**As Jiminy Cricket says, “Always let your conscience be your guide.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could give the graduate their own Jiminy Cricket to help them navigate the obstacles they may encounter in college or in the work force.  F.Y.I.--Pinocchio didn’t listen to Jiminy and almost ended up a jackass on Pleasure Island.  Your better bet is to buy the new grad a copy of George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation and put the money you’re giving them on page 111 where the last rule is printed.  If you’re looking for something a little more ladylike, Dana Perino’s new book And the Good News is… is another gem that provides civility advice for the next generation, such as avoiding backhanded compliments and learning to be assertive, not aggressive.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “Criticism is part of life.  You can’t escape it forever unless you’re not doing anything interesting.”

We are welcoming students to class this spring either via a hybrid in-person/online learning model in NYC (following our Spring Break), or via fully remote, synchronous online classes.  Learn more about our response to COVID-19 >