Is someone in your family graduating from college this year? If so, here are a few things to keep in mind that might preserve your sanity on commencement day.
WHERE'S MY KID?
You never took your eye off them at the playground when they were little, but you might not be able to find your kid amid a sea of identically dressed students in black caps and gowns. Even if you think you have your eye on the right one as he or she marches down an aisle, chances are, once they're all seated, you won't be able to tell one from another.
The solution? Tell 'em to wear a bright yellow scarf or paint "HI MOM!" (or even better, "THANKS, MOM!") in neon colors on top of the mortarboard.
Often colleges will hand out maps showing where each department's students will be seated, so make sure you consult the map to pick the nearest available seats.
ARE YOU THERE? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!
Cellphones have a way of dying at the worst moments. Invest in a portable battery pack — or two or three of them — so that you and everyone else in your family can keep taking those photos and videos and sending texts to the graduate saying things like, "I can't see you! Turn around and wave slowly! Meet us at Gate 10! What time is our dinner reservation?"
IF YOU'RE IN A HURRY, YOU'RE IN THE WRONG PLACE
However long you think it's going to take to get around the campus and college town on commencement day, it'll take twice that long, whether you're walking, taking a bus, driving or just entering and exiting the stadium, hall or field. The ceremony will take twice as long as you thought, too (and might be twice as boring — drink some coffee beforehand).
Leave plenty of time to get from your car and your hotel to the ceremony; leave even more time to get from the ceremony to the restaurant where you've planned that big celebration.
And set up a post-commencement meeting place with the graduate beforehand — just in case your best efforts to keep the cellphones going fail.
THERE'S ALWAYS THE NEXT TOWN OVER
If you didn't make hotel reservations a year in advance, you're out of luck. If you didn't make dinner reservations four months in advance, you're out of luck. In communities with lots of colleges or large universities, hotels typically open up reservations for graduation weekend a year in advance and they sell out fast.
But don't panic. The closest venues will naturally fill up first, but those are also likely to be the most expensive. Give yourself extra travel time and stay a few miles away in a nearby town. Do a little research and find a truly wonderful restaurant a little farther away than the pizzeria, deli and Mexican place your kid has been eating at for the past four years. The farther away your celebratory dinner is from campus, the better the service will be and the more relaxed the atmosphere will be.
LOAD UP THE CAR
You know those care packages you've been sending to dorms, frats, sororities and off-campus apartments for the past four years? At least half of that stuff was never opened. And now you'll be carting all those unopened shampoo bottles and boxes of hot chocolate mix home, along with piles of T-shirts, barely used notebooks and assorted collectibles bearing the logo of your child's alma mater. Drive up with an empty trunk and take a deep breath. After all, your kid isn't just bringing home a hoarder's trove of college junk; he or she is also bringing home a degree.