I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 2013 and my oldest was going into his senior year. It took me a bit to wrap my head around the fact that my first born was graduating. The tears had stopped, I was no longer curled up in the fetal position, so I thought I was ready for the school year to begin.
The beginning of the school year made me feel like I was in an old superhero comic book. You know the ones where they are in a fist fight, and the sound effects come with words? Yearbook picture (kapow!), cap and gown order (whammo!). WHAT IS GOING ON? I felt unprepared, confused, and like there needed to be some sort of support group - not just because of those two single events. Add on life and the fact that there are so many questions that go along with graduation, it just can become overwhelming.
Fast forward to 2018. I now have a daughter going into her senior year. I’ve had all of the same feelings that I had with my son. But this time I’ve got my boxing gloves on, and I am ready! I've already started warning her about what is going to happen so she's prepared.
If you are entering into the uncharted waters of senior year, let me be your support group. I don't know everything, but I do know some bits and pieces, and I am happy to share if that means easing a bit of your anxiety. Because I'm a Mom and a senior photographer, I can give you a few extra pointers. I'll explain the event, and then let you know what we did.
Here are 5 important things you need to know to help you survive senior year.
Please be aware that specific dates cannot be given because each school does things a bit differently but the general time frame and order is pretty much the same in the Chandler / Gilbert school district.
1. Senior yearbook picture.
You should get this notice towards the end of summer / first weeks of school. If you want your senior in the yearbook (ummm...yes), this picture needs to be taken at the studio their school has chosen. There is no charge for the yearbook image (unless you want to purchase it). Some studios will allow your senior to choose which image they want in the yearbook, some will choose for you. Most of the studios do NOT do any retouching on the yearbook image without an additional charge (editing takes time). The deadline to get these done will probably be around the end of September, but it’s going to depend on what school you’re at. Try to schedule this early to give you a bit of time to breathe!
Now a lot of people get confused at this point between the yearbook picture, and a senior session with an outside company. I’ll quickly explain.
Your senior NEEDS to get their yearbook picture taken at the studio the school has chosen. The yearbook will NOT accept an image from anyone but the studio. However, you have a choice to book a senior session with the studio chosen by the school, OR you can go with an outside photographer to get a more personalized session.
What I did: I’m pretty sure you could guess, but we did the yearbook picture and then did a more personalized session.
2. Cap and gown
In September / October you should be on the lookout for the cap and gown order form. When I got the form, it was nicely crumpled from being in the bottom of the backpack, and of course was due in the next couple of days. I’d probably start asking your senior for it mid September just in case they forgot about it.
Gowns get ordered according to height and weight. I believe we had to measure for the cap. Easy enough. On the order form (they may have you do it online now), you’ll also be able to order a variety of merchandise - souvenir tassels, clothing, hats, traditional announcements and class rings/jewelry.
If you order the traditional announcements, know that there will be two little cut out slots to hold the name plate. Don’t forget the name plates!
Come January, you’re going to look up and realize that you do not have anything you ordered. You’re going to ask your senior where their stuff is. They are going to tell you that it comes later. Later means towards the end of the school year. Announcements come in around the end of March, beginning of April so you have time to send them out. Cap and gown varies from a month in advance to a week in advance to two days prior to graduation to the day before after graduation rehearsal.
BTW - long gone are the days of “the kids” giving out wallet sized images to their friends, now they give away the custom announcements. I swear, I’m not making that up. Parents, however will normally order wallets from the senior session to put in the traditional announcements.
What I did: Measured his height, jumped on the scale for the weight and measured his head for his cap. We did not order announcements because I knew I would be making custom announcements with images we got from his senior experience.
At this point, we are probably into October. I would love to tell you that it’s time to relax but....
3. Senior Portrait Session
If you are going to do a senior portrait session, now is the time to start looking for your senior photographer (I will be putting out on a blog on how to choose a senior photographer next week) - even if you want to schedule after the first of the year. I promise this isn’t a shameless plug. This girl is just tryin' to help a parent out! Let me explain.
You initially think that a Fall senior session would be great! They are. IF you don't wait until October to try to book because by then, you are also dealing with (translation - paying for, rushing around for) Homecoming. Once we are into November, we are dealing with the upcoming Holidays. Now it’s January and you're tired. Your brain is tired. You just want to sit down and relax somewhere. Here comes February, and you realize you still need to find a photographer! By now you are feeling the pressure because you have people out of town you need to send announcements to (this should be done in the beginning of April), and you wanted to put that wallet in there or have custom announcements made. Now it’s the end of February, and you’re trying to book your session but February - May are a senior photographer's busy season. You may or may not be able to get in with the photographer you or your senior wants. You may or may not be able to get a session in March and you may or may not get your images back (depending on their turn around time) by the first of April. So don’t sleep on this!
4. Cap, gown & tears
Whenever I have a Senior come to a session with a cap and gown, I always ask the parents “have you seen them in this yet?” If the answer is no, I know to grab the Kleenex.
At this point in the school year, you feel like you are ready. You’ve gone through everything, yearbook picture, last homecoming & prom. You’re tired, they are tired, but the cap and gown has special powers. Seeing it on just brings everything home, and reality is staring you dead in the face. Your baby is about to go off into the big boy / girl world.
What I did: Took a cell phone picture or two, posted to FB, walked away from reality, enjoyed an adult beverage.
5. Clear Bag Policy
If your senior graduates at Wells Fargo, you should go shopping for one of those stylish clear purses. Maybe bedazzle it. Don't use a Ziplock bag if you don't want the people around you to melt from embarrassment. If security can’t see through it, it can’t go in the building.
What I did: I don’t normally carry a purse unless I’m going somewhere fancy. So it was phone in pocket but--I must confess--I went to a graduation this year and hadn’t eaten yet. I don't own a clear bag. So, I shoved a bunch of gummy lifesavers in my jean jacket pocket to snack on. Little did I know that they sold food and drinks in the arena.
Bonus tip - BREATHE!!
If this is your first baby to graduate, know that it will be ok. It's hard to let them go. I really began to question if my son was ready for adulting. Then of course that led me to begin doubting my parenting skills. If you get to that point, take a breath.
I had to step back, and ask myself a multitude of questions - Can he cook for himself (very well indeed)? Can he clean up after himself (he can but usually chooses not to)? Can he stand in his own truth (yes)? Can he form his own opinions (yes)? Does he know how to stay out of trouble (yes)? Can he shop for food and clothing by himself (yes)? Does he know how to manage his money (very well)? Can he do his own laundry (yes)? Once I realized that he knew how to do all of the basics, I realized I had done my job as a parent and that everything was going to be ok.
Full disclosure - my son opted to go to MCC for his general classes. Our rule in the house has and will always be that as long as you are going to school and being productive, you can stay at home for as long as you need to. I would rather my kids move out of the house when they are ready financially, mentally, emotionally so that when they are gone, they stay gone. Not that they can't come back if there is a need, but I never want them to come home and feel like they failed at being an adult. He has decided that he is ready to leave the nest and will be moving out soon. And as sad as it makes me, I know he's ready.
If you have done your job as a parent..everything will be ok. You've got this. You held it down for 17, 18, 19 years. You have loved them, fed them, encouraged them, heard them, yelled at them, taught them, and then loved them some more. Graduation is a celebration. They made it through 12 years of school, and SO DID YOU! You deserve a high five too!
So when you are at the ceremony and you see your baby walking up to get that diploma, clap for yourself too because you deserve it.