Ghosts of Graduation Gifts Past & Present

by Kimberley Thompson, Tastemaker in Residence

Sturdy Sampsonite luggage, "handkerchief" baby doll pajamas, a 10-speed bike, and a half-dozen faux leather journals made up the large majority of my high school graduation gifts in 1977. Not exactly the most thrilling haul in my 18-year-old opinion.

I wanted cash. My friends received cash. (To hear them talk about the amounts raised the green-eyed monster in my soul.) Cash was it! I blatantly hinted to all about the "wonderful" things I could do with a cash gift. Put it towards college. Save it for something "truly" needed at a distant time in my future. Pool it with my other monetary gifts for something vital to my college success; like a Texas Instruments calculator that I could use for the rest of my life. Hah!

I have no memory of what I actually spent my graduation money. Not one clue. No paper trail. No pictures. No funny stories.

The luggage traveled with me for 20 years; beige and boring in appearances, but wealthy in memories. The zipper eventually succumbed to being overstuffed, and rather than repairing the behemoth, I bought a sporty red number on wheels.

The babydoll pj's were worn once. My Mom was scandalized by them; perhaps by the fact that they covered so little! I never saw them again after that one time. Personally, I don't think my step-grandmother had her glasses on when she purchased them for me. The 10-speed bike was a beauty to view! Bronze colored with a leather seat. Hand brakes and shifters. Cool racer handlebars. I rode it all summer that first season. But sadly it was garaged when I left for college and rarely used again once my Dad bought us girls a car to share. (The concept of sharing was left open to interpretation between us.) I tried to reconnect with my bike some years later. That narrow seat convinced me to sell my bike at my first garage sale in my new house. Yikes!

The assorted journals were a bit problematic: my life was not that exciting for recording on paper. One needed to be committed to writing EVERY DAY. I sweated over each entry for first 12 days of college life; until in frustration I just threw down my pen! The final diaries ended up becoming scrap paper.

Why am I reliving these gifts some 40 years later?

Given my occupation, I constantly have clients looking for the PERFECT high school or college graduation gift. I always tell them about the lessons other clients have unknowingly shared with me over the years.

I have seen a man's face as he reluctantly allows me to take his watch from his fingers. I hear the story of how he received it from his grandparents for graduation. Can it be fixed? Will I promise that he will get "his" watch back? Does the jeweler know not to polish off the already well-worn message engraved on the back? Did I know that he wore this watch for EVERY important event in his life?

I have heard the girlish excitement in a mother's voice when she hears not only do I know about the petite gold monogram necklace she is describing that she received 20 years ago; I can get them for her daughter's graduation!

I have assisted parents picking out family signet rings for both their sons and daughters. And I have had the immense blessing of helping those recipients come in 2 decades later with their badly worn rings to order copies for THEIR children. Perhaps these gifts weren't really appreciated at first. It would probably have been a safe bet that cash was a higher priority in the mind of the receiver. 

Maybe they REALLY wanted luggage or electronics. (My personal recommendation; if it will be obsolete in 6 months, DO NOT GIFT IT!) I have heard every recollection of gifts given and received. No one talks about the journals, the bikes, the dorm stuff (Really? Is that truly a gift?), the "I did not know what to get you" twenty stuffed in a card. Stories of necklaces worn every day, a locket touched for luck and remembrance, a watch going into the first job interview...those stories I hear constantly. A talisman from a grandmother no longer here; treasured beyond any interest the money gift may have earned.

Those stories are the real gifts; even if you never hear them. I do...and I always think how lucky both the giver and the receiver were.

Memories are dearer than dollars.