Skip to main content

As graduation season approaches, the spotlight shines brightest on the highest of student achievers and those admitted to the most selective colleges.

For students who have struggled along the way in one way or another, or whose plans are less certain or headline-worthy, it’s possible to feel overshadowed by this season of accolades. Here are 5 ways to ensure your soon-to-be graduate feels recognized and celebrated:

1. Acknowledge their effort.

The effort your child has put in to reach graduation is likely a testament to their determination and strength. Take time to discuss your recollection of their hard work and resilience over the years and highlight specific examples that will likely elicit a sense of pride in them and help them feel seen. Find a comfortable way to let them know that their past and ongoing efforts are just as commendable as other achievements that may be more visibly celebrated this time of year.

2. Highlight their interests and growth.

While academic and sports achievements often take center stage during senior awards and graduation season, be sure to reflect on and celebrate your child’s unique interests and attributes that have evolved and led to rewarding experiences throughout their school years. Whether it’s their kindness, creativity, teamwork, passion for volunteering, and/or dedication to part-time work, highlight examples of the impact they have had. After all, achievements can take many different forms and are all worth celebrating.

3. Share stories of diverse successes.

Hearing about the less-than-direct path you or your partner took to get to where you are today can be incredibly inspiring to your child. In addition to your own experiences, share stories of other individuals who took unconventional routes to success. And don’t forget to include examples of failures or disappointments of your own or others that turned out to be significant blessings or led to unexpected growth. This can help broaden your child’s perspective on what success can look like and validate their journey as equally significant.

4. Remind them of your ongoing support.

While remaining a steady source of encouragement for your soon-to-be graduate as they wrap up their high school years, remind them that they can continue to rely on you well beyond graduation day. Whether they are taking some extra time to decide on their next steps, starting their post-high school education at a local school while living at home, taking a gap year, or heading off to a college, university, or trade school far from home, remind them that whatever path they begin on can lead to a satisfying future. And let them know you believe in their potential and will be cheering them on.

5. Celebrate the completion of a long journey.

Cue the confetti. With graduation marking the completion of many years of schooling – and an incredibly important accomplishment for any student – a celebration is certainly in order. With input from your child, plan a gathering that best fits their style and your family’s circumstances and traditions.

Conclusion: Whether your child had a more difficult journey than others, experienced challenges seen or unseen, or simply didn’t make the short list of senior year award recipients for any number of reasons, don’t let this season of highlights in any way diminish the equally important achievements your child has made – which are just as worthy of celebration. And after you and others have congratulated your graduate on a job well done, don’t forget to give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for the critical role you played in reaching this milestone.


Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.