Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2013 ElCloud Graduation Celebration

We graduated our first student (A) on May 18, the day before her friends graduated at the public school.  She really wanted to celebrate on the same weekend they did, but we didn't want to compete with other graduation ceremonies and receptions.  We set her celebration for 2 pm on Saturday, with the reception lasting until 4:30, knowing that most graduation receptions would be held in the evening.  We were very blessed with a full room of people that came to actually watch her graduate: family, church family, friends, and homeschool families. It was touching to know that they cared, even though it added one more thing to an already busy weekend.

As we were planning our graduation ceremony, we asked A what color cap and gown she wanted.  We knew that HSLDA sold navy and white gowns, but had a wider array of colors. She requested that Steve and I set school colors, instead.  We had thought we'd let each child be individual, but we complied with selecting school colors.  We didn't want to mimic colors from some of the area schools, and could not reach a consensus amongst the children, so we settled on blue, gold, and white.  The white was primarily added so that a graduate could wear a white gown if they wanted to.  A chose the white cap and gown, but decorated the room with blue and gold.

Congrats Grad paper banner
Congrats Grad pennant banner

17 yo A spent a lot of time looking for ideas online of what she wanted her celebration to look like.  We made several different decorations for her, though a few were adaptations of what she really wanted but we couldn't accomplish.  I still have gold glitter popping up here and there from the glitter banners and posters. There were several late nights spent rolling her fork/napkin diplomas, dipping pretzels, and creating the paper crafts we displayed.

school colors pretzel sticksglitter letters for banner

Steve and I each planned to speak at A's graduation, as well as have a slideshow. In the end, we also asked two other people to open and close the ceremony with prayer: A's grandfather who is a minister, and our church's pastor.  The ceremony itself lasted about half an hour.

Order of Events:
  • Welcome by Steve
  • Prayer by A's grandfather
  • Mom's speech to A (yes, I cried)
  • played an mp3 of "Never Once" - the song by Matt Redman that inspired a portion of my speech
  • Dad's speech which explained why we chose to homeschool as well as our pride in A's graduation
  • A's life slideshow with her choice of music: Dixie Chicks' "Wide Open Spaces" and "Pomp and Circumstance
  • Announcement of A's future plans and accomplishments by Steve
  • Presentation of diploma (read by Mom) and turning tassel
  • Special Thanks (A thanked me and presented roses to me - after Dad suggested it)
  • Benediction by our church's pastor
  • Receiving Line and Reception

We learned several things that we'll do differently next time.  For instance, I learned that even if I keep my speech light-hearted, and even if I've been fine all day long, and even if I go first ... I will still cry.  So everyone has to suffer through listening to me cry-talk.  Next time I'll have tissues with me, so I can at least wipe my nose. I'm adding that to my "things to do differently" list.

Now for the nitty-gritty details about our decorations and preparations.  We used the fellowship hall of our church.  A's picture table was set up at the front of the room beside the area where we spoke.

graduate photo table

We set 4-5 rows of chairs up facing the front.  Behind that, we set up 4 long dining tables (2 per side).  Each dining table had a centerpiece that had two photos of A mounted on blue and gold paper, with a skewer between the sides.  That skewer was stuck into play dough in a small glass votive or cup, then topped with blue, gold, and brown M&Ms.  (We didn't purchase them specially made in those colors, we literally sorted them out of 4 very large bags of M&Ms.)  Around them we sprinkled the mortarboard confetti.

Graduation photo table centerpiecephoto centerpieces for reception tables

At the back of the room (which is where the doors are), we set up the two food tables, as well as the table for leaving gifts and signing her guestbook.  Her guestbook was 25 loose scrapbook pages that each had one photo or a quote on them.  They've now been placed in protective sleeves in a notebook for her to keep.  We love this idea, but it ended up being a traffic jam area as people tried to sign in (with a note) as they arrived. We also had those leaving gifts write their address on the thank you envelopes, which further slowed the progress in that area.  Next time, we'll move that table away from the door a bit more so it doesn't become so congested.  If we re-use the scrapbook-guestbook idea, we'll probably need a larger table.

guest book table

Although we'd thought we'd have guests seated in the rows of chairs for her ceremony, we also ended up with people sitting at the tables, and a few standing at the back.  We underestimated the space needed for the ceremony itself.  Next time we may need to request to use the actual sanctuary for the ceremony and move downstairs for the reception.

blue and gold reception snacks
 blue and yellow m&ms, frosted cookies, dipped pretzels, nuts, and cheese

Though we underestimated the space we needed, we overestimated the food we needed.  We had four 9x13 cakes (1.5 cake mixes each) that spelled out 2013. But we also had two 12x18 sheet cakes waiting.  Yikes!  We had cake for about 200 people, because we didn't want to be the family that ran out, but we didn't even cut into the two larger sheet cakes.  We've been eating cake (and cookies and pretzels) ever since.  We also still have extra ingredients for our blue punch, (note: we replaced the white cranberry juice with half white grape and half white cranberry peach juices, since they were easier to find and less expensive.)  And of course, we still have yellow plates and diploma fork/napkin rolls. That's fine. They'll get used. 

Graduation Year Cakes

I'll be completely honest and say that the week leading up to the graduation, especially the 2 days before and the morning of, were chaotic and stressful.  One of those things I'll do differently next time is more advance preparations, including baking/freezing.  Though working in advance means making decisions sooner, and we had a difficult time with that this first time.

First time.  That is key.  This was a new experience for our whole family.  We'd not graduated any children yet, or planned a wedding reception yet, or even attended any other homeschool graduations.  We were learning as we went, but it was still a beautiful day.

homeschool graduation diploma presentation
presenting A with her diploma

This moment made it all worthwhile and superseded any of the problems (like cake decorations that didn't arrive at church looking as nice as they did at home, though even that was definitely amateur).  This is what we were working for.

That moment completed 13 years of formal homeschooling, plus a few years of preschool before that. It made up for tears (hers and mine) over early math lessons.  It was the completion of our goal.  Now A is off to college.  This week she's been connecting with fellow incoming freshmen at her university via a facebook group.  She's wondering if any of the girls she's met so far will be her roommate, writing thank you notes, and looking for a second job to help her save money for upcoming college expenses. 

We know that God is shaping her into a beautiful and accomplished young woman, and that He has great plans for her life.  We can't see her future, but we trust in the One who has brought her this far already.

Rejoicing in His Grace,
April E.