Thursday, June 23, 2016

Graduation, Homeschool Style

Last month I popped up a post, rambled on about picture hunting for Ashley's graduation and then shared some random snap-shots over the years!  Then, I left everyone hanging for a month!  After this past Friday's post, I am sure you can see: I am back in the saddle and ready for regular posts again.

The dust of graduation is settling and, as I looked through the pictures to piece together Friday's post, I realized it might benefit other homeschool parents, and curious onlookers, if I shared some about our graduation experience.  So here goes:

The Pre-requisits
Each state has it's own rules for graduation.  Typically it requires simply meeting the same requirements in class variations a public schooler would be required to take.  More specifically, if a youngster plans to attend college, parents should find out what the perspective college requires as well.  Most are more than satisfied with parent produced transcripts and an SAT or ACT score... but check to be certain.

Montana, where  we live, has reasonably laxed laws in this matter.  I checked the school board's requirements for public school high school graduates and tailored our curriculum to follow suit (i.e., the district requires a minimum of 2 years math, one of which must be Algebra, so we made sure to provide this).  She had all of the district's minimums met plus many extras.

The Diploma
Have you looked at your high school diploma since you graduated?  Does anyone ask to see your diploma in college or job applications?  No.  Actually, colleges want to see your transcripts and jobs, well, they really can't know for sure that you graduated!!  Though they could call your school to find out.  All this to say, I was going to spend the money to send out for an "official" looking (through websites) diploma... then I was going to just spend money on snazzy printing... but at the end of the day, I realized it is just a piece of card stock with embossed print that will quickly find it's way into a box of keepsakes to be moved from house to house throughout her life!  Yes, the embossing would have been nice, but I used card stock and designed Ashley's diploma on my computer using similar wording to that which appears on mine (which I dug out of the bottom of a drawer!!!).  Ashley requested a frame so I found a nice one at Michael's which reflected her personality (western).  I also found some gold foil "achievement" stickers at the office supply store which I then affixed bottom center to give it a more 'official' look.  You wouldn't know her diploma was home-made, just like her education!


The Ceremony
We sent out invitations a month ahead of time and arranged a rough schedule.  Ashley writes and plays worship music so her graduation centered around this and the fact that we traveled for half of her high school career serving in missions.  The event was casual because Ashley is rather casual.  She wanted to wear her worship t-shirt and jeans and flip-flops so the rest of us followed suit.

I actually printed the above "program" out and handed to guests so they would know what to expect of the afternoon. We opened with a welcome and my husband prayed over the event.  Hubby and myself sat down while Ashley gave a speech, played 3 of her songs, and then she sat down.  I got up and gave a short speech (hubby isn't much of a speech giver!!) then called Ashley and my husband to the "stage" for the diploma presentation and congratulations.  Though I offered the traditional, Ashley opted NOT to wear cap and/or gown but I found a neat beaded necklace with tassel at Michael's and adorned her neck with it in conjunction with the diploma presentation.

I gave the closing prayer then hubby and myself sat back down while Ashley played a closing song written by Jamie Grace, which I requested because it made me think of her (I know this song isn't a graduation song... it is much sadder than that... but it is fitting for this occasion as well):

Believe it or not, I held it together, only getting choked up twice during the ceremony.  It was after that I broke down crying though my mother-in-law helped me pull it back together quickly so I could be a good hostess to other guests!

The Decorations

Since Ashley was going to share music as part of the graduation ceremony, we converted our garage into a stage using screws and some cheap tarps.  Most of the decorations came from the dollar store and I was really pleased with them.  I even found some graduation bubbles there!  The kids in attendance loved this!  We invested in some neat outdoor lights at the beginning of the spring, which we hung between the tracks of the garage door to give ambiance to our 'stage'.

On each side of the stage I arranged tables which shared goodies, invited interaction and told some of Ashley's story.  One table showed pictures of her journeys around the country in the first half of high school as we served through missions.  We had bubbles and some of Ashley's favorite ministry materials on that table as well.  The other table held a brag-board with pictures of Ashley in homeschool through the years.  I also included a photo album of field trips and one with her serving excursions.  We found Mad Libs for Graduation and tore out the pages, rolling them up and tieing them like diplomas, we encouraged guests to take one and enjoy!  We also had a bowl of "Smarties" candy on this table (haha, get it?) and a journal with pens and a Bible where we asked guests to leave a note of encouragement. I bought  2 dozen white roses for Ashley and used them in the decor on these tables as well.

A side note on the pictures... we have a magnetic dry-erase board in our dining room (typical homeschool family, right?!).  I attached one picture  of Ashley for each year so while people were getting food at the dining room table turned buffet they could see Ashley through the years.  

The kids also turned our large Elm into the "Party Tree" from the Hobbit via streamers hanging everywhere!!! The Party Tree was not only festive but it was good for shade and we set up borrowed chairs from the church so guests could be facing our 'stage' with streamers flying overhead from our tree... it was definitely fun!


We had snack food... which actually probably took longer and cost more than just doing a basic BBQ.  However, with Zach's (my oldest) girlfriend along and my mother-in-law, all us girls made quick work of decor and food prep (while the guys took care of stage building and heavy item set-up).  We had fruit, chips, dips, crackers, cheese and veggies... and of course the graduation cake!  I bought an inflatable baby pool for $2 and filled it with a bunch of ice, placed in the shade, for soda and water bottles.  Fresh lemonade was inside on the 'buffet'.

Broken teeth = Zach's long-time girlfriend... pink lips = close family friend (more like brother/son)
We set up a funny picture station as well which multiple guests had fun with.  Some of the props even made into the post-graduation family pictures!  I bought them back in January for Brooke's 13th birthday.  For graduation I took the birthday signs out and left all the other fun ones in.

We gave Ashley a gift bag with various trinkets I collected the last few months: a book mark, note pad, "Grad" glasses from the dollar store, a book, and flip-flops I got on clearance at Michael's.  She put the flip-flops directly on and it was fun seeing her enjoying her regalia!

We also set out Twister, which the teenagers enjoyed.  One friend brought a volleyball and, at one point, almost all the kids (and kids-at-heart) were playing a game with that.  Our yard isn't very big, we don't have a fence, and we do have a lot of windows and trees around so games were tricky but everyone seemed to have plenty of fun in spite of the restrictions.

Ashley set up a playlist on YouTube with Christian music she loves.  We piped it through the sound system on our "stage" so everyone could jam while we visited post-graduation.

What I should have done better or differently....
I've never planned a graduation before... only the after parties!  I took for granted how many details need detailed attention...

Planned out picture taking.  I didn't plan ANY of the picture taking... only that we would and, as an after thought, that we would all one a snap-shot with the graduate and her diploma as we had done with my oldest 4 years ago. During the ceremony, at the last minute, I was shoving my phone at Brooke before I headed up to speak and present... leaving her to take pictures from behind someone sitting in front and not knowing what to expect when she took them.  After I didn't think about who I would ask to snap shots of us and ended up giving my phone to someone who wasn't familiar with it.  He managed fine, but many pictures are blurry because I didn't take the time to explain how it worked.

Articulated Seating.  I should have talked seating with my family before guests arrived and then politely directed guests to the second row and beyond.  Instead, we ended up with some guests in the front row and hubby and Brooke stuck in awkward places with second-hand views.  Next time, I would actually "reserve" the front row seating, perhaps making some fun signs so the family can feel special too.

Rehearsed. I should have gone over the details of the ceremony with those directly involved before guests arrive.  Big-staged ceremonies do this and even a small-staged one needs it too.  It may be intimate but no one wants to sit through a half-planned or fumbled event.  Ours moved along fine, but it could have been moved along better and with less frustration on some participants parts if they had known what was coming!

Get the cake from a reliable source.  Our cake looks nice in the pictures because I did my best to fix it.  We ordered it through the local grocery store and when I picked it up, it sounded like the woman ahead of me had issues as well.  It didnt' look quite like the picture I ordered it off of. The writing wasn't centered, the toppers were in odd locations and not all of what I had ordered and there was a HUGE empty spot where decorations should have been.  I dont' usually order cakes but it was a special occasion and I figured it would be one less thing to stress about the day before graduation... and it wasn't cheap.  If I have to, though, I can make it myself for less next time.  Perhaps even do a cupcake-cake!

START THE PICTURE BOARDS EARLY.  I didn't order the pictures early enough and so I was scrambling during the last week to have this portion of the graduation ready on time.  Next time, I want to start right after Christmas!!  My boards looked OK and made their point... but they could have been much better with more time.

Start all of the event planning sooner.  While we talked and thought about graduation a great deal this year, the details of Ashley's commencement event came together over a 2-3 week period.  We could have made some cool yard games if we had more time to plan and prepare.  Speeches could have been edited and rehearsed better as well instead of nervously written and read at the last minute.  Planning, like the pictures, needs to start right after Christmas.  I may design a planner after this experience!  After all, only 2 more years until our next one!

I think that sums up our graduation experience.  It was a great day.  We were blessed with perfect weather, super friends and family and a good time for all.  If you have any questions for me, please let me know via the comments section below.  If you have any additional advice to share, I welcome that as well (and so might others who stop by!!)


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