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A High School Graduation Gift

Andrea is the owner of Your Story. Share It! Among the services she provides is helping clients celebrate life’s milestones with photobooks, slideshows, invitations, and party decor. - Cathi Nelson


A High School Graduation Gift By Andrea Sims

Judy wanted to celebrate her daughter, Taylor, who was a senior in high school. Taylor felt that she hadn’t found her place to shine in the large high school, and Judy wanted to celebrate the activities outside of school that Taylor had excelled in throughout her childhood and teen years.

At the beginning of the school year, seniors in Taylor’s school place recognition ads in the yearbook, and Judy asked me to design Taylor’s. She and her husband purchased a small corner space and wrote a special message. We added a photo on a background color that complemented it. Taylor’s ad was an eye-catcher.

By January and February, there were activities during which memorabilia was shared. At the senior breakfast, there was a slideshow of the seniors’ baby pictures. Then there was signing day, when athletes are recognized for their scholarships. The school had started recognizing art students who had received scholarships, and that included Taylor’s to New York University. Judy and I had fun setting up a personalized table display for Taylor, and we used some of those items for the graduation party held two months later.

Next was Taylor’s graduation announcement. The front announced that she would be going to NYU; the back was a party invitation. We designed little pennants with special messages for Taylor. Judy had a beautiful family portrait, and we put messages from family members around its edges. It was a special and very personal gift for Taylor that she could take to college without it being too large or embarrassing for a brand-new student.

Judy had several of Taylor’s school portraits taken throughout the years. We blew them up to 8 x 10 and made “Taylor through the years” signs to decorate the front yard on the day of her graduation party. Judy and I were very excited about them, but Taylor — not so much. As any teenager would be, she was embarrassed, and we had to put them in the back yard. The party guests could see them through a window. Also for the party, I helped with table vases that had different pictures in holders. One of the things that Judy and her husband really appreciated was the consistency. Because I had helped at each stage of their celebration of Taylor, there was a theme that tied it all together. They felt it was a time in Taylor’s life that was a culmination of years of hard work. All the different pieces of their celebrations were a look back and a recognition, while they would also be treasured keepsakes in the future.

Taylor’s initial reaction to the “fuss” was embarrassment, but as Judy and I designed the announcements, the Signing Day display, the photo pennants, centerpieces, portrait yard signs, and the slideshow, Taylor’s pride grew. In the end, Taylor was excited to share her accomplishments with family and friends.

Speaking of the yard signs, I used that idea with a client who was giving her mother a seventieth birthday party. The daughter came to me for a slideshow of photos of her mother through the years with approximately fifty-some photos. Then we met with her mother and went through her photos. I got chills as we sorted them. There was her whole life in front of us. She said, “Oh, I’ve had such a wonderful life.” She surely did.

And here she was, having the opportunity to look over her life and reflect on it. By the time we finished, we had more than 200 photos.

So her mother knew about the slideshow. She didn’t know about the portrait yard signs. On the day of her party, the signs greeted her, and she was in tears before she reached the front door. Maybe it takes a little bit of age before we can appreciate childhood portraits.

Everyone loved the signs, and the mother felt special. She was excited to be celebrating her age. She was honored by all the guests that came. All her grandchildren had traveled from other states. It was a special moment for them.

I think the tendency is to put photos in chronological order, as we did for the woman’s seventieth birthday, for a slideshow, or whatever pictorial form you want to use to celebrate someone. How about reflecting on a person’s life through themes instead? I’ll use my daughter as an example. She’s only ten now, but let’s say I’m putting together a graduation book or slideshow. There are three themes that stand out, about who she is now and who she’s becoming.

One theme would be “dress-up”. I have photos of her as a preschooler with the funny things they put on; then as she gets older, she’s dressed up for the daddy daughter dance. I look forward to having photos of those dress-up occasions at high school dances and programs.

The next theme would be “Play Ball”. She’s athletic and plays ball, and then there are the hundreds of times she watched her brother play.

The third theme would be about animals. My daughter is a total animal lover: live animals, stuffed animals—it doesn’t mat- ter. I have tons of pictures of her at the big zoo or at the petting zoo. Upstairs right now, she has a huge condo that she built for her stuffed animal doggy. She also has a collection of animal artwork that she has done.

Either way, chronologically or thematically, photos are a special and memorable way to celebrate a life.

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