Forget the picture frame or copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go. As a veteran high school teacher, I’ve witnessed and bought my fair share of graduation gifts. It’s harder than buying a wedding gift—at least then you can consult a registry. You know you want something practical because they’re about to be tossed into the big kid pool and they’re not going to care if the life preserver is monogrammed. And décor is too personal. They finally get to live on their own so they’ll want to pick out the perfect sheets and pictures and lamps and rugs. That leaves you with the stuff they’re not going to think to buy themselves, the stuff they don’t know they need until they’re treading water with all the other newly-adulted. So here are 10 great gifts which will earn you a real thank you.

  1. Gift cards

As a teacher, this is what I always hoped to get when Christmas and the end of the school year rolled around. You can’t go wrong with a gift card. It’s more personal than cash and you know they’ll use it when they really need it—when that quadruple shot of espresso from Starbucks gets them through the all-nighter, when the emergency trip to Target finds them the perfect shower caddy or the iTunes ringtone they just downloaded now reminds them of home. Think of places you know they’ll go and get a card or two. Or better yet, do a little research and make a bouquet of gift cards for restaurants and shops close to their new dorm or apartment.


  1. Phone charging station and alarm clock

Mom is not going to be there to yell from the bottom of the stairs so they won’t be late for class or work. They’re going to have to figure out a system to get out the door on time. An alarm clock that’s also a phone charging station might be the answer. Hopefully it will get them where they need to be and also leave them with a way to call you and thank you for the reminder.


  1. Sports bag

Everybody needs a bag to throw their gear in for the gym and no one wants to be near the kid that’s still toting his high school gym bag which already smells like feet and Febreeze and more feet. If you know a sports brand they already like (Champion, Nike or Lululemon for a splurge), get them a new bag. Everyone, including their new roommate, will be grateful.


  1. Water bottle with storage compartment

I wish they had these when I was in college. You’re always trying to carry ten tiny items at once around campus (dorm card, meal card, car keys, lip balm, phone, wallet, etc). This water bottle has a flip down compartment for keys, money and any other small necessities so you don’t leave anything behind.


  1. Drawer organizers

I didn’t discover these until after marriage when my life suddenly ran headlong into my husband’s. One tiny house equals one tiny dresser equals chaos. Plastic drawer organizers are cheap and make sharing a little easier with roommates. These will keep them organized and also prevent a roommate showdown when the dresser (inevitably) only has five drawers.


  1. Set of melamine dishes

If melamine existed when I was in college, I don’t remember it. I ate out of a lot of Tupperware that was probably not microwave safe when I wasn’t eating peanut butter out of the jar and Easy Mac. Melamine dishes are actually cute and safe to put in the microwave and a great stash for the dorm room when they don’t want to walk all the way to the dining hall. It will make eating ramen in bed at two in the afternoon a little fancier. This gift is the equivalent of the wedding place setting, except they’ll actually use it.


  1. First aid kit

Everybody needs band aids and Tylenol and scissors and Neosporin and tissues vitamin C fizzy tabs. Give them a kit or create your own of all the things they’re not going to have on hand when they wake up coughing or give themselves the paper cut to end all paper cuts.


  1. Laundry bag with printed instructions

I shrunk a lot of shirts before I figured out my laundry regimen. I was Kevin in Home Alone, creeping towards the washing machine, hoping it wouldn’t eat me or my favorite pair of jeans. This bag has all the instructions printed on the outside and you can fill it with the detergent and dryer sheets that smell like home.


  1. Bike

Many college campuses frown on freshmen having cars. If you want to go big on this one, get them a bike. It doesn’t have to be fancy and probably shouldn’t be since this is college and life happens. If they already have a bike, get them a nice bike lock, because they’re going to need it.


  1. Mini Fridge

The highest end purchase, but maybe the most useful and coveted by other freshmen, is the mini fridge with freezer. I still have mine from college. It’s now our garage fridge. This saved my life on many occasions when all I needed was some milk to go in my cereal or a place to stash my leftovers tacos. I still mentally thank my mother every time I open this fridge.

So, if you know a few new graduates who need some gifting, try one of these. They’re the kind of gifts that earn a real thank you.

P.S. The Senior Class of 2020 has been thrown for quite the loop this spring. Check out our Class of 2020 Strong tees, and show your support for this resilient group of teens. 

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Jamie Sumner

Jamie Sumner is the author of the middle-grade novel, Roll with It. Her second and third middle-grade novels with Atheneum Books for Young Readers will be coming out in 2020 and 2021. She is also the author of the nonfiction book on motherhood, Unboundand the forthcoming bookEat, Sleep, Save the Worldfor parents of children with special needs. She is also mom to a son with cerebral palsy and she writes and speaks about disability in literature. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Connect with her at