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Graduation season puzzle: Gift or card?

May is here and that means the end.
Or the beginning, depending on how you want to look at it.

May is graduation month. The end of 12 years of school for seniors everywhere. The beginning of at least four more for those going to college, and the beginning of next phase of life for all of them. But either way it’s a time of celebration and there will be ceremonies and parties. Oh, there will be parties!

Just like with showers and weddings, there’s a little bit of consternation over whether you’re supposed to show up at these events with a gift for the graduate, how much you should spend if you do, and what kind of gift it should be.

There may be as many answers as there are questions! But in 2013, here’s what I’ve been able to discern from the experts out there.

1. Cards for everyone! At the very least, show up with a congratulations card, and don’t forget to sign it!

2. An announcement and an invitation are not the same. If you get an invitation to the graduation ceremony and you go, a gift is required. Send or take it ahead of time or soon thereafter. If you take it to the ceremony there’s a good chance of it getting lost or broken. Gifts are not required if you get an announcement (but you can send one if you like, or see No. 1).

3. Sometimes overzealous graduates and their parents will send an announcement or invitation to everyone they’ve ever known. If it’s someone you know well, gift them if you choose. If you honestly have to think about who the person is…skip it, or refer to No. 1.

4. If you’re invited to a graduation party and you go, take a gift — unless you’re a teenager who has been invited to dozens of parties and are making the rounds. Teens are exempt. Just go have fun. Teens can give gifts and/or cards to their very closest friends if they choose, of course.

5. Now, if you are giving a gift, what should it be for the high school graduate? Money is always the right color, fits everyone and will not be returned! Every graduate needs it whether they’re going to college or not. But if you are in a gift-choosing mood, how about things that will take them into that next phase?

For the college-bound, maybe a book light (for late- night studying), a flash drive, a laundry hamper, a laptop cover (or a laptop if you’re close!), a portable fan, a full-length door mirror, a bulletin board or dry- erase board, luggage, small electronics such as a coffee maker or iron, maybe a small tool box!

6. How much is appropriate? For the ultra close friend, or an adored family member, the sky is the limit. For everyone else, $20-$50 will probably do just fine, the higher number for someone you know quite well.

7. And last but not least, a note to the graduates. Congratulations! Enjoy your special time and for heaven’s sake, DON’T FORGET TO SEND A THANK YOU NOTE IMMEDIATELY!!