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Graduation Survival Tips

Pomp, circumstance, sunburn and heatstroke

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Graduation Survival Tips Photo by Jackie Burrell
College and high school graduations are wonderful occasions, but when the temperature soars, all those hours of outdoor pomp and circumstance can be not just uncomfortable, but potentially dangerous. There's a reason campus officials station paramedics nearby. It's called heatstroke and it's not just frail grandparents who can be felled by over-exposure to the sun.

If your family is headed for an outdoor commencement ceremony this spring, here are some graduation survival tips to avoid sunburn, dehydration and heatstroke, and help you find your kid in the sea of mortarboards:

  1. Spray-on sunscreen. Coat yourself and your loved ones liberally with the stuff, and re-apply it every hour. The places everyone forgets: receding hairlines and partings (a sunburned scalp is a miserable thing and spray-on sunscreen is ideal for doing heads), the tops of your feet, the nape of the neck and under the edges of spaghetti straps, sleeveless shirts, necklines and just above and below the belt. Every time you lean forward, your shirt will hike up, exposing a soon-to-be pink stripe of skin.

  2. Water. Tote frozen or well-chilled bottled water, two bottles per person.

  3. Snacks. Don't pack a picnic - campus security typically doesn't allow coolers or massive bags into graduation ceremonies. But tuck a few granola bars or apples into your bag, particularly if you're viewing the ceremonies with young children or grandparents.

  4. Hats. Some universities ban big hats, parasols and umbrellas from graduation ceremonies because they obstruct audience views, but even a baseball hat or very small straw hat will provide some protection for your face and scalp.

  5. A large cotton scarf or wrap. It's hot now, but when the fog rolls in or the wind picks up, you may need a wrap to ward off the chill. Cotton scarves can also be draped across skin that’s turning suspiciously rosy, for a little added protection. (Some shade scarves actually come with an SPF rating.) For fast cooling, pour water over the scarf and wrap it loosely around your neck and/or swab the moisture over your arms, throat and temples.

  6. A paper fan. No matter how frantically you wave them, graduation programs make inefficient cooling devices. Bring a paper fan, whose accordioned edges are made for moving air.

  7. A rain poncho. If drizzle threatens, pack a rain poncho. You can use an umbrella to get from the car to the arena, but you may not be allowed to unfurl the thing in the spectator area.

  8. Comfy shoes. Graduation day is always a high traffic occasion. Expect to park far, far away and trudge a half mile or more. If you're attending with grandparents or anyone with mobility issues, call ahead to arrange for a wheelchair or Cushman cart service, as well as drop-off instructions.

  9. A camera and your manners. Of course you want to capture this wonderful occasion on film or in pixels, but remember that it's a special day for everyone. If you want to pop up in front of people to snap a picture as your child shakes the provost's hand, do it quickly and apologize profusely. Most colleges have a professional photographer on stage to snap that iconic shot for you - and then charge you a lot of money for it - so don't sweat that particular photo. Use the camera to capture the day and get those proud family pictures afterward.

P.S. Expect to encounter campus security when you enter the graduation arena. They're on hand to keep everyone safe, of course, but they may also search your bags.

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