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Great Graduation Gifts

Gift cards, dorm gear, and cool and inspirational books

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Getting ready to celebrate your favorite teen's high school graduation? Sure, you could hand over some greenbacks. But if you're looking for something a little more personal, here's a round up of great graduation gift ideas for college-bound seniors.(Got a college grad? Here's a list of college graduation gift ideas too.)

1. Campus Bookstore Gear

Photo by Jackie Burrell
Between the textbooks, sweatshirts and energy drinks, campus bookstores are the go-to shopping spot for new freshmen. What makes this particularly convenient for you is that some 600+ university bookstores are operated by Barnes and Noble, and those gift cards are available everywhere - even the supermarket. Or go online, find the university's bookstore site and order a sweatshirt directly.

2. A College Care Package Gift Certificate

Graduation gifts
Photo by Jackie Burrell
If you're looking for a perfect graduation gift, the promise of care packages adds charm and love to any gift. Tuck a couple of these DIY postcards - each redeemable for a college care package - into your favorite new graduate's gift bag, along with a laptop sleeve, for example, and a great college survival guide.

3. The Ubiquitous Gift Card

Photo by Jackie Burrell
Looking for an option other than a gift card for iTunes or a bookstore? The new graduate probably has some significant dorm shopping ahead of him, so a gift card for Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond or another big box store may be very welcome. More creative? Buy a guidebook to the grad's new city and enclose a gift card for Starbucks, Chipotle or another student-favored restaurant or coffeehouse near campus. Need suggestions for what's nearby? Check Google maps or visit the university web site and search under "visitor information." P.S. Cards don't have to be bestowed in a boring envelope, not when you can make a clever little DIY gift card diorama like this.

4. The Last Lecture

Courtesy Hyperion

A generation ago, we gave graduates books about Jonathan Livingston Seagull or Desiderata. But when Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Randy Pausch gave his "Last Lecture," its heartfelt wisdom transcended fads. This was the real deal, life lessons delivered by a professor who was dying of pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a beloved wife, three young children and legions of adoring students. Millions of people downloaded the lecture on YouTube. Now it's an inspirational book about childhood dreams and the importance of enabling the dreams of others. (For more book ideas, check out the summer reading list suggestions for college freshmen. You'll find this book there too.)

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5. Word to Live By: A Journal

Courtesy Kate Marshall
When Emily Marshall was getting ready to leave for college a few years ago, her mother, author Kate Marshall, asked friends and family to write down their best advice. “Life lessons don’t necessarily come up naturally,” says Kate. “No one ever asks, ‘Would you like some pie...and the secret to a happy marriage?’” So Kate put out the call. Some relatives jotted notes in Emily's journal when they came to visit, others sent handwritten notes to be pasted in later. The result was such a treasure, Kate and Emily assembled this blank volume, a "Words to Live By" template filled with prompts so every family can pass along its collected wisdom.
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6. The Naked Roommate

Courtesy Sourcebooks, Inc.
Syndicated columnist Harlan Cohen's practical, irreverent take on college life has entertained and helped parents and kids across the country. Now, you can get his wit and wisdom in book form, thanks to The Naked Roommate... And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College. Yes, you'll find tips on dealing with unclothed dorm buddies, but also advice on college dating, cash, classes and time management. Pick up this or another fun, college-advice book for the new grad, and add a gift card or check.
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7. A DIY Fleece Blanket for the Dorm

A DIY Fleece Blanket
Photo by Jackie Burrell
Help your college kid turn his dorm room into a cozy nest by whipping up this simple, fringed, DIY fleece blanket. It will keep him warm and cozy, and remind him of home. And a fleece blanket is a great project for younger siblings to make too.

8. A Graduation Video or Memory Board

Graduation memory board
Photo by Jackie Burrell
Graduation is a major life passage, and few things evoke that sense of time passing better than a video slide show of childhood memories, from babyhood to the present. A graduation video not only makes a perfect gift for new grad, it's also wonderful, nostalgic entertainment for graduation party guests. Here's how to use your Apple laptop and family photo albums to make a childhood memories DVD or assemble a graduation memory board.

9. Dorm Gear, Towels & Headphones

Courtesy Bose
So many teens already have those classic graduation gifts - iPods, laptops and cell phones - you may want to try one of these dorm gear ideas instead:
  • Noise canceling headphones to help your new college freshman settle into the noisy dorms.
  • A collapsible beach chair, suitable for sunbathing on the lawn or providing extra seating indoors.
  • Fluffy new towels, monogrammed with the grad's initials.
  • A laundry basket or DIY laundry bag with mini-laundry soap packets, fabric softener and "don't wash reds with whites" tips.
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