Toughing out cost of graduation

An immense sense of pride flowed through the mind of Kristen Northrup as she watched her first-born child cross the stage as a Dripping Springs High graduate Friday.

The moment was the culmination of 12 years of hard work and the achievement of moving on into the next stage of life.

Before the caps, gowns and accoutrements comes months of planning, and sometimes even saving, to ensure students are prepared to graduate. While it can be stressful, Northrup said taking the time to enjoy all the senior year has to offer is a worthwhile investment.

“It’s an amazing feeling of pride you feel as a parent that your child has accomplished such a huge milestone in their life,” Northrup said.

Nancy Wilhite, a Buda resident who will see her third child graduate from Hays High in June, said the planning process often starts during a student’s senior year. It’s at that time companies start to promote the purchase of gradation caps and gowns, as well as senior class rings and other related items.

In addition, schools also get students to take senior photos prior to the start of the semester.

From there, the planning and purchasing power of graduation starts to ramp up, especially in the second semester, Wilhite said. Costs can include a graduation party, senior portraits, as well as preparing for the senior prom.

Unexpected things to plan for, which may or may not cost money, include sports or academic banquets during the year, as well as mapping out how graduation day will work for all family members.

All told, Wilhite estimated her family spent upwards of $1,200 on each of her three kids for graduation. Wilhite said, in her experience, costs for girls  are higher than for boys.

“The whole (senior) year is a chaotic mess leading up to graduation,” Wilhite said.

Melissa Villareal, whose eldest child is graduating from Lehman High, said trying to juggle many of the “little things” associated with graduation is a challenge.

While she said preparation did not sneak up on her, the presentation of all things graduation “pretty much was like a freight train.”

In addition, Villareal said many aspects of a student’s senior year, such as preparing for college, tend to overlap with graduation as well.

Northrup said other costs might include extracurricular activities, such as athletics, along with preparing their child’s path into college or a technical school.

Northrup said her daughter, a two-sport athlete, was able to acquire a scholarship to pay for her college, which mitigated a “huge expense” many parents must face.

“It’s going to help with the cost of college, because it’s so expensive these days, even if you go to Austin Community College,” Northrup said.

  Villareal said opening up one’s heart to family might also provide some assistance. She said her child’s grandparents have “swooped in like little angels.”

“There’s no preparing your bank account,” Villareal said. “I thought we were good to go, but then you find something else.”

For many parents, networking with those who have been through the graduation process has been a blessing in disguise. Wilhite said networking helps parents discover what they might be missing out on.

It also allows parents to find avenues that could cut costs. For Cabrera, networking with a friend who’s a photographer kept costs low for senior portraits.

Carolyn Ramirez, a Kyle resident whose eldest child is graduating from Hays High, said she utilized her own photography skills when it came time for senior portraits and announcements. Doing so helped limit how much she spent on her son’s graduation.

It also led her to volunteer to take senior portraits for other parents’ children.

“This most definitely not only helped save on the financial side, but it also allowed us to create more memories together,” Ramirez said. “The ability to capture such special moments in a person’s life … is something I’ve always had a passion for.”

Ultimately, all parents, no matter the cost, are proud of their students and their accomplishments. For Northrup, the experience provides insight for many parents on how to approach graduation for their younger children.

But equally important was making sure to take in a child’s senior year as much as possible, Northrup said.

“You have to enjoy every single minute and be present for everything they do,” Northrup said. “Parents should set time aside to try and be there. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone and you can’t recapture those moments.”

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