Gift Guide: Graduation Presents We Wish We’d Gotten

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Most graduation gifts fall into two camps: the strictly utilitarian (money) or the totally frivolous (a fancy dinner; a cheesy mug). But we know from personal experience that college graduation can be a strange and disorienting time in a young person’s life. And in retrospect, there are many things, tangible and intangible, that we wish someone had thought to give us as we packed our worldly belongings and prepared to face our future. After the jump, check out 20 books, housewares, and pieces of advice you might consider passing on to the grad in your life this May.

A copy of Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh with the inscription, “Don’t beat yourself up if this summer is as weird as the post-college summer this guy had.”

A copy of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero with the inscription, “Live like this, kid, and you’ll regret it.”

Gym membership: because you lose campus athletic center privileges once you’re out in the real world, and your metabolism only deteriorates as you age.

The summer off to intern: For those of us working in cosmopolitan fields, it can be hard to land an impressive internship when you’re going to school in, say, Iowa. For parents or grandparents who can afford it, offering your graduate an all-expenses-paid summer internship opportunity in New York, L.A., Chicago, etc., is a worthy investment. You’ll know it paid off when your kid doesn’t move back in with you come September.

A solid suit: Whether you’re male or female, there’s nothing more tragic than landing your dream job interview and not having a decent outfit to wear to it. In similar situations, we’ve seen friends opt for cheap, ill-fitting H&M ensembles snapped up for $80 or borrow their friends’ (or parents’) threadbare, outdated version. But there is no substitute for a suit that you look good in that also fits you. You can find good deals on designer suits all over the Internet, but Bluefly and Overstock are good places to start. Not only will your grad look good for her interview, she’ll also feel more confident.

Hausman by Kevin Cyr. Available for purchase at 20×200.

Art: Whether your grad lived in a dorm or not, we’re betting their decorating aesthetic has a lot to do with unframed posters of John Belushi. This will not cut it in the adult world. A first art print — framed, please — will help upgrade their taste. This doesn’t have to be expensive: The folks at 20×200 sell a slew of contemporary prints that range from breathtaking photography to quirky paintings to cerebral abstracts starting at $20.

Decent dishes, silverware, and bar accessories: Nothing makes you feel like an adult like ending your work day with a nice cocktail in an attractive highball glass. And who wants to cook fancy meals on mismatched plastic plates?

Advice: Your first job will never match your ambitions coming out of college. Realize that now, and just put your year or two in, do as well as you can, get your promotion or find something better, and resolve never to find yourself at the bottom of the totem pole again.

Tickets to a summer music festival: In the midst of the post-college pressure to get a job, it’s easy to miss an entire season of warm-weather fun while you’re scouring Craiglist, revising your resume, and (if you’re lucky) putting in 12-hour days at your first full-time gig. That kind of nervous ambition has its place, but grads shouldn’t forget that, at 21 and 22, they’re still entitled to their fair share of recreation. Help them escape from the madness and monotony of home with tickets to a weekend-long music getaway like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, or (our personal favorite) All Tomorrow’s Parties.

Times New Viking’s The Paisley Reich : Now that college angst is over, it’s time for quarterlife angst. Maybe it’s just that this was the right album at the right time for us personally, but as far as we’re concerned, no recent record has represented 20-something aimlessness quite as well as this one. Think of “Teenage Lust!” as our generation’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Eames lounge and ottoman. Image via Design Within Reach.

One good piece of furniture: Every time we move, we ask ourselves the same thing: Which of this crappy, falling-apart IKEA pieces are worth moving? Sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever have nice things. And it takes its toll on our general motivation to decorate. So get your grad started right with one attractive, well-designed chair, bed frame, dining table, or couch.

Cooking classes: Some college students subsist for four long years on dorm food, while others gobble down takeout, frozen food, and deep-fried midnight stoner snacks. But when it comes to actually cooking tasty, nutritious food, most recent grads are pitifully clueless. Instead of taking the kid out for an expensive steak dinner on graduation night, why not spend the same money on a basic cooking course that will teach her a lifetime of skills?

Advice: Spend some time in the professional world before you go to grad school. After a few years working a daily grind, you’ll be much more appreciative of the opportunity to spend time on your own career and enrichment.

Lunch with a powerful friend: It’s hard out there for a recent grad, and a connection can mean landing a job that may not even be advertised publicly. If you know an influential person in a field that a newly graduated friend or family member is looking to break into, set the pair up for lunch, on you.

Membership at a museum or other cultural venue: Now that he’s no longer enrolled in literature and art history classes, your grad may find himself depressingly bereft of access to highbrow art and entertainment (not to mention the student discounts he used to enjoy). These days, museum tickets top out over $20, and you can pay at least $12 to see a good foreign film. But even the penniless will never go a day without culture with a membership to an art-house theater or major museum.

A turntable: It sounds crazy, right? Is this not the most tonedeaf gift for a child of the information age? It is not. Vinyl is now more popular than ever. And at a time where hard drives crash and iPods unexpectedly go dark, there are few things we treasure more than our constantly expanding collection of records. Buy your grad a record player now and encourage them to build a tangible music library they can pass on to their children.

A bicycle: Lots of well-heeled parents present their newly graduated offspring with a brand… new… car!!! And while that’s certainly a generous gift, it won’t do young city dwellers nearly as much good as a bike. Not only is it a cheap and versatile way to get around, it’s environmentally friendly and excellent exercise.

New computer: Many students start college with a new laptop. But after four years of MP3s, torrented videos, spyware, and plain, old becoming obsolete, it’s time to upgrade that well-worn machine. There’s nothing like a fast computer to expedite the job application process.

Advice: Enjoy your drunken revelry while you still can, because by the time you hit 25, your body’s going to start giving you shit about it and you’ll start having the kinds of hangovers you’ve only ever heard old people talk about.

A freaking break: Seriously. The transition between the protected realm of college and the “real world” is stressful and comes with all kinds of melodrama. Sometimes the best gift is letting a grad know that they don’t need to have it all figured out the moment they grasp their diploma for the first time.