Your Guide to Commencement

Your Guide to Commencement

By Peggy Harris P’10,’13; Amherst, NH

Exhilarating and exhausting. As the parent of any Deerfield graduate can tell you, those two words best describe Commencement Weekend.

The first time I attended a Deerfield Academy graduation was in May 2010. With no prior experience with this multi-day event, I was fortunate that the father of one of my son’s friends had traveled to DA the year before and, like a fly on the wall, quietly observed the activities as they unfolded. What he found, and what veteran parents already know, is that graduation and student move-out is a whirlwind of excitement, emotional farewells and packing up.

When asked to sum up his advice to parents of upcoming graduates, he said, “Plan ahead.” This is excellent advice: the sooner you can get started on anything from deciding who will attend, to making hotel and dinner reservations, to packing away no longer needed items, the better. A few other parents of former graduates also offered several tips for making the weekend flow more smoothly. Hopefully, this additional information will help to make your children’s last few days as Deerfield Academy students more enjoyable for everyone.

Things to Do Before Commencement Weekend

Reserve Lodging Early

Make room reservations well in advance. Seasoned Deerfield parents know that lodging in Deerfield and the surrounding area fills up early for the Memorial Day weekend. Since many hotels start taking reservations a year out, parents of juniors often check websites at the end of the school year to reserve their spot for the following year’s commencement. The Deerfield Inn takes reservations two years in advance, and Memorial weekend is the first to fill. You’ll find plenty of choices in the area by searching for rooms in the 01342 zip code, or checking DA’s Lodging page.

Send out Invitations and Announcements

Send out invitations and announcements promptly. By now, parents should have received a box of 10 invitations to Commencement 2013. In addition, many parents also like to send graduation announcements to friends and family who will not be attending commencement. Since announcements are not provided by Deerfield, the seal and door cannot be used. However, parents may use the DA logo to design and order their own announcements. You can find the logo on the Deerfield Parents Network site, in the news item titled “Logo for Commencement Announcements.”

Return your RSVPs

As noted in the letter that accompanies the Commencement invitations, guests should return RSVPs to the student’s parent, who will RSVP for the entire group by April 19th. Parents can return the form sent with the invitations or RSVP online. It is especially important that you know the number of guests who will be attending the Saturday night Senior Parent Dinner Dance. Your RSVP response will determine how many bracelets are made available to your party to provide admission to this event. Also note that if your guest list changes after your RSVP has been received, you can email to make updates.

Make Friday Night Dining Plans

If you’d like to plan a Friday evening dinner with family, be sure to check the list of local dining establishments and call ahead to make your reservations. Keep in mind that there is a theater performance on Friday evening. If you decide to attend, you may not have time to leave campus.

Start Packing for Move-Out

Many parents told me that moving out was one of the most stressful experiences during commencement weekend. Graduates will be expected to be out of their room and off campus by 2 pm on Sunday. Since commencement is usually over around 11:45 am, you won’t have a lot of time to get everything done. To lighten the load on move-out day get packing supplies early, have your child box up what is no longer needed, and remove as much as you can before Sunday. If you plan to be on campus Spring Parents Weekend, this is a good time to get started.

Handicapped Seating

Handicapped seating is available under the tent. Be sure to make a note on the back of your RSVP if you or a guest wishes to sit in this area during commencement.

What to Bring for the Weekend

With the variety of activities going on over the weekend, you may want to bring a couple of different selections of semi-casual attire. Your commencement letter has a suggested dress code, which includes:

  • Awards Luncheon: casual
  • Senior Parent Dinner Dance: “festive” attire — no tie required
  • Commencement: coat/tie for men; women are usually in dresses or nice pants and top

Commencement Weekend

Once commencement arrives, relax and enjoy the weekend. The best way to do that is to know what to expect from each day. A few of the activities you’ll want to start out with are listed below.

  • Pick up your Registration Packet — When you arrive, pick up your registration packet in the Main School Building. This will contain the most current schedule of events, as well as bracelets required to attend the Senior Parent Dinner Dance (see below for more information about the dance).
  • Consult the Schedule — Even if you’ve been to a previous graduation, be sure to look at the schedule, read the letter mailed with commencement invitations, and then look for updates in the schedule provided during registration. Each year, things are done a little differently, and this is no exception.
  • Attend the Open House — Dr. Margarita Curtis, Deerfield’s Head of School, opens the weekend events with a reception at the Manse on Friday from 4 to 6 pm. This is a nice chance to catch up with friends while enjoying lemonade and cookies.
  • See the Play — Deerfield Academy’s last theater performance of the year is held during commencement week (this year, it will be Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”). Shows start Tuesday and run through Saturday. If you arrive a day early, try to catch the Thursday evening performance.
  • Remember – It’s a Closed Weekend — While this is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with your child, remember this is their big weekend. Students enjoy those last few nights in the dorm, getting a chance to say “goodbye” to friends. Since all students are required to return to the dorm by 11 pm, be sure to allow enough time to get your child back before curfew.

Saturday Events

Get the most out of your last days on campus. Here are Saturday’s highlights:

  • Noon — Awards Luncheon — Since awards are given out both during this event, and earlier in the week, a program will be provided that notes all awards received by the students.
  • 2:30 — Music and Dance — This event includes performances by several musical ensembles, including the Mellow-D’s, Rhapso-D’s, and Chamber Singers, as well as senior dance numbers to celebrate those students who have participated in the dance program.
  • 4 pm — Theater — If you haven’t gotten a chance before Saturday, be sure to catch the last theater performance, held in the black box theater late Saturday afternoon.
  • 7 pm — Senior Parent Dinner Dance — The Senior Parent Dinner Dance is a fun night to celebrate with the whole class, along with student families. The tent opens at 6 pm. There’s no reserved seating, but plenty of tables for everyone. Once the band starts playing, the evening is spent moving around, finding friends, dancing, and enjoying your child’s last day as a high school student. Remember that bracelets are required this year, and will only be in the registration packets of those who have RSVP’d. If you won’t get a chance to pick up your registration packet before Saturday night, let Jenny Hammond know and alternate arrangements can be made.
  • 9:30 pm — Senior Class Meeting with Head of School — Expect to say goodbye to your child at 9:30 pm on Saturday when students will leave to attend their last senior class meeting. Also referred to as the “Senior Cry,” this is an opportunity for seniors to share fond memories from their years at Deerfield. This event often lasts late into the night, allowing every student who wants to share a story an opportunity to do so.
  • Day Student Evening Arrangements — DA encourages day students to stay on campus. Those who plan to go home should make arrangements with the Dean’s office ahead of time. Keep in mind that Massachusetts restricts drivers under the age of 18 from operating a motor vehicle between the hours of 12:30-5 am.

Commencement Day

Here’s what you can expect on Commencement Day.

  • Parking — There are always plenty of places to park. When you arrive on campus, follow the directions of security. Also, don’t forget that if you have any handicapped guests who will need extra help getting around, please note that in your RSVP.
  • Continental Breakfast — A continental breakfast will be available under the tent in front of the dining hall beginning at 9 am Some students may show up, but chances are you won’t see your child before graduation.
  • Commencement Tent Seating — The commencement tent opens at 9 am Sections will be set aside for graduating seniors, underclassmen, faculty, trustees, handicapped and other guests. No seats can be reserved. Anything left in an attempt to do so will be removed. Once you enter the commencement tent, ushers will be available to guide you to guest seating. Large screens at the front of the tent will provide you with the best view of the event, including the commencement walk down Albany Road.
  • The Walk down Albany Road — Graduating seniors line up on the lawn between the Field and McAlister dorms. At 10 am, they begin their procession down Albany Road, which will be broadcast on the screen in the tent. The path will be roped off and lined by undergraduate students. Guests are asked to be respectful of this journey, allowing plenty of room for the cavalcade to comfortably enter the tent.
  • Taking Photos and Video — What you see on the screen is also recorded, and videotapes will be available for ordering. There will be professional photographers on hand to get a shot of your children as they walk up, and when they receive their diploma. So, when the ceremony begins, sit back and relax. If you decide you want more photos, you can take shots from your seat or politely scoot to the end of the center aisle when your child walks back, diploma in hand, to his or her seat.  After the ceremony, you will want a family photo in front of the Deerfield door.
  • Buffet Lunch — Commencement is usually over by 11:45 am, and a buffet luncheon is available to any and all who have attended. Keep in mind that seniors are expected to be off campus by 2 pm, so if you decide to stay and eat, and will be helping with the move out, eat quickly.


In addition to sharing fond farewells with classmates, and thanking friends and relatives who have attended, both students and parents will want to say their goodbyes to faculty members. These adults have played such a central role in our children’s lives and are often the unsung heroes of graduation. Carving out time to thank and bid farewell to these folks is more than worthwhile. They will be lasting touchstones for our children in the years to come.

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