David 'Mas' Masumoto

David Mas Masumoto: Finding the right words for your graduate

Special to The Bee

What do you say to a graduate? What to write in a graduation card? What are you really thinking during a graduation ceremony? Here are a few thoughts, gleaned from others and things I’ve heard over the years.


You can’t overuse this word at graduation time. Of course, you loudly proclaim it to the graduate, especially the ones who may have struggled. But in most cases, graduation is a team sport. Numerous individuals deserve a pat on the back with a handshake and hug including family, friends and educators who all played a major role. Truth is, everyone should be speaking plurals: “we graduate together.”

Graduation is a public celebration and acknowledgment of accomplishment and an opportunity to express ourselves. This may be one of the few moments bragging and boasting may be allowed without conceit.

We’re proud of you.

I knew you could do it.

Good work, you deserve it.

Success is yours!

Today proves something we always knew: You’re pretty smart.

This ceremony is a rite of passage, the completion of one phase of life and starting the next journey – we all should begin our life’s adventure with “good luck” from all.

Wishing you the best of luck.

It’s all over and all beginning.


This may be one time you can offer some advice and it will be tolerated, perhaps even accepted. Graduation is a milestone, marking an achievement. But separate the celebration from the reflection. Cheer with loud voices, high fives and hugs. Make profound statements later, when the reality sinks in and the true meaning of the accomplishment is both felt and recognized.

Education is valuable but remember, there are many, many things worth knowing that can’t be taught.

Life is like school, we hope you’ll continue to learn and earn honors.

I probably think too much, yet putting life in context is important to me. We can honor where we have been and celebrate where we’re going. So to all you graduates and their families, supporters and friends: enjoy the moment.

Graduation is a moment between believing you know everything and finding out you have much to learn.

Jobs and money

Sooner or later, the topic of work or money will be brought up during graduation season. Typically the older you are, the more this seems to matter. (Are us old folks wiser or more jaded about such matters?) And if you’re going to joke about the expense of school, why not put in a few dollars with the card when you see the graduate. This assumes, of course, you are joking.

We spent a lot of money on your education; are you smart enough to figure out how to pay it back?

Congratulations on receiving a piece of paper with crushing student loan debt.

This is a time to be philosophical. Realize probably every generation complained about the money and time it takes to graduate, but I have never heard of someone advocating dropping out or quitting. Most people agree that those who graduate will make a whole lot more money than those who don’t, so in the end, it does pay off.

Education can be expensive, but think of the price of ignorance.

Investing in knowledge pays great interest.

Bad comments

Not the best way to congratulate the graduate but someone will typically blurt negative reactions. It may follow with a slap on the back and a grin. My advice to the graduate is to simply smile back.

Now what?

We knew you’d barely graduate.

It really doesn’t matter what people say, graduates need to know it doesn’t matter how you graduated, only that you did. My suggestion: Purge the negative people from your life. You might respond with this: “Did you lose the bet? I graduated!”

We love your relentless drive to go to school and avoid real work.

What work can you do with a degree in … (fill in the blank, often in the arts and humanities)?


I like injecting some levity into graduations. Plenty of questions about jobs and money are inevitable and often without answers so instead, have a good time.

People are very, very proud of you. This may be a perfect time to ask for money.

You did it and it’s about time.

While away at school, we turned your room into a special place we don’t want you moving back in.


Graduation is a time for family to be family. It’s a time for absolute love between family members and to show it. Generations will respond differently as they should — a few decades ago, finishing high school was an accomplishment and now college is part of a new dream. Celebrate collectively as a group — especially as a family.

You may be finished with school but you’re are not finished being our son/daughter. We will always be family.

Yes, you worked hard for just a piece of paper? Guess what, now you have that piece of paper.

Welcome to the real work — now find a career you love, make a good living with good acts, and start thinking about grandchildren.


Finally, congratulations to graduates and their families and community. This means a lot to a Valley we all call home. With each graduate, we all benefit from a rising tide.

A diploma grants you a chance to prove yourself.

Good luck — you’ve just graduated to more responsibility and we are all grateful.

Now that you’re graduated, the important thing is never stop questioning or learning.

Award-winning author and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto of Del Rey writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. masmasumoto@gmail.com