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Graduation etiquette

Simple thank-you notes a must after receiving gifts

Hey, recent high school and college grads – here's a quick flash forward.

It's Thanksgiving Day, you've just sat down to dinner, and Aunt Jane picks this particular time to inform your entire family that she still hasn't gotten a thank-you note for the gift she gave you at the post-platform party.

Yes, that really can happen to you.

So, here's some pointers to help you express your gratitude.

A text message will not do. Unless a close friend your own age bought the gift with only his or her own money, “dude txs” or a post on Facebook does not obviate the need for a note, preferably handwritten on paper. To do otherwise is “impersonal,” says Shameron Bostic of Fort Wayne, owner of Social Amity & Civility Protocol (, an etiquette instruction service. “Nothing conveys emotion like a note,” she says. “It's just showing higher esteem and a more gracious way of presenting gratitude.”

It does not take too long.A good thank-you note is brief, says Karen Hickman of Fort Wayne, a certified etiquette and protocol consultant and founder of Professional Courtesy LLC. Three sentences will do, she says, and with a bit of forethought, it should take no more than five minutes to write. However, Bostic notes, “It speaks volumes because of the time it took for you to write it.”

Yes, you do know what to say. Here's Hickman's formula. Sentence No. 1 expresses thanks for the giver's having shared (if present) or thought of you (if not present) on your special day. Sentence No. 2 tells of your delight in or appreciation for the specifically named gift and specifically how delightful or useful it is. Sentence No. 3 reinforces your affection for the giver and promises a continued relationship, perhaps with an email address or phone number.

You're not in this alone. Stumped for words? Whip out that smartphone and check, where the people who make thank-you cards advise what to say inside them, and, which has a form. You just fill in the blanks.

You don't need fancy stationery. Check out for free printable thank you cards. Also, your parents will likely have note cards with envelopes, snail mail addresses and stamps at the ready. A thank you “doesn't have to be engraved,” Hickman says. But ripped-out notebook paper is kinda lame.

Do it now. Two to three weeks is an acceptable time frame to send a note, Hickman says, but “the sooner the better.” And while you're at it, you might want to write a couple more thank-yous – to favorite or influential teachers, coaches, mentors or counselors, Bostic says. Nobody walks without someone who guided their steps.