Jos-Tens of Thousands of Dollars.

I graduated high school approximately 127 years ago so I have only faint memories of the process leading up through senior year to graduation. I never really expected to have to think about it again – including how to navigate through it – because I don’t have children. I do, of course, have my step-daughter, Vee, and I have recently been thrown in the very expensive deep- end of what happens when you’re a parent during a child’s senior year.

I was expecting certain things – a certain process of events and requirements – dimly remembered from my own youth, but one thing caught me by surprise, something that would probably cause my parents to laugh sardonically if they were still alive – the sheer amount of work and money it all takes!

I was actually prepared for the whole college-application process. She and I have been planning her escape, >ahem<, future for the last few years, discussing what she might want to do with her life, debating colleges, and assessing what her grades (and, therefore, chances) were for getting into a school she liked.

She decided on Western Washington University, after a two-night Invitational this summer. Since I was aware that one doesn’t always get into the college of one’s choice, I encouraged her to apply to a few others in our state, but I hoped that she would get into Western as it seemed like the perfect choice.

We then entered into the purgatory that is application process. For her essay, she sent me a rough outline of what she wanted to convey, I shaped it up a little and sent it back, she criticized some of my word choices as either out-of-date, out-of-touch, or just plain non-PC, and sent it back. I corrected it and edited it down, we created a few different versions for each school she wanted, and she began to apply.

The applications are all on-line now, which makes things easier, but there is, of course, a fee for each application you send in. At $50-$100, depending on the school, that can add up quickly. There is also a fee for each copy of your SAT scores that you include in the application. I ended up handing over my credit card number with a sigh, although I did limit her to four schools/application fees.

What really blew me away was the whole high school graduation process. She texted me in a panic, having just received a form through the school for Jostens – the company that has a mafia lock-down on graduation apparel and paraphernalia. The form was nigh-undecipherable in its many choices, packages, requirements, and costs and she had rapidly lost patience.

Her school was having an evening meeting in a few days for parents of graduates to ask questions and get it all done, but her family doesn’t have much money, and her mother doesn’t do well in groups, nor does she have much patience with some American customs. Vee was clearly anticipating a truly uncomfortable evening.

I told her to give me an hour to see if I could go on-line myself and sort it out. Imagine my surprise when I saw the consumer circus that is the Jostens website! She didn’t really need announcements, but we did have to order the required cap, gown, and tassel in her school colors, so I looked among the many choices of “Grad Package” offered – trying to make sense of it all.

In addition to the many choices of announcements – advertised by photos of clean-cut, toothily-smiling, (fake?) teenagers – one could also get, emblazoned with the graduate’s name: name cards, t-shirts, jewelry, towels, picture frames, tableware, glassware, blankets, scarves, posters, and – possibly – underwear, cookie sheets, and handbags. And all of these things cost money – a lot of money.

Now, if she had wanted some of these fancy things, I would have made sure she got some of them, but thankfully, she’s not prone to consumerism, nostalgia, or – really – school spirit. She would probably prefer to forget she ever attended high school once she graduates. Even the basic package I finally found that included only a cap and gown (which she can’t even keep!), tassel, and two t-shirts (which they made me get) cost well over a hundred dollars!

I would have preferred not spending so much but they won’t let her graduate without – at least – the minimum cap and gown though, so I had no choice. My well-used credit card made another appearance. Curse you Jostens, and your fiscal stranglehold on our children!

You parents who have already gone through this are probably laughing in your coffee at my naivete and outrage: I’m aware that raising children is incredibly expensive and that I’m getting off lightly. It’s just a shock to a system that is unused to these requirements. In addition, we just found out that she got into Western, which I’m very proud about, but we’re starting to talk about costs, loans and financial aid, and I have a feeling that the whole offspring-costing-parents- money thing just got real. I might need to expand my credit limit.