Blogger Spotlight
Share this article:
12 Comments | Comment

How to Create a Thoughtful Graduation Gift Basket

After the winter that never seemed to end, May is finally here! And that means graduation season is knocking on our door, my friends. It’s time to start thinking about the perfect gift for that grad you know, and I’m sorry to tell you, someone else has already gotten him or her a copy of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not the most inspired gift-giver, which is why I’m such a fan of the gift basket. You know that saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”? That’s exactly what a thoughtfully curated gift basket offers. Today, I’ll be talking about putting together the perfect gift basket to help high school and college grads start the next chapter of their lives on the right foot.

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-HS grad basket-448x300

For High School Grads: A College Dorm Survival Basket

Even if we parents and grandparents aren’t always the most savvy about the latest tech gadgets and current fads, the upper hand that we have when putting together these kinds of gift baskets is that we’ve likely lived in college dorms and on our own and therefore know the little things that our grads will need as they strike out on their own for the first time — the stuff they tend not to think about.

For a high school grad headed off to college, a dorm survival basket is an ideal gift. Start with a sturdy laundry basket or plastic storage tote as your “basket”: something durable and functional that will hold up over the next four years so hopefully your grad won’t have to replace it! (If you have a Cricut or Silhouette cutting machine, you can gussy up the container with a vinyl monogram.)

Now, fill your basket with the basics your grad will need in the dorms:

  • Laundry supplies (detergent, fabric softeners, stain remover, rolls of quarters)
  • An electric kettle, a mug or two (including a travel mug to take to early morning classes), hot chocolate mix, instant coffee, powdered creamers and packets of sweetener
  • Batteries, flash drives and extra phone chargers/USB cables (If you’re the crafty sort and have a sewing machine, make this super-cute fabric phone charging station!)
  • 3M Command hooks, plastic hangers, closet organizers
  • School supplies — remember, they’re still students! (notebooks, pencils, pens, lots of highlighters, index cards, a great planner)
  • Shelf-stable snacks — consider a mix of treats and healthier snacks to help ward off the “freshman 15” (baked chips, pretzels, trail mix, microwave popcorn, granola)
  • Flip-flops and a robe or towel wrap
  • First aid supplies (Band-Aids, pain reliever, antibiotic ointment, cough drops)

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-college grad basket full-448x300

For College Grads: A New Hostess Basket

For a college grad, it’s all about being a real adult (whatever that means to a 21-year-old!). I remember when I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment, I couldn’t wait to host dinner for my family in my new place … until I realized that I didn’t have enough dishes and utensils. We went out to dinner instead!

The trick to putting together a first-time hostess gift basket for a college grad is to stick with things that are pretty AND practical, but also a bit generic. She’s probably still figuring out her personal style, so you’ll want to give her things that fit with a range of looks. Pick dishes, drinkware, servingware and décor elements that will serve as the foundation of her entertaining trousseau.

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-college grad basket tight-448x300

The pineapple is the symbol of hospitality, so I put together a pineapple-themed gift basket with treasures I found at my favorite Tuesday Morning. Not only would this make a great gift for a college grad, but it would be perfect anytime as a housewarming or wedding gift as well.

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-college grad basket side view-448x300

And I’ve got a great tutorial for you today, too! I personalized part of this gift basket with glass etching. I’ll show you just how easy it is to create a one-of-a-kind gift with a few supplies from the craft store — no fancy machines required!

I started with a pretty straw basket ($12.99, compare at $36) that a college grad can reuse to organize her new space in style, and I filled it with a selection of things a new hostess would need:

  • A set of stylish kitchen towels ($5.99, compare at $11.99). (Consider monogramming them!)
  • A quality bamboo cutting board ($11.99, compare at $24) that’s as lovely as it is functional; a board like this can do double-duty as a cheese platter during parties.
  • Pineapple-topped drink stirrers ($5.99, compare at $15.99), because it’s time to say good-bye to anything you might drink from a red Solo cup.

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-stirrers-448x600

  • A set of three glass pitchers ($9.99, compare at $19.99). See my tutorial below for a step-by-step guide to personalizing glass pitchers with etching cream.
  • A set of three Rachael Ray stoneware baking dishes ($29.99, compare at $49.99) that go from oven to table in style. These baking dishes are perfect for hot dips and appetizers!
  • A jar of gourmet pineapple dip ($5.99, compare at $9.99) that a hostess can serve alongside a nice Brie or goat cheese on the bamboo cutting board.

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-pineapple dip-448x300

  • A silver 5×7 frame ($5.99, compare at $19.99) that she can use to display a graduation picture. (Here’s a tip: Instead of giving a blank picture frame, find a free subway art printable to put in it. Find the subway art I used here.)

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-framed art-448x600

Personalizing Glassware With Etching Cream

It’s so easy to personalize glassware with etching cream that you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried it before! If you are a potluck person, use etching cream to monogram your Pyrex casserole dishes; make a set of wineglasses stand out with a funny saying; add some personality to a plain vase … the possibilities are endless!

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-finished etching-448x300

For this tutorial, I’m embellishing my glass pitchers from Tuesday Morning with a pineapple motif. Here’s what you’ll need for your project:

  • The glassware you want to embellish
  • A stencil* (See note below)
  • Etching cream*
  • A cheap paintbrush* (I like the foam kind)
  • Gloves
  • Painter’s or masking tape; stencil adhesive

*Available online or at your local craft store.

About your stencil: You can find lots of stencils online or at your local craft store, or you can make your own if you have a Cricut or Silhouette and vinyl. For this tutorial, I created my own stencil with my Silhouette. I found the perfect cut file from the DecalDreams shop on Etsy.

Step 1

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-tutorial 1-448x600

Prep the surface of the glassware by washing and drying it thoroughly. Apply your stencil, carefully masking the area around the edge of the stencil with painter’s tape or masking tape.

  • If you’ve purchased a plastic stencil from the craft store, you may want to use a stencil adhesive spray to secure your stencil.
  • Make sure the cut edges of the stencil are firmly adhered to the surface of the glass, otherwise the etching cream can seep underneath the cut edges and your design won’t have clean, crisp lines.
  • Use transfer tape to apply vinyl stencils smoothly and evenly, and firmly rub the vinyl to remove any air bubbles.
Step 2

042715-Dineen-Grad gifts-tutorial 2-448x300

Apply a thick, even coat of etching cream to the stencil.

  • Wear your gloves at all times — etching cream can cause serious burns! It’s strong enough to erode the surface of the glass, after all.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions for your etching cream to determine how long to leave the cream on the glass. Most etching creams must set for 1-5 minutes.
Step 3


Thoroughly wash the etching cream off the glass under running water. Carefully remove your stencil. Wash your glassware again with warm, soapy water. Dry it off, and admire your handiwork!


Etched glass gifts aren’t just for the gals, either. Get your favorite guy grad ready to stock his bar with a set of pint glasses or Old Fashioned whiskey tumblers etched with his initials using the same easy process as above. Add some basic barware, a bartending guide and even a beer-of-the-month club subscription to a leather storage box for a handsome gift basket!

I hope you’ve found some inspiration for graduation gifts with a personal touch! I’ve gathered more great grad gift basket ideas on our Gifts for Everyone! board on Pinterest. And don’t forget to thank the teachers that helped your graduate along the way. Check out our Gifts That Say Thanks pinboard for teacher appreciation gift ideas.