From class rings to crass things

Sometime in the last few decades, savvy business minds realized the monetary potential of aggressively marketing the high-school graduation milestone.

Imagine a champion athlete from the ancient Olympics, crowned with a simple olive wreath, suddenly transported onto the podium in our modern games. He'd be amazed by the choreographed medal ceremony, TV interviews, product endorsement deals, and all the other commercial and media pageantry of the event.

I experienced a similar emotional jolt recently when my daughter brought home the official school-approved catalogue and promotional pamphlets offering a cornucopia of graduation gifts for the senior class of 2007.

Much has changed since the time, many Olympiads ago, when my own high school commencement was approaching, Somewhere during the intervening decades, savvy business minds realized that massive monetary benefits could be generated by aggressively marketing this milestone.

In addition to the venerable class ring, today's 12th-graders can augment their collection of keepsakes with an assortment of nifty items including the status necklace, pearl bracelet, or iced dog tag (each one is $23.95). And don't overlook the pewter picture album ($20.95), sports shorts ($16.95), expandable memory book ($29.95) or parent appreciation plaque ($24.95).

I'm tempted to build my own version of this bandwagon and roll over the competition. How can I go wrong? The education system produces an endless supply of customers, and America's enthusiasm for red-carpet events such as the Oscars, Grammys, and Golden Globes is undeniable evidence that honoring ourselves is one of the few guaranteed growth industries of the 21st century.

Here are some sample products I envision for the JS Fab-Grad Catalogue that will turn Memory Lane into a spectacular superhighway:

• The Don't-Hold-Back Package includes souvenir tassel, invitations, and all the usual knickknacks PLUS life-size plush replica of the school mascot, parchment diploma illuminated in gold leaf using techniques developed by 13th-century European monks, and complete video recording of the graduation party narrated by George Clooney.

• The You-Won't-Believe-This Package includes everything listed in the previous package AND signed letters of congratulation from all current members of the US Congress, flyover of your commencement ceremony by the famous Blue Angels aerial team, and the voice of Justin Timberlake on your home phone answering machine.

• The Top-This-If-You-Can Package has all items listed so far with the addition of your yearbook photo and handwriting samples sealed in titanium capsule for launch into space on the next scheduled shuttle mission, special limited-edition Harley-Davidson motorcycle painted in school colors, and private postgraduation reception catered by Wolfgang Puck.

If you think this all seems a little crazy, be aware that I'm basing my ideas on an actual sentence printed in the catalogue my daughter brought home: "It's time to embrace your inner gradumaniac." If you do, I'd suggest being careful not to squeeze too hard. And make sure to leave one hand free so you can sign the check.

Jeffrey Shaffer writes about media, American culture, and personal history.

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