Graduation. As culturally mandated gift-giving occasions go, it's one of the biggies. Like a wedding, it's (theoretically) a once-in-a-lifetime event, but unlike brides, most exam-exhausted students don't itemize their material desires into a handy spreadsheet downloadable at the nearest Pottery Barn. Making matters worse, the old standbys -- fancy pens, solid ties -- are pretty lame. So how to reward a new diploma owner? Check out these alternatives:
Gear. Remember, you're not going to buy that pen -- because why describe the sunset when you can just as easily send a color photo? A Sony Ericsson 1616 camera phone ($99 at www.bestbuy.com) will let grads send pictures until the cows -- or, more likely, the wireless bills -- come home. Want to help them keep up with their panoply of new responsibilities, too? Upgrade to a PalmOne Treo 600 (on sale at Best Buy; $399 with a two-year commitment), which packs a camera, organizer, MP3 player and phone in one. Apple iPods are swell, too, but headphones are antisocial. Help win friends and influence people with an Altec Lansing InMotion docking station ($149) that will let grads trumpet the contents of their iPods for the world to enjoy.
Threads. Whether they're hitting a new campus or the pavement in search of a "real" job, now's as good a time as any for freshly minted alumnae to spruce up their image. Make it as painless as possible with a few uber-trendy polo shirts ($49 to $69) from Commander Salamander (1420 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-337-2265). Penguins and Ben Shermans are popular, says Assistant Manager Trisha Freitag, as gift-givers "try to turn their young men into professionals." And for the graduate who's shown more interest in who's running the World Bank than what they're wearing on "The OC," nothing says "smash the bourgeois state" like a shoulder bag emblazoned with the image of socialist icon Che Guevara ($46).
Wheels. Remember the "freshman 15"? New college students are about to be served up troughs of starch by their dorm cafeterias, and departing college seniors are still probably feeling the gut-busting effects of keg parties and all-you-can-eat pasta. Give them an incentive to burn carbs with a shiny new bike from Revolution Cycles (2731 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-312-0007; 3411 M St. NW, 202 965-3601). Giant's main hybrid line, Cypress, includes a range of bicycles, from the baseline model ($289) to the ultra-light "SL" ($859). Not grandiose enough? Head to Alexandria Scion (3750 Jefferson Davis Hwy., 703-684-0700) and take a look at the new Scion XB, a boxy beauty of a car specifically targeted -- with slick ads and a price tag of $16,000 for a nicely equipped model -- at the under-25 set.