Parents' Survival Guide For College Graduation Week in Boston

You don't have to pay any more tuition. Congrats! Here's where to toast your grad.

As the oldest and most prodigious college in the country, Harvard University sets the bar for excellence—not a surprise to anyone with a pulse. This year (2016) marks the 365th Harvard Commencement, and the announcement for the 2016 commencement speaker is, as we would expect, sheer genius.

Over at MIT, actor and filmmaker Matt Damon will be addressing the graduating masses. 

It's true: friends and family are in town to learn what wisdom Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Damon and other keynote speakers can impart, but for everyone who's celebrating there’s more to the weekend than the ceremony alone.

How do you entertain approximately 62,000 graduating college students and their entourages? 

We’ve prepared a graduation guide to help you get the most out of this potentially last parental voyage to Boston that is sure to pass by in a blur. Skip ahead to your kid's university for suggestions on where to snag a last-minute gift, where to toast recent accomplishments and things to do when you've got a few hours of downtime.


Boston College

Commencement: May 23 at 10 am. Alumni Stadium, 2601 Beacon St., Chestnut Hill, MA

Where parents can take their grad to celebrate: To have a special occasion meal near campus, The Capital Grille in all its mahogany glory is the perfect spot for a new BC alum and family that wants familiarity, class and a good bottle of wine. Or you can head back downtown and go to the Chart House, where the gorgeous harborfront views match the classic New England-style seafood meals. Here, history majors can appreciate dining in Long Wharf’s oldest surviving structure, also the former counting house of John Hancock. 

Where to have a post-dinner toast (and then make a quick exit): The scene at Cleveland Circle's indestructible Mary Ann’s will assuredly get lively. Beer soaked floor considered, this is the definition of a dive bar. 

Good place for a last-minute gift: The quintessential preppy girl will be delighted with a gift from Kate Spade. For him, Vineyard Vines features ties and totes with a Boston College logo.

Activities along the way: Stroll through campus and notice the upper classmen recovering from Senior Week in front of the Mods. Then make sure not to miss the McMullen Museum of Art and its current exhibit “The Arts and Crafts Movement: Making it Irish.”

Harry Clarke's "The Baptism of St. Patrick" is on display at Boston College's McMullen Museum


Boston University

Commencement: May 15 at 1 pm. Nickerson Field, 285 Babcock St., Boston, MA

Where parents can take their grad to celebrate: Ken Oringer's Uni, a modern izakaya with global appeal that serves up creative Asian food and inventive sashimi.

Where to have a post-dinner toast (and then make a quick exit): With a nod to a classic British pub including board games galore Cornwall's Pub is a cozy spot to nestle in for a pint. Across the street at The Hawthorne the vibe is decidedly more sophisticated, and precisely-made craft cocktails are the go-to drink.

Good place for a last-minute gift: Quirky travel accessories and other amusements at Brookline Booksmith in Cooldige Corner.

Activities along the way: Since baseball is in season one can catch a Sox game at Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in MLB history.

UNI is a great place for a post-ceremony meal


Emerson College

Commencement: May 8 at 10 am. Agganis Arena, 925 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA

Where parents can take their grad to celebrateThe Beehive in the South End is just a 15-minute walk from the Theater District and would be appreciated by the creative types that attend this school for its live music and Bohemian airs. Plus, the champagne list is ranked as one of the best in the city. For something a little more refined, Grill 23 & Bar knows how to cook a steak to perfection. 

Where to have a post-dinner toast (and then make a quick exit)JM Curley's for its you've-gotta-be-hip-to-hang vibe and great drinks. 

Good place for a last-minute gift: Since there's a good chance your Emerson grad is a writer of some sort, grab a gift at longtime local pen boutique Bromfield Pen Shop. There's the numbered-edition, soccer-inspired Retro51 Breakaway Tornado Popper among other styles from some 40 different brands.

Activities along the way: You are in the Theater District after all, so take in a show. The Citi Performing Arts Center features a number of touring productions in early May, as does ArtsEmerson. And, there's always the local standby Blue Man Group. Fans of comedy, can catch a set at Nick's Comedy Stop or the Wilbur Theater


Harvard University

Commencement: May 26. Morning Exercises at Tercentenary Theater in Harvard Yard. Alumni Luncheon and Commencement Speech in Old Yard. Cambridge, MA

Where parents can take their grad to celebrate: There is a triumverate of fine dining options in Harvard Square. Harvest focuses on regional American fare and has for the last 40 years. Ambiance puts a casual spin on sophistication. Newcomer Parsnip plates refined modern continental cuisine featuring local ingredients, plus the quiet, upper level bar is a nice place to grab a pre-meal celebratory cocktail. 

Where to have a post-dinner toast (and then make a quick exit): Students who belong to a Final Club like the Porcellian (notable alumni: Teddy Roosevelt) or Spee (notable alumni: JFK) typically celebrate within their respective buildings. But everyone else in the Harvard student body will likely rendezvous at the popular campus-based Cambridge Queen’s Head. Off-campus, Grendel's Den gets a lot of play for its above-and-beyond beer list.

Good place for a last-minute giftThe Coop (that's "coop" not "co-op") sells any item imaginable tagged with a Harvard's iconic “Veritas” logo. The Harvard Chair can be engraved with any of the university's school or house seals and the graduate’s name.

Activities along the way: Grads and their families don't even need to leave campus to check out many must-see attractions, including four museums within Harvard Museums of Science & Culture and also Harvard Art Museums. Set foot slightly further afield into Harvard Square for boutique shopping, Harvard memoribilia, book stores, and loads of restaurants.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Commencement: June 3 at 10 am. Killian Court, 222 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA

Where parents can take their grad to celebrate: If ever there was a great reason to spend a chunk of change on one meal, graduating from MIT is it. Adventurous eaters love Craigie on Main, which features six- and eight-course seasonal tasting menus that highlight the best of Chef Tony Maws' extraordinary talent. In Kendall Square, Catalyst sparks appetites with hyper-sustainable meats and vegetables.

Where to have a post-dinner toast (and then make a quick exit): The Muddy Charles Pub, a legendary MIT hangout since 1968.

Good place for a last-minute gift: MIT students have spent so much time in the lab, a gift should inspire less serious notions. Xylem plays off the science mindset and has a great stash of accessories, jewelry, gadgets and games. What grad doesn't need a Pizza Pi Cutter for their new apartment?

Activities along the way: MIT also has an artistic side. Beginning with a major commission in 1961, the school’s campus has become a hotbed of creative public art in all media by major artists like Sol LeWitt, Pablo Picasso, Sarah Sze and Frank Stella. The university is also known for its architecture; take, for example, the Frank Gehry designed Stata Center. 

Jaume Plensa's "Alchemist" on campus at MIT


Northeastern University

Commencement: May 6 at 10:30 am. TD Garden, 100 Legends Way, Boston, MA

Where parents can take their grad to celebrate: There's not much in the way of fancy restaurants near Northeastern's campus, hit the Back Bay for a celebratory meal. Make a reservation at Top of the Hub for unparalleled views of New England and tasty food from the kitchen's new chef.

Where to have a post-dinner toast (and then make a quick exit): Conor Larkins Irish pub is a favorite drinking spot for Northeastern students (hey, inexpensive beers) as is Punters Pub although the latter presents as a frayed-around-the-edges dive bar.

Good place for a last-minute gift: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's Gift at the Gardner gift boutique features all styles of worldly art and travel-inspired trinkets that conjure notions of moving onward. 

Activities along the way: The aforementioned Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum boasts salon-style galleries filled with Gardner's personal art collection. A few hundred yards down Huntington Avenue, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston puts some of its 450,000 pieces of art on display in cavernous galleries and mounts masterful special exhibitions. 


Suffolk University

Commencement: May 22 at 9 am or 1 pm. Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, 290 Northern Ave., Boston, MA

Where parents can take their grad to celebrate: For Italian food served in a lovely sub-street level spot head for Grotto. For something more unusual by Boston standards but no less delicious, Lala Rokh serves Persian cuisine from family recipes in a beautiful, contemporary dining room.

Where to have a post-dinner toast (and then make a quick exit): The Red Hat (or Le Chapeau Rouge, as locals lovingly call this dive) has been a favorite watering hole since the Prohibition era, when it was a true speakeasy in Boston's questionable Scollay Square neighborhood. You can order vodka sodas by the pitcher.

Good place for a last-minute gift: Newbie Juris Doctor degree holders might really appreciate being the adoptive parent of one of Boston's historical artifacts (say like Elizabeth Bull Price's mourning earrings or an 18th-century embroidered map of Boston), on display at the Old State House but in dire need of preservation. 

Activities along the way: Suffolk's campus is squeezed between Beacon Hill, Downtown and the West End, and many of Boston's municipal processes happen in this 'hood. Take a free guided tour at the Massachusetts State House (yep, the gold-domed one) designed by Charles Bulfinch, and then tour the Harrison Gray Otis House, a Bulfinch-designed mansion that's now a museum. Also along the way are a few Freedom Trail sites including Granary Burying Ground, Park Street Church and King's Chapel.

Massachusetts State House overlooks Boston Common


Tufts University

Commencement: May 22 at 9 am. The Green, 2 The Green, Medford, MA

Where parents can take their grad to celebrate: Chef-owner Ana Sortun's Sarma might be one of the Hub's best restaurants for seasonal Mediterrean food, here with a Turkish bent; menu is meze plates, and vibe is sophisti-casual and eclectic. Or, check out the wood-fired global cuisine inspired by East Somerville's communities of Mexican, Peruvian and Middle Eastern descent at La Brasa; start with the bread basket (no, really) and just keep going.

Where to have a post-dinner toast (and then make a quick exit): The Burren. Irish pub vibe, plus live music, plus beer means loud, late into the night. But we love it.

Good place for a last-minute gift: There's really no limit to the well-curated gift selection at Magpie, but your grad might like a cut-paper printed map of his old college stomping grounds.

Activities along the way: Tufts' campus is within walking distance of Davis Square, Somerville's hotbed of dining and entertainment. You can catch a live performance or film at Somerville Theater. The school is also not far the Old Powder House in Powder House Square, an historical site of Revolutionary significance.

Sarma makes for a convivial meal  

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Moran

Leigh Harrington
About the author

Leigh formerly served as the Boston editor for Where and was the br...