June 12, 2013 12:52 PM   Subscribe

My nephew is graduating high school and is headed to Washington DC for college! What would be a unique and useful gift to give him?

I can afford to drop about $50 on this - I remember when I moved away to go to college, I didn't want much because I wasn't moving too far from home (and could easily go back to get what I needed), but he'll be far away from family.

He wants to get into politics someday (and I believe is pursuing a PolySci degree initially) - a course I claim to have partially influenced through some strategically-purchased Christmas gifts/books. But I've only been to DC twice and don't know what a hip uncle would give him that will be a memorable and useful gift!
posted by antonymous to Shopping (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by zizzle at 12:58 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Smartrip card for the metro.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:01 PM on June 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

Probably the most practical and still useful graduation gift I received was a tool box from my dad. He got a smattering of high quality tools (a wrench, some assorted pliers, a hammer, some assorted screw drivers) and some odds and ends (box cutter, teflon tape, electrical tape, small assortment of screws, nails, and hangers) and managed to fill up a small tool box with just about everything a person could need.

I was the one in college people came to when they broke shit. I was the one who was able to hang everyone's stuff when I moved into my first apartment. I was the one who had nice tools instead of going out and buying the World's Shittiest Hammer when the need arose. I graduated from high school 9 years ago and those tools still get used every few days.
posted by phunniemee at 1:02 PM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think a nice card/book/journal would be nice, then drop the rest into a giftcard for the local bookstore for college books and supplies.

College textbooks and supplies are crazy expensive and I would have loved to get bookstore giftcards to help pay for supplies when I first went to college. (Or if any online book rental places offer gift cards or credits too.)

You can treat them to more gifts later for birthdays/holidays.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:03 PM on June 12, 2013

Seconding a SmarTrip card. Add this Metro map if you want something more permanent.
posted by 0 at 1:05 PM on June 12, 2013

Thirding a SmarTrip card.
posted by jabes at 1:07 PM on June 12, 2013

Can't go wrong with stuff from Levenger. Always classy, and he will probably keep it forever. This is within your price range, and I think would be very useful for a student. Might become a cherished possession always in his coat pocket once he graduates to a suit-and-tie politics job. You can have his initials embossed on it for a few bucks more.
posted by jbickers at 1:10 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

He is perfectly capable of buying a smarttrip card by himself and will inevitably do so when he arrives in DC.

Standard "going to college" gifts are electric tea kettles.

There are some private museums in DC that you have to pay for. How about then give him a membership to one of those, like the Corcoran Gallery of Art?
posted by deanc at 1:13 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding tool box. I received a cheap one as a graduation gift, and I thought it was unique and interesting. Over a decade later I still have and use it - it turns out some people can get by for years on cheap tools.
posted by Tehhund at 1:16 PM on June 12, 2013

I recently gave a high school grad the book on Nonviolent Communication. It provides algorithms for having effective conversation. It went over well and is a book I would have found useful right after high school. I imagine it would be particularly useful for someone interested in PolySci.
posted by aniola at 1:17 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first thought was Metro card. Then cash.

You have enough to worry about schlepping stuff to and from college. As a friend of mine says, "cash is easy to transport."

A series of gift cards to places to eat or buy useful things. Hell, is there a Dominoes gift card?

I know you want to send an important and earnest gift, such as a gold or silver Cross pen and pencil set. How useful did YOU find that gift? (I got 3 of them!)

A one-cup coffee maker might be nice. I've had a similar one for about 20 years now!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:17 PM on June 12, 2013

Nthing a metrocard, or something cool from Brookstone that he wouldn't ordinarily buy for himself
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:20 PM on June 12, 2013

Sure he could buy a SmarTrip himself, but the advantage of getting one as a gift is that the giver can pre-load it with more money than the gift recipient might have. The $300 SmarTrip card I got from my old DC roommate when he moved out was one of the best gifts I ever got in the city, let me tell you.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:21 PM on June 12, 2013

You don't want a bunch of stuff when you get to college. Nice pen is nice, but people take pens, you lose 'em, stuff like that. Same thing for notebooks and other stuff like that.

Gift cards are nice as long as you get them to places they'll use. For college kids it's great because you can't feel bad for using it since that's all you can use it for. Cash sometimes brings out the "I'm wasting this money" thoughts.

Who cares if he can/will get the metro card himself? If you get it then it's one thing he doesn't have to do when he gets there.

Museum membership is good in that it doesn't take up space. But it's almost impossible to know how much time he'll have to use it. I'd save that for later, when he knows the college routine better.

Honestly, I'd go for tools for gift card of some sort. Friends are made really quick based on who has something you don't that you need right then. Cash is always good too, and college kids don't mind the impersonal part of it.

I highly recommend not getting him stuff with the school's logo on it. He'll get enough of that during his time there.
posted by theichibun at 1:31 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

What do all college students want besides free beer? Free food. I would get him some gift cards to use at local student restaurants for when the dining hall just won't cut it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:33 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing a smart trip card.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 1:33 PM on June 12, 2013

I wouldn't bother with the Corcoran membership (setting aside how I feel about that museum in general) - there are so many free museums for him to explore in his spare time in the area. A SmartTrip card with fifty bucks on it would be practical, easy to take with him, and save him some time during what will be a busy adjusting to a new city process.
posted by PussKillian at 1:34 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely Smart Trip card - DC Metro is so expensive. I'm sure it would be appreciated by a broke college student.
posted by sweetkid at 1:36 PM on June 12, 2013

Yes, cash or a travelcard. When people gave me $_STUFF as a graduation/college present, it got left at my mom's house with the rest of the stuff that I didn't really need/want.
posted by elizardbits at 1:37 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

A flask. Engraved, if you can.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:37 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a formerly broke college-age DCite, nthing the SmartTrip card. A guide book to his new hometown could also be a nice thing to help him get settled in his new home.
posted by goggie at 1:39 PM on June 12, 2013

Kramerbooks is a pretty great DC bookstore and it's somewhat close to the major DC universities.
posted by troika at 1:40 PM on June 12, 2013

SmarTrip card would be great, useful, thoughtful and local. Do it!
posted by nkknkk at 1:41 PM on June 12, 2013

Politics & Prose is probably more interesting for a polisci student, though.
posted by troika at 1:42 PM on June 12, 2013

Best answer: A Capital Bikeshare membership, is $75/year, which is a little out of your price range, but if he's not planning on getting a bike once he arrives he'd definitely use it.
posted by troika at 1:48 PM on June 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

SmarTrip card and a cool guide to DC, especially one that emphasizes the awesome free and cheap activities in the area.

You could also give him a restaurant gift certificate, if he does enjoy food-- that's enough for a dinner for one at some of the nicer places near GW and some near Georgetown, or lunch for two. I don't know the Brookland dining scene that well, but I imagine it's enough for a decent dinner near CUA as well. If he were older I would say a gift certificate to that bar on top of the W, but it's more fun with drinks.

Politics and Prose is an amazing bookstore, but it's kind of a trek if you don't have a car and are new to the city. KramerBooks is closer and $50 would cover a book or two and dessert at the cafe.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:53 PM on June 12, 2013

Troika nailed it, I think. Capital Bikeshare is a great way to go.

Honestly, getting him a SmarTrip card seems silly. It's not as though he won't get one (for $5) the day he arrives, anyhow.

Troika (again) mentioned P&P. If you go that route, buy him a yearly membership to the bookstore rather than a gift card. Members get great discounts, and more importantly, advance notice of book signings and other events--including the opportunity to pre-register. My membership has secured me a seat at some incredible book talks.
posted by duffell at 1:59 PM on June 12, 2013

Definitely SmarTrip or Bikeshare if you want a DC-centric gift.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:59 PM on June 12, 2013

Best answer: The best high school graduation gift I got (which I still have and use) was a canvas laundry duffel bag with my initials embroidered on it. The most flexible, useful item for someone heading into their 20s. Not just for laundry.
posted by Sreiny at 2:04 PM on June 12, 2013

Seconding Swiss Army knife, with lots of tools
posted by jennstra at 2:20 PM on June 12, 2013

This is highly impractical but if he's headed to DC and thinking of going into politics, I'd drop $16 on the 20 Years of Dischord box set, which should give him some insight into one side of DC culture and politics.
posted by googly at 3:03 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Great ideas, y'all! I didn't mention this in the original question, but lack of planning on my part means that I couldn't get a SmarTrip card by this weekend - I kinda figured the college might offer student deals and that he'd get one himself anyway. I already got him the Not For Tourists Guide for DC. I'll probably ask his parents if he'd make use of a Bikeshare membership, and if not, slip him some cash wrapped in a canvas laundry bag.

Not sure a Dischord box set is in his wheelhouse, but I might slip in a Fugazi CD just to show I care. Keep the ideas coming, please!
posted by antonymous at 3:11 PM on June 12, 2013

After college, my daughter's job took her to another city. I gave her a book on how to fix everything since she would no longer have dad handy. She has since moved back to town and installed a new ceiling light in the kitchen for me. Bread cast on the waters...
posted by Cranberry at 3:25 PM on June 12, 2013

I'm just gonna point this out - if your nephew is going to Georgetown he's not going to be using the Metro all that much.
posted by JPD at 4:38 PM on June 12, 2013

I'm just gonna point this out - if your nephew is going to Georgetown he's not going to be using the Metro all that much.

I went to Georgetown, and used the Metro quite a bit - especially Metrobus.
posted by candyland at 6:24 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

A nice bike lock if he won't be using the train. It's easier to skimp on a lock than on a bike.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:58 PM on June 12, 2013

Not sure a Dischord box set is in his wheelhouse, but I might slip in a Fugazi CD just to show I care. Keep the ideas coming, please!

Fugazi? Yea you've already nailed it.
posted by sweetkid at 9:17 PM on June 12, 2013

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