Graduation parties are not only a celebration of finishing high school. They are also a tremendous marker in the life of a child. Graduation is when most children leave the nest, and this season serves as a reminder of the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
Choosing to host a party to celebrate your graduate is a wonderful way to mark the occasion, and if you haven’t already, I would suggest reading my post The Secret To A Great Graduation Party before reading today’s post. Everything I share today will assume you are on board with the central idea of remembering your why, which is what I discuss in detail in my previous post.
With a strong sense of our why and a clear vision for what we want the party to accomplish, it is time to dig into the logistics and begin to choose all the elements that will help us accomplish our goal for gathering.
Graduation parties are not one-size-fits-all, particularly since we all have different whys informing our choices. But generally speaking, I think most of the ideas I am sharing today can be customized or tweaked to fit your specific party needs.
MAKE THE PROCESS PART OF THE EVENT.
Here’s the deal. You are probably going to be emotional around the time of your child’s graduation party. This is ok! Embrace the tears and let them flow! You are probably going to also want to incorporate some meaningful memorabilia into the party decor somehow (school photos, trophies, awards, etc.). There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but don’t save it for the last minute.
With both of my children, I knew I wanted to incorporate a lot of photographs into their party. When I pulled out their memory boxes and started rummaging through the contents, I was a wreck. I had to walk away. Then I went back the next day and was able to pull everything I wanted to use out of the box before I started crying. I walked away again. I cried every time I touched those photos, and they were good tears, but I am so glad I gave myself plenty of emotional runway to make sure I engaged with every scrap of nostalgia instead of hurrying and slapping photos up on the wall.
The same held true when we were decorating and setting up the week of the party. The process of preparing for the party and getting things ready was as equally as memorable as the party itself, so make sure you allow space to embrace the beauty that can be found while making preparations.
PERSONALIZE IT ALL.
I love a party (graduation or otherwise) that clearly reflects specific aspects of the honoree in a knowing, loving way. For example, at Annie’s party, we included song lyrics on one of her photo walls to a song that she and her dad love. We hung her old toe shoes up with all of her ballet photos. We did an entire spread solely of photos of her and her siblings because she really was the glue that held the four of them together.
For Jake’s party, we dove in hard on the Eagle Scout theme, and made the tables look like campfires. We hung up his childhood art, and the menu included some of his favorite foods such as Voo-Doo chips and Uncrustables. Everything about each of their parties reflected parts of their personality, and that contributed to a sense of uniqueness at every turn.
If you haven’t heard me rant about parties and music, let me get on my soap box. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can kill a party vibe quicker than the wrong music or a lack of music. Conversely, nothing makes a party feel instantly less awkward than a strong playlist playing in the background at a volume that encourages conversation but keeps it from seeming too quiet. You need music at your graduation party, so plan accordingly.
For an added layer of fun, ask your graduate to make the party play list. Tell them to choose songs they like, but to keep it clean. These play lists are not only a fun personal touch to add to the event, but they are a sweet keepsake for you. I love getting in my car and turning on Annie’s graduation play list…it reminds me of her and a really specific season of her life.
You will need to serve food. And drinks. Primarily, the food and drinks need to align with your why, but secondarily they need to be easy. When it comes to drinks, particularly if your gathering is large, self-contained beverages are the way to go. Pitchers of tea with cups and ice and sweeteners and lemon slices gets very involved for large crowds. But bottles of sparkling water and canned drinks make easy work of the beverage situation.
I did a good job at our parties of choosing food that did not require attention from me during the party. Everything could be served at room temperature, and nothing required a fork. I did a terrible job of estimating quantity and had a lot of leftovers. Generally speaking, at a graduation reception, people are just going to nibble. You do not need as much food as you think you need. Definitely go all out and honor the occasion with a lovely spread of delicious food, but if you are expecting 50 people, you don’t need 50 servings of everything. You probably need 25 servings of most things, and maybe 50 servings of one thing. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Also, make sure the desserts are tiny. People are more inclined to take small portions of sweets over large cookies or bars. And unless you specifically told people you were feeding them lunch or dinner, do not fret if you run out of a particular food. It’s all going to be ok.
HAVE FUN WITH THE DETAILS.
Details are one of my favorite parts of any party, and I love coming up with ways to take a theme and run with it. For Annie’s party, our motif was blue and white stripes and mandarin oranges. When I tell you we had oranges all over our house, I am not lying. I think I purchased close to fifty pounds of Cuties and we had them in all sorts of places. You could not look anywhere in our home and not see an orange. My kids still talk about finding oranges everywhere after the party was over.
Likewise, for Jake’s party, I went all-in on the scouting theme and had badges made with his initials on them for everyone to wear at the party. I mentioned above that the tables were decorated to look like campfires (with cheesy but effective cardboard fires in the center), and I printed out enlarged images of the Boy Scout merit badges he earned and hung them on our door. The scouting theme was profound, complete with a giant customized eagle poster hung above our fireplace. The point here is to have fun and let your creativity run wild. This is the time and place for little (or big) nods to your child, and you will both remember these details fondly down the road.
You have a lot of options for when you choose to host your graduation party, and there are perks to all of them. I chose to host our party weeks ahead of the actual graduation ceremony so that we could avoid calendar conflicts and so that we could be available to attend other events for his friends later in the month. Graduation season is a marathon, and while I know people who hosted their graduation party the same weekend as the ceremony, that would not have worked for me or our family. I cannot emphasize enough how emotionally exhausting that weekend will be for you, for your kids, for your graduate. The last week of school is also a doozy, and your calendar will be full. Planning a party in early May ended up being a huge gift, allowing us to celebrate whole-heartedly and then dive into the rest of the month with our eye on the prize and the party behind us.
A FINAL NOTE ABOUT MEMORABILIA.
If you are a parent, but your child is still little, I would highly recommend taking a look at this post where I share how I store childhood memorabilia. Having a system in place when they are little takes a lot of the hard work out of trying to pull together photos for graduation, and this method makes it easy. The last thing you need during graduation season is a massive photo organization project.
I hope you have enjoyed these ideas for hosting a memorable graduation party. Let me know if you end up putting any of them into practice!
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