This week I am publishing two posts about hosting a graduation party. They represent two equally important aspects of celebrating your graduating senior, and I hope they serve you well. To begin, today I want to share what I believe to be the secret to hosting a great graduation party (or any party, for that matter), and it has nothing to do with the menu, the theme, the decor, or the guest list.
In every celebration, it is important to ask yourself one question: Why am I hosting this party?
Most of the time our answer to this question has to do with a sense of “this is just what we do” or “because this is important so we are going to celebrate.” Those answers are fine, but they aren’t the real answer.
Obviously, the reason I hosted a graduation party was to celebrate the fact that my child was graduating. But dig deeper. What can you find underneath the surface? For me, my deeper why was to welcome our entire community of friends and family so that my child could see a visible representation of the the people who love them, know them, and have played a role in different aspects of their life.
In addition to my primary why, I had a secondary why. I wanted to plan a party that would allow me to engage in every second of the event and not miss anything. I recognized this event and this gathering as the once-in-a-lifetime event that it is, and I wanted to hug everyone, look them in they eye, share in conversations, and soak up as much as possible.
Your why does not have to be the same as my why. There is not a wrong why. But the secret to a great graduation party is to clearly determine your why.
Maybe your why is to allow your child to invite all of their friends for one fun night of hanging out and celebrating.
Maybe your why is to gather family members who don’t live close so that you can all be together in a more intimate setting and connect meaningfully with the graduate.
Maybe your why is to mark the occasion with a casual event, and to let it be as relaxed and laid back as possible because this is what your child prefers.
Let me repeat. There are no wrong whys. But your why matters.
Once you determine your why, it will inform every other decision you make. Every detail, every choice, every aspect of your party needs to be chosen in light of your why. As you make plans, ask yourself, “Does this choice align with my why?”
In the same vein, every point of stress (and believe me, there will be several) will be measured against and responded to according to your why. When you encounter stresses, before you get upset ask yourself, “Does this problem impact my why in a meaningful way?” If the answer is yes, then you need to give it your full attention. If it doesn’t, then you can let it go and return to focusing on what really matters to you.
Back to my example above from our graduation party, I remembered my why when choosing a menu, and only chose food that would not require any attention from me once the party began. I remembered my why when forming the guest list, and we invited a lot of people from a lot of different aspects of Jake’s life so that as much of our community could join us. I remembered my why when considering the surrounding events. We chose to host our party early in May, before graduation, so that we did not encounter other events that would vie for our time and attention. Every decision was filtered through my why, and if a choice didn’t align with my why, then I made a different choice.
I also remembered my why when things went wrong. As I watched people not eat all the food I had provided, I remembered my why, which had nothing to do with whether or not people chose to eat. As I watched our drink supply quickly dwindle, realizing we didn’t buy enough soda, I remembered my why which was to enjoy my own event rather than worry or fret or make trips to the store. We had plenty of water, and so if we ran out of Coke, so be it. As I watched the weather report predict torrential downpours (which, thankfully did not materialize), I remembered my why and decided that even if we were all a little damp upon arrival, we would still be able to celebrate well.
My why had nothing to do with food or drinks or rain. It had to do with gathering community for the sake of my child and enjoying it as much as possible. It’s not that the details don’t matter. Hospitality always involves details like food and drink. But hospitality is primarily informed by the heart, and your why always comes from your heart.
In ten years, will I remember that we had tons of leftover food, not enough soda, and were worried about rain? No way! But if I had spent precious time or energy fretting over these things instead of connecting with our guests and enjoying the gathering I created, I would regret that forever.
When I think back on the two graduation parties I have thrown, I remember the people, the swells of emotion I felt, the delight at watching my children engage with the adults that impacted their life, and the beauty of a house full of people all there to celebrate with us. This is the power of remembering your why.