Graduation Party Planning

scrollGraduation is a milestone event, one that represents achievement and brings cause for celebration. Soon, students will take different directions in life to reach prospective goals. Before moving on, it's time to stop and savor the moment, when everyone is still together as a class.

Planning a graduation party can be tricky because yours won't be the only one taking place. Whether it's a high-school or college graduation, there are several ways you can make your party successful and allow your graduate to attend other parties as well.

Day and Time

We all know that the day and time of your party is important but when it comes to graduation parties, it's crucial. Basically, your party will have to "compete" with other parties. Graduation weekend is the most popular choice for parties, so your goal should be to pick a time that will be most convenient for yourself and as many guests as possible. Before you decide, keep in mind that you also may also be invited to parties of other graduates but may not know when those parties are going to be until you receive the invitations.

Most graduation parties are in the form of "open house." This allows guests to come and go within a period of about three to four hours. If your party is taking place right after the ceremony, you will need to prepare in the morning and you'll likely have a "mad scramble" with food and beverages when you get back. This may be undesirable if your picky with small details. If your party is in the evening on the "day of," you will have more personal and preparation time.

If you don't mind a long weekend, consider having your party one or two days prior to the ceremony, or even the weekend before or after. Personally, I have hosted two parties recently, both were on graduation weekend with the ceremonies being on Sunday. The first party was at 6:00 PM on Sunday night. Our turnout was not quite as we hoped so we adjusted the day for the second party (a year later) to be held on the Friday night prior, at the same time. What a difference that made! Since there were fewer parties taking place, we had many relaxed guests who weren't concerned about leaving for the next party. This also freed up time for us to attend many other parties on Saturday and Sunday.


The majority of graduation parties take place at the honoree's house because it's convenient. Alternative locations include a relative's house, a restaurant, park, or renting a club or banquet hall. If the weather permits, a backyard is ideal. If you want to keep your house off-limits and also be prepared for rain, have your garage clean or consider renting a large tent.

It was very windy the day of our last party and the sides on the tent we rented prevented plates, cups, tablecloths, and decorations from blowing all over the place. (Tents have sides, and this is one benefits over a canopy.) Keep in mind that if you rent a tent or canopy, you may have to set it up yourself. I will say that it's worth the extra cost of having them set up and take down afterwards. This will make cleanup much easier. If you need tables and chairs, you can rent them from clubs, schools, organizations, the city, and rental places. Reserve them early and pick them up on time!


Customized graduation announcements and thank-you notes are available through most schools but may be more expensive than ordering from an independent company. It depends much upon the approach you wish to take and the formality of it. A more casual choice is making them yourself on the computer or having your photographer print off cards which include a picture or two of the graduate -- a very popular alternative! Whatever you decide, you will need to include information for your party on the announcement or enclose a separate "open house' card. Be sure to double-check to make sure that all of the information is correct.

Announcements should be hand-addressed in ink, making sure to add a return address. If you have double envelopes, write the names and addresses on the outer envelope and include just names on the inner envelope. Send them out about two to four weeks before graduation weekend, sooner for those that will have to travel.

Decorating Ideas

You don't really have to choose a specific theme if you don't want to. After all, graduation in itself is a nice theme! However, if your graduate is a cheerleader, in sports, band, or a club, you may wish to add some of those elements as well. When decorating, it's nice to make it as personal as possible, adding pictures and awards to acknowledge achievements. A large, cork bulletin board makes a great display. After the party, give the board to the graduate to help them stay organized.

Graduation is big business, so you can usually find supplies such as banners, tablecloths, invitations, balloons, confetti, etc., all with a graduation or cap and gown theme. Most stores will provide supplies in local high-school and college colors, and often generic colors as well. Purchase your guest book as soon as possible because they can be difficult to find if you wait until the last minute.

Digital photo frames are becoming more affordable and are a fantastic way to display pictures of your graduate! They come in a variety of sizes and have different features. Most will allow you to plug in a memory card and display a slide show with different effects. Some are even mp3 compatible so that you can include music, just pick your song! Consider the frame, type of memory cards, power options, and ease of use when buying one.

All of these items should be displayed on a separate table that is decorated and easy to find. You should also include an area for gifts. A basket works well for collecting cards or you can make your own with a cardboard box and wrapping paper. Also, you can often rent tables and chairs

Serving Food

The best way to serve food at a graduation party is to set up a buffet. If you're overwhelmed, ask for help and/or hire a caterer, who will also give you menu ideas. You don't have to pay the extra cost of having the caterer come in and actually serve the food, you can just call or stop in and place an order. Pick the food up on the day of your party and do the rest of the work yourself. This will save you money.

How much food you will need is difficult to determine because there may be multiple parties that day and your guests will only eat at one of them. There's no way of knowing which one that will be but it will probably be the first one they attend. If your party doesn't have competition, you will need more food. Of course, it's best to have too much food than not enough, so you should order or make enough food depending on how many guests were invited and you think will attend.


Graduation cake(s) should be ordered about two weeks in advance if you're ordering from a bakery, sooner if you're having an individual make it. Of course, you may wish to bake it yourself. You will need one slice of cake for each guest. Some may eat two slices but some won't eat any. A full sheet cake will serve about 70-80 people, depending on the size of your slices. Ask about this when ordering because sizes of the cakes may vary by the bakery. Consider ordering cupcakes to supplement the cake. Choose different flavors of cake and icing to give guests a choice. Remember, you can freeze any leftover cake if you overestimated.