In the coming months, schools everywhere will be celebrating the close of another year. And with that, Senior level students at high schools and universities will be donning their cap and gown, walking across the stage, receiving their diploma, and flipping that tassel to signify the close of one chapter, and the beginning of another.
And of course, with graduation comes graduation parties!
Planning a celebration for the soon-to-be graduate in your life? Let us help you celebrate their academic achievements with the Plum Polka Dot Guide to Planning the Perfect Graduation Party.
Choosing a Style of Party
Before you do anything else, you’ll want to pick the style of graduation party you are going to host. Will it be a formal seated meal? A large elegant affair? A small, family-only casual gathering? Are you envisioning lunch or dinner? Maybe brunch? All of these questions will affect the other decisions you need to make when planning the event, so be sure to decide what you’re going for early in the process.
Plum Polka Dot Pro Tip: Stick with a more casual open house affair. As we’ll talk about in the coming sections, the logistics of planning a great graduation party can get complicated. Open house parties alleviate this by removing some of the most stress-inducing elements of traditional parties, including timing the service of meals, waiting for everyone to arrive before beginning the festivities & games, etc.
An open house style party let’s guest come and go as they please over a certain window, making it easier on them, and easier on the host, who can spend more time enjoying the party, and less time running it.
Picking a Day and Time
One of the biggest problems with graduations is that they all take place on the same day, meaning that many of the parents in your neighborhood are all going to be vying for the same 1-2 weekends to host their child’s party.
This is where an open house style party can make things a lot easier for everyone. With an open house, folks can now attend two, three, or even four or more parties in the same afternoon, vs. a more traditional affair that would limit them to one or maybe two.
During a weekend where there will be lots of competing parties, you want to make it as easy as possible on your guests, and eliminate an either/or scenario where they have to choose between your party or another. An afternoon gathering with a large open house window can do just that.
Plum Polka Dot Pro Tip: Team up with the parents of several of your child’s closest friends and host a joint party. Not only will this reduce the number of competing parties in your neighborhood, but it will spread out the costs and responsibilities of hosting. A win-win!
Choosing a Venue
Based on the style of party you choose, your choice of venue may be limited. One downside of an open house event is that you don’t know when the guests are going to show, and need to be prepared for the peak moments where most or even all of your guest list is trying to get inside all at once. It’s always better to have a room that’s a little too large than too small…
Due to the limited windows on graduation parties, be prepared to pay higher than usual premiums for local banquet halls and restaurant rooms. Also, know that many of these facilities will require you to work with their preferred vendors, who will also be charging premiums for graduation weekend events.
Plum Polka Dot Pro Tip: Roll the dice that you’ll have a nice spring weekend, and host your party outside. Choose your backyard (or the backyard of a family member or friend if yours is too small) and find a local tenting provider to set up an elegant outdoor tent, tables and chairs, ensuring that even if it does rain your guests can still enjoy themselves outside. Plus, the money saved on venue costs will more than cover the fees associated with tent rentals.
Food & Drinks
Of course, the food and drinks tend to be the focal point of any party. Your theme will drive much of the decisions around what to serve, but if you are planning an open-house style party, you need to make considerations for food that is easy to make and restock throughout the entire evening.
Serving alcohol at your party is a very personal choice, especially if it is for a high school graduation. If you do decide to serve, you can cut down on the costs, hassle, and most importantly, the chances of guests being overserved by limited the number of options. Skip the full bar and opt instead for cold light beers, one or two types of wine, and a signature cocktail that can be premade and placed in a fun dispenser. This provides guests with plenty of choice, but limits the chances of the crazy neighbor or uncle going a little too hard on the whiskey!
Plum Polka Dot Pro Tip: With spring in the air, nothing says party quite like BBQ! Build a menu around BBQ classics like burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, and more. It’s delicious, relatively inexpensive, and easy to keep stocked all party long. Plus, depending on the size of the party, you may be able to get away with just a couple of grills and a few uncles and cousins willing to man them for the evening. And for larger gatherings, there are plenty of great BBQ catering companies that can serve your entire event without charging you and arm and a leg.
With the purpose of your party to celebration graduation, your décor can take inspiration from the academic world. In addition to classics like balloons and string lighting color-coordinated to your table cloths and plating, sprinkle in some light educational touches, such as textbook centerpieces.
A textbook centerpiece is super simple to make, and is a cute addition to any graduation party. Take a couple of old books of varying thickness and sizes and create brown-bag covers for each (you know, like you used to do in primary school). Once they are neatly covered, create an asymmetrical stack of several books, tie them together with twine, and wrap with ribbon. Top with a small floral centerpiece, and you’ve got a fun, easy décor piece that screams graduation party!
Plum Polka Dot Pro Tip: The best part about hosting a celebration in one person’s honor is that you can make it uniquely personal to them. Capitalize on this opportunity by focusing the décor around personal items. Photograph collages make for great décor, and are loved by all the guests, who relish the chance to see how the grad has grown over the years!
What party would be complete without party favors? Let your graduation party stand out by sending guests home with a memorable, personal party favor.
Plum Polka Dot Pro Tip: Graduation-themed “mocktails” - served in fancy stemware with a personalized Swarovski wine charm - provide your guests with a special keepsake that’s sure to be enjoyed for years to come. And for all the girls and ladies in attendance, custom hair ties color-coordinated with school teams are a fun way to tie your theme together!
Planning a graduation party doesn’t need to be as challenging as passing your finals! With this guide and a bit of imaginative thinking, you’ll be sure to plan the perfect graduation party for the grad in your life.