One of the most enjoyable times of summer is what people refer to as “graduation party season.” It’s the time of year when graduates can commemorate the last four years with their friends, celebrate their achievements, see each other off before they leave, and even pocket some spending money from relatives they never knew they had. From the invitations to the decorations to the cake, there is a lot of planning and preparation that goes into this festivity that can become overwhelming if not organized properly.
Before jumping in, however, it is important to decide what type of party you want, as this will dictate most of the decisions you will make throughout the planning process. Are you looking for the classic backyard barbeque with a big group of people, or a smaller party with just family and a few close friends? What about ditching the party idea all together, and planning a getaway with your girlfriends? No matter what your style, however, there are some universal elements to consider when planning your big bash.
Establish a budget:
With all the glitz and glam that can come along with a graduation party, it is easy to get carried away with spending money on decorations and other expenses. The best thing for you to do so that you don’t end up spending on a fortune on this one-day event is to sit down with your parents and decide on a financial plan. This is an essential step in the graduation party planning process, as it will dictate most of the decisions you will make. Discuss with you parents how much they want to spend and what they want to spend most of it on. If you are not looking to spend a lot of money, consider having a small gathering with family and a few close friends. This will save you money on renting a venue, catered food and decorations. A good rule of thumb to follow when establishing a budget is to make sure that they money you spend on the party does not exceed the amount of money you receive as gifts from your guests.
Alyssa Howard, a collegiette from the University of Texas at Austin, knew right away that she didn’t want to spend a fortune on her party because she was aware of the expenses that soon lay ahead of her. “If you're fortunate enough to attend college in the fall, you have a lot of expenses to consider: books, clothing, supplies, food, tuition... the list goes on and on! Definitely have a party, but keep in mind that the money you're spending now can also help fund your future. Sticking to a budget might be a good thing to consider, and may help you focus on the important things,” says Alyssa.
Choosing a venue:
There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding where you want to have your party. Having your party at home or at another venue are the two most popular options.
If you decide to have your party at home, there are extra tasks that you need to complete on you own that a venue would otherwise take care of, such as seating and food. If you are planning on a lot of guests and you want to have your party outdoors, you will need to rent tables, chairs and tents in order to protect people from the sun and possible rain. It is essential that you order the tables, chairs and tents early (aboutthree to four months in advance) because there will be so many other parties happening, too. Remember to order enough tables for not only eating, but also a couple of tables for a buffet and other displays like photos, trophies, plaques, certificates, other high school memorabilia, a sign-in book, and speakers.
If you’re having a smaller party, however, renting tents, tables and chairs won’t be necessary. You could also have food set up indoors on your kitchen counters or table so people can load up their plates and then go outside to mingle, where tables and chairs won’t be necessary. Another really nice option for a home party is to do a small dinner party with your closest friends and family. This cuts costs, keeps the party small and intimate, and is generally low-stress, too.
One of the major benefits of having your party at a venue besides your home is that the staff will do a lot of the work for you, like cooking, setting up, cleaning up and providing seating. When deciding on what kind of venue, consider a place that is centrally located and can comfortably fit all of your guests. Since it will be in the summer time, it would be nice to choose a place that gives guests the options of going outdoors, or has a lot of windows that will let in a lot of natural light and help set the mood. Having your party at a venue other than your home may be less work, but it can also turn out to be more expensive, so make sure to you get quotes from a wide variety of services and determine which would be most cost effective. Popular venues for graduation parties include restaurants, hotels, event halls and country clubs, with the least expensive being a restaurant and the most being a country club (if you are member).
The first thing you need to do before making your invitation is to make your guest list. Think about how many people to invite and how to invite them. If you’re having a small party, you’ll want to set a guest list and choose between printed invitations or Facebook invites. If you're planning a big, grade-wide party, you might want to create an open event on Facebook and send printed invitations to people you definitely want there. You should also let people know whether or not they can bring friends.
There are many options available when designing your invitations. You can buy them in a card store, make them yourself at a photo kiosk at your local convenience store, or order them customized from a company, paperless post or Vistaprint.
Don’t forget about Facebook invites, either! Don’t go overboard on broadcasting your event on social media, however, or your small get together could turn into the Project X sequel. If you want a small party, it’s probably a good idea to make your Facebook invite private not only to avoid too many unwelcomed guests, but also to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings who did not make the guest list. It’s also a good idea to purchase or create your ‘thank you’ cards at the same time as your invitations so you don’t forget. When sending out your invitations, do it about a month ahead of time so that your guests can plan accordingly.
Pick a convenient date and time:
It’s impossible to choose one that works for each and every one of your guests, but there’s no harm in trying! When picking the date and time for your party, consider what works for other people. Is it a popular vacation time? Is it a holiday weekend when people will have other plans? Also, remember that it is inevitable that your party will most likely overlap with many of your friends, so don’t stress about that too much. Also keep in mind that the weekends before and after graduation weekend are often packd with parties, so people tend to party-hop rather than stay at a single party for several hours. If you are planning on having your party outside, don’t forget to pick a rain date or make alternate indoor plans. If you are having a small gathering with friends and family, it’s not a bad idea to see what their schedules are like and accommodate to them since you will want as many of your loved ones to be there as possible.
Remember that having your party at home gives you a lot more options of dates and times, while having it at a venue limits availability and causes you to have several back-up dates in case your ideal date and time at the venue is already reserved. If you choose to have your party at a venue, make your reservation 3-4 months in advance.
Set up and clean up times are also important to keep in mind when choosing when to have your party if you are renting out space. If you want an outdoor get together, consider having your party earlier in the day so that you are not stuck cleaning up while it’s dark outside.
Food and Drink:
The most important thing to remember when choosing food and beverages is to get what will appeal to the greatest amount of people. While escargot may be your favorite dish, it may not be as appetizing to your guests.
Some other decisions you will have to make are what type of food you want – picnic-style hamburgers and hot dogs? finger food? a buffet? Are you going to prepare it? Are you going to have it catered? If it’s within your budget and you plan on having a lot of guests, consider having your party catered along with on-site staff management so that you don’t have to worry about refilling dishes and enjoy your party. Additionally, make sure you get quotes from a variety of restaurants to ensure that you are getting the most for your money. A standard buffet at a graduation party usually consists of rolls with butter, a garden salad, two to three different kinds of meat, two sides (such as potatoes and some kind of pasta) and a fruit platter.
If you are planning on providing your own food for you event, you need to consider how many people you are cooking for and what would be the most convenient to prepare. If you are inviting a lot of guests, preparing food on you own may not be your best option since you want to make sure you still have time to interact with your guests, but it is still doable. The best thing to do when providing your own food is to make simple dishes that can be prepared ahead of time and can easily be replenished such as salads, sandwiches, wraps, pastas, and dips.
As for desserts, cupcakes are increasingly trendy with popular television shows like DC Cupcakes and The Cupcake Girls, so those are a guaranteed hit. Cake and cookies are other good choices, too. It’s good to give your guests options. It’s also a good idea to have little snacks at each table, such as M&M’s or Chex Mix. A fun dessert option if you are providing your own food is an ice cream sundae bar. Start with vanilla ice cream, and have 5-6 toppings such as syrups, crushed Oreos or candy bars, and chopped fruit in dishes that guests can scoop for themselves.
Drinks are another thing you should have a lot of. Definitely have water in case of dehydration, and different kinds of sodas such as diet and regular cola, sweet drinks like lemonade, and possibly beer and wine coolers for the adults. Make sure to keep this separate from the drinks for the kids, as your parents will be held responsible if anything were to happen.
Show off your creativity and school spirit by decorating your party with balloons, centerpiece, tablecloths, and even tents featuring your school colors (high school or collegiate, it’s up to you). Many people have display tables highlighting their accomplishments with pictures, trophies, plaques, framed acceptance letters, or other highs school memorabilia such as swim caps, t-shirts, dance shoes, scrapbooks, and more. It’s also popular to have slideshows of pictures and videos of you and your friends throughout the years.
While all of this will surely help get your party started, what’s a celebration without some music? Most people play music through speakers or bring out their iHome, and some of the more extravagant parties will even hire a DJ. If you are providing your own music like most people do, make a playlist on your iPod and play it through speakers. Your playlist should have about 50 songs just to ensure that they don’t repeat too often. Some grad party classics include “Graduation” by Vitamin C, Green Day’s “Good Riddance,” Rembrandt’s “I’ll Be There For You” and Eve 6’s “Here’s To The Night.”
…Not the celebration you had in mind?
There are plenty of ways to go about celebrating the end of an era, and now more than ever is the time to get creative with it. Who knows when will be the next time you have the free time to hiking in the mountains or have a lazy weekend on the beach? Jeannie Shen from Walter Johnson High School decided this alternative better suited their desires.
“I’m planning a hiking trip with my friends. We’ll hike up a trail and then have a picnic afterwards while we exchange gifts for each other,” said Jeannie.
Another alternative to the standard backyard grad party is to go out to dinner to your favorite restaurant with your family and a few close friends. This is low stress and low maintenance but will still provide you with the lasting memories and sense of accomplishment that any graduation party is expected to deliver.
No matter how you wish to celebrate your big achievement, do it in a way that is right for you and is a reflection of all of your accomplishments. Keep in mind that it’s not about the money spent, but the time spent.
“There is no need to spend hundreds of dollars to create a picture-perfect party. Graduation is full of change, and the best thing to do is spend time with loved ones. Memories are more enjoyable when spent with people, not decorations or fancy food,” says Alyssa. “I definitely think you should make your party special, because it may be the last time for a while that you and your friends are together. Just don't get caught up in the details.”