Whether it’s from high school, college, or even eighth grade, graduating is an accomplishment worth celebrating—usually with a party. Typically, family comes to the ceremony, pictures are taken, and the moment is commemorated.
With such an important moment, you may feel pressure to throw the perfect party—especially if there is going to be a long guest list and lots of photos. But the best way to plan a successful graduation party is to always keep your grad in mind; ask them what kind of party they want. If they’re having a good time, the party will be a success. Below are six scenarios you might find yourself in, and tips for handling the party planning for each.
1. If your grad has a lot of friends
For grads with a large friend group—especially friends at the same school—co-host a combined party. That way, none of the friends have to miss a party. Plus, if you combine the parties, you can join forces to plan the event with other parents or party planners.
Bonus Tip: Make choices that aren’t dependent on a specific head count. Choose catering instead of meals for every person, and ditch any formal seating plan.
2. If your grad is nervous
Because graduating is a big transition, you may find yourself with a nervous grad. Remind them that it’s okay to be nervous, but that doesn’t need to stop them from celebrating. Plan a light-hearted party where your grad can have fun: keep the music upbeat, and host it at a location your grad is familiar with, like a house or favorite park.
Bonus Tip: Ask guests to write words of encouragement on large popsicle sticks or paper cards to gift the grad, with instructions to read one any time they’re feeling nervous or overwhelmed.
3. If your grad is moving away (or their friends are)
While it’s important to take pictures during any graduation party, it’s especially important if anyone is going to an out-of-state college. Try renting a photo booth for one last round of silly pictures before anyone moves away, or invest in a Polaroid so your grad can print photos on the spot for friends to take home.
Bonus Tip: Let the party transition into a sleepover for the friends, so they can keep the fun going. This will create a cherished, memorable day.
4. If your grad wants a large party
If your grad has a long guest list—either of family or friends—avoid planning the party on the same day as the ceremony. There’s a good chance that mutual friends won’t be able to make it, and it lets your grad visit other parties the day of. To ensure family is able to attend, host the party the day before or after. That way, anyone traveling has the option to spend the night to celebrate.
Bonus Tip: Use paper invitations to track RSVPs better. Your grad may be tempted to create a Facebook event, but it’s not uncommon for invitees to skip the RSVP and still show up; for large parties you want to have a good idea for a headcount.
5. If your grad doesn’t know their next step
Don’t do anything different! Ask them what kind of party they want, and move forward with the planning. Your grad doesn’t need to “earn” their party—it’s a celebration of where they’ve been, not where they’re going. Be sure to have a little fun with silly snacks like Pirouline cookies with ribbon to look like diplomas, or use cupcakes to write out the graduation year.
Bonus Tip: Don’t embarrass your grad by telling guests to avoid the inevitable “what’s your next step?” question. Instead, help your grad prepare a few generic responses like, “I’m researching some options” or “I’m taking the summer to make a plan.”
6. If your grad doesn’t want a party (or wants a small one)
Double-check that your grad won’t regret missing a party, but don’t force it if they’re sure. Offer a small dinner with family and maybe a few friends, or even let them “off the hook” to see a movie in lieu of any formal party.
Bonus Tip: If no party is planned, take a few minutes to tell your grad that you’re proud of them. Use this time to gift them anything you purchased for the special moment, and don’t let the day go by completely unnoticed.
Whatever method you choose, or if you’re ever unsure what to plan, always ask your grad how they want to celebrate—they are, after all, the guest of honor. No matter what type of grad you have, incorporate school colors into the décor, along with any extracurriculars or hobbies your grad did. This is, after all, a chance to highlight their success!