Congratulations! Your student is nearing the end of the high school or college journey and it's time to celebrate with a graduation party. From party themes and invitations to food, decorations and more, we have tips and ideas. There’s a lot cover, so let’s dive right in!
The first thing to discuss with your student is whether they'd like an intimate celebration or a big bash. The guest list can be tricky. You’re invested in their lives and have shared stories and memories with friends and family members through the years. Local relatives and neighborhood moms may be expecting an invitation. But try not to overstep your boundaries. If your student prefers a small gathering, then that’s what they should get.
What if they don't want a party at all? Maybe they'd rather have the money and effort put towards an awesome graduation gift or travel experience. Many college grads want to embark on an adventure before they jump into the next chapter of their lives, or your high school student may be saving for a summer-before-college or gap year travel experience. If so, settle on a nice family dinner and help them plan an unforgettable trip instead.
Graduation party ideas & themes
Backyard bash or party in the park. Does your student want to include pretty much everyone they've ever met in their celebration? A backyard gathering is a convenient solution and much less expensive than renting a venue. Host an easygoing open house, and don't hesitate to make it a potluck — guests will be happy to bring their signature dish to share. If you don't think your yard can handle the crowd, look into reserving a town park facility. These often have covered picnic tables (helpful in case of rain) and in many cases you'll be permitted to hook up a sound system and lights. How about booking some local live music?
Throw a multi-family party. If your student has a tight-knit group of friends, they'd probably love to celebrate the big day together. Combine forces with a few other families and have fun planning a joint celebration. (Sharing the prep and hosting work takes some pressure off you, too.)
Dine out. If your student doesn't want a traditional party, book dinner reservations at their favorite restaurant. For a 21+ college grad, arrange ahead of time for a special bottle of wine or champagne to toast their achievement.
Brunch. By definition, brunch is a bit more low-key and is a perfect way to fit a party into a busy weekend. Gather relatives and close friends for a casual buffet at home on a pleasant spring day or dine out for convenience.
A theme adds sparkle to your event. Here are a few ideas to help you start brainstorming. Bring your student in on the plans, or surprise them!
Passport to the world. A perfect theme for students about to embark on post-college travel or a gap year between high school and higher education. Set up a table with a U.S. or world map showing where they plan to go. Make a gift of a travel journal to document their adventures — invite the guests to write good luck messages in the first few pages. Include a travel tip jar so guests can donate to the travel fund.
May the workforce be with you. Did your college student accept a full-time job offer before graduation? Throw a party that incorporates a work-themed motif, and play up the puns for all you're worth.
Sail away luau. Tiki torches, hula skirts and leis… This fun, lighthearted party theme celebrates your student's success and sets a joyful tone for what comes next. Menus and recipes are easy to find online, as are playlists of traditional Hawaiian music.
Grad party invitations
Once you determine your guest list and theme, it’s time to start on party invitations. Keep in mind May and June are extremely busy months — the sooner your guests receive the invitation, the better. Send invitations at least three or four weeks in advance, and reach out even earlier via email to out-of-towners with basic "save the date" information to help them plan their travel.
E-vites are popular and convenient. Prefer to mail printed invitations? Many online and brick-and-mortar businesses can help you design one: Shutterfly, Minted, Walgreens, Staples, Costco and others. Be sure to include the following information:
Full name of your graduate
Name of the high school/college
Degree and honors (if applicable)
Location, date and time of graduation party
RSVP date and additional instructions
Decorations & party supplies
Display school colors and the logo or mascot.
The tables. Don’t forget the essentials: cups, napkins, plates and silverware. There are lots of nice-looking disposable — or better yet, compostable — options. Include tabletop lanterns and floral centerpieces.
Set up a photo booth station. Use your DSLR on a stand with a backdrop and add silly props for people to pose with. Or create a Fujifilm Instax or Polaroid instant camera station with an album where guests can add their photo and write a note to the grad.
Balloons, banners, signs and more.
Strands of decorative lights for ambiance.
Chalkboard walls for guests to write messages on.
Graduation gift table to keep all the cards/presents in one place.
Food bar. People love to pick and choose what they want to eat from a variety of options. The possibilities are almost endless — taco bar, waffle bar, chips & dips bar... Use your imagination! The concept works for desserts and drinks as well.
Fire up the grill(s) for a laid-back, easygoing barbeque. Pulled pork, ribs, burgers, sliders or dogs. Yumm!
Cater in. Don't feel like dealing with the stress and labor of cooking? Make it simple and have the meal delivered by your student's favorite restaurant.
Food trucks are a fun alternative when feeding a crowd.
Don't forget dessert! Order an elegant graduation cake, bake cupcakes with grad cap decorations, or a set up a cookie bar station for your "one smart cookie." Parker's Crazy Cookies will turn your grad's face into a cookie!
Graduation day will be here in the blink of an eye. Plan ahead to avoid last minute stress and so that, once the big day arrives, you can turn all your attention to your grad. They've worked so hard to get to where they are and you couldn't be more proud.
Kelsey Gast is the Marketing Communications Associate at CollegiateParent. She attended Appalachian State University, from which she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Communication, Advertising.