12 Tips On Planning A High School Graduation Party From An Experienced Mom

If you are planning a high school graduation party, perhaps I can help. As a mom of three young adults, I have survived three successful graduation parties and have attended more than I can count. I know the excitement and anticipation, as well as the pressure and stress that all go along with it. I can save you some time and hopefully a few sleepless nights by sharing these tips on planning a high school graduation party (without losing your mind!) But first, here’s a story about my third son’s graduation party I think is worth sharing!

By the time son number three was a senior in high school, I was pretty confident in how to throw a fun, stress-free high school graduation party. 

The summer following high school graduation is a whirlwind of non-stop parties. After a while, the newness and excitement wear off. So, I prefer to have the party as close to the actual graduation day as possible. I believe in jumping in, getting it done, and then spending the rest of the summer enjoying other people’s graduation celebrations without the stress of planning and waiting for ours. 

So we finalized the date and all the detailed plans and rented a tent, just in case a June thunderstorm popped up (yes, expensive, but my house couldn’t hold many people). I was feeling good and stress-free after all the preparations were in place for our son’s grad party! Bring it on!

And then it began. 

My son played high school lacrosse, and the team did better than expected that year. They won their conference and were on to the state tournament. What a great way for my son and his teammates, many of whom were his close friends, to end their high school athletic career. We were so excited!

The team won their first game, their second, and their third, and graduation day came and went, and don’t you know, on the afternoon of my son’s grad party, we were traveling almost two hours away to the state semi-finals. Win or go home. A loss meant it would be the last lacrosse game my son and his friends/teammates would ever play together. There was no way I could miss this game, but there was also no way we would return home in time to set up for the party.

Thank goodness for friends. As luck would have it, a friend of my older son, who was home for the summer, was majoring in Event Planning in college!! Things were looking up!

And then, the team lost, and the boys’ and parents’ disappointment was palpable. On the way home, a call from my party planners informed us that it was not only raining but also hailing, with gusty winds and no let-up in sight. 

The tent, tables, and chairs we rented were definitely NOT used, and no one even stepped outside because of the storm. Instead, all the people crowded into my house, the garage, and the basement.

This clearly was NOT in the plan!

But honestly, after a long bus ride home and lots of tears (yes, by parents, too), everyone seemed to settle in and eventually have fun.

So, to all the high school senior moms out there starting to plan and stress about a graduation party, I’m happy to share my “should work unless everything goes wrong” high school graduation party tips. And remember, there’s only so much we can control.

1. Include your high school senior in the planning process. Start by asking them if they even want a party. Not all seniors do. Then start talking about the details and steps you need to take to plan this party. If at all possible, let them make the final decisions. It is, after all, for them.

2. Make sure you set a budget! A really fun grad party does not need to be elaborate. Embrace simplicity. Instead of trying to match over-the-top setups, opt for a simpler yet heartfelt approach. DIY decorations, homemade treats, and personalized touches can create a warm and inviting atmosphere.

3. Start looking into the date and time to have the party. Reach out to other parents of your senior’s friends early on to coordinate schedules and avoid any overlap. And trust me, keeping track of RSVPs will save you a world of headaches.

4. Choose your guest list carefully. When it comes to the guest list, finding that sweet spot between friends, family, and other important folks, such as coaches, special teachers, and band leaders, is key. How many people you have will depend on your space and budget.

5. Food choices should be simple. The best types of food for these parties are finger foods and snacks that are easy to munch on. A buffet-style setup is practical, allowing guests to pick and choose what they enjoy. Sliders, tacos, pizza – the classics never fail. And don’t forget to indulge in a sweet spread for dessert!

6. Plan some fun activities for your party. For entertainment, outdoor games like cornhole, spike ball, lawn bowling, volleyball or giant Jenga are always a hit with guests of all ages. Indoors, you can’t go wrong with karaoke, charades, or a good old-fashioned dance-off.

7. Music is always fun! Speaking of a dance-off, inside or outside, your teenager will probably want music in the background. Making a playlist of favorite songs during their high school years is always fun. 

8. Choose decorations and memorabilia that your senior wants. Sentimental touches, such as a memory board or slideshow featuring precious moments from your graduate’s journey, are also popular. They’re guaranteed to be a hit. You can also personalize decorations, photos, and touches that showcase their journey. Just make sure your senior approves.

9. A caution if you are serving alcohol. If you’re considering serving alcohol, it’s important to do so responsibly. Ensure that only legal drinkers can access it, and designate a responsible adult to monitor things.

10. If you’re planning an outdoor affair, renting a tent is a wise move. Just make sure it’s spacious enough to accommodate your guests comfortably and have a backup plan in case the weather changes.

11. Keep the party going for about three to four hours. This time frame is the sweet spot for everyone to socialize and enjoy the festivities. And try to schedule it at a time that works for most guests, accommodating different schedules.

12. Lastly, don’t sweat the small stuff. I know it is easier said than done. Start planning well in advance to alleviate last-minute pressure. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Include family members to share the workload, and don’t hesitate to ask friends with experience for recommendations and advice. 

Just remember that more than anything else, genuine warmth and hospitality often leave a lasting impression far beyond any extravagant displays, decorations, food, activities, or location. Prioritize your high school senior’s enjoyment and celebrate their achievements. Focus on making sure your graduate has the time of their life.

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