It was about this time last year… I was just coming to grips with the fact that my oldest daughter Olivia was only a couple months away from graduating from high school. She came home one day and said, “When do you want to start working on my grad party?” My knee jerk thought was, “What is there to work on? We just invite some people, provide some snacks, and BOOM! Done!” Olivia had always been my low-key girl, so I didn’t think she’d care much about graduation party planning. But, alas, the look on her face that day told me otherwise. This WAS a big deal. And it DESERVED a big celebration. As I planned her party and attended many other graduation parties, it became clear to me that grad parties have reached a whole new level of epic – rivaling some of the weddings I have photographed.
Suddenly feeling behind in the planning, we started to get things in order. By no means do I consider myself an expert on grad party planning, but I thought it might be helpful to share my experience with some of you out there. So here it is – just a few things to think about as you plan your senior’s big day of celebration.
- Get the logistics worked out. Where will the party take place? Will guests “RSVP” or will it be an Open House? When (time and date) will the party take place? Make sure your senior checks with their friends to ensure they aren’t having their party on the same day and time… not only will they want to attend each other’s parties, but they don’t want to divide the rest of their friends between the two! I have attended a few parties honoring two, three or four senior friends together. This is such a great idea! You share in the party planning, expenses and resources, and all the friends are together. That’s a win-win!
- Announcements: Once you have the logistics worked out, start inviting. Some choose to just do a Facebook invite, while others decide to go old school and send out invitations (I did both). I offer many designs of graduation announcements and invitations with a relatively quick turn around time, so contact me if you would like more information. It saves a lot of stress to have these done early so they can be addressed – which is a great job for your senior – and sent out with plenty of time for RSVPs if you need them. And save those addresses for thank you notes!
See my blog post about Graduation Announcements for more information!
- A way to display memories: It’s a great time to pull out all of the old photos and albums. With tissue in hand, select your favorites to display at the party. People want to see what your senior looked like when they were little. You may even want to create a slideshow! If you have had your senior photos done with EMP, I provide a beautiful slide show made with all the images from your gallery. It automatically is included when you purchase the full resolution digital files at your selection. One less thing for you to do!
- A way to make memories: In addition to taking candid photos at the party, create a way for your guests to make some memories. One grad party I attended had a full-blown photo booth. WOW! So much fun… although I am pretty sure she had connections, without which it could be fairly expensive. I’ve seen grads with a large frame or a cardboard cut-out of a Polaroid frame, and guests pose inside of it for cell phone pics. Olivia had an Instax mini camera that took instant photos, she posed with her friends for a couple of shots and they took one home with them, and then pasted one in an album and wrote some words of wisdom or memories for Liv to keep. She had a great time going through all the pages after the party!
- Details: These are the things that will differentiate your senior’s party from all the rest. Add decorations that help reflect his or her style. You can seek all sorts of places for inspiration: Pinterest, Etsy, Google. Many of the ideas Olivia and I came up with actually came from weddings I had photographed in the past. It’s great to get your senior involved in the process of shopping and/or making party decorations so they can put their “stamp” on their celebration. Liv worked at a greenhouse so we had a little potted plant on each table, along with a framed photo of her at different milestones in her life. As an additional touch, her photo collages were on trellises that were in large planters. Be sure to put out wallets from your senior photo session for guests to take with them. And don’t forget to have a place for guests to put cards – cards (filled with $$) are the #1 graduation gift!
- Food & Drink. Remember, grad party day will be BUSY so try to have as much as possible made ahead of time so you can mingle at the party vs. work on food prep. You may want to consider having it catered – Chipotle, City BBQ and Noodles cater and are usually fan favorites! A friend of Liv’s dad made some AMMMAAAZINGGGG smoked meat for her party that we served with buns and BBQ sauce – it was perfect to feed a large crowd. Small bites are great, as guests often have several grad parties to go to in one day so they may not eat an entire meal. Self-serve foods and beverages are always a plus.
- Something to do: While the majority of the party will be filled with chatting among friends, it’s always fun to have other activities for guests. Cornhole, badminton, or volleyball are all great grad party games. We created an activity out of food… we had a smores station, complete with a mini hibachi grill for toasting marshmallows and all sort of chocolate choices to create gourmet smores. It was the most popular spot at the party!
- Thanks: Make a list of each gift your senior gets and who it’s from, and don’t let them forget to send thank you notes! It’s so important to be grateful for the people who came to show your son or daughter love at their graduation celebration. Make sure your senior is personal and genuine in their notes, referring to the gift and what they plan to use it for. Try to have the thank-yous sent within 30 days – before your senior even has a chance enjoy the gift! These can be done on simple note cards, or you can personalize them by having ones that coordinate with your announcements. Let EMP design it for you!
Probably the MOST important thing to remember at your son or daughter’s graduation party is to have FUN. Take the time to watch your senior as they chat with friends and family. Soak in the moment, and give yourself a pat on the back for all that you and he or she has accomplished over the past 18 years. Enjoy this precious time with them before they head out to college or wherever else life may take them. It’s a day you will all remember!!