What do you need to throw a memorable high school graduation party? After the commencement ceremony is over, it’s time to celebrate with family and friends. Woohoo…you and your homeschooler made it through thick and thin! Hospitality is the main objective. Guests expect to be fed, so the attractive presentation of delicious food is a top priority in planning. Secondly, you’re celebrating your son or daughter’s many accomplishments, so think of a creative way to feature his or her achievements in some kind of display that guests can browse when they are not mingling. Now with these two top-level objectives in mind (hospitality and exhibition), here are 5 tips for a better graduation party:
1. Let the Venue Drive the Menu
Is your high school student graduating in a statewide, niche, or solo commencement? The logistics of the graduation venue will impact the party location/time which should drive your menu. For instance if your kid is graduating with 500 other homeschoolers in the convention center, you can’t hold your party in the cavernous public basement; you’ll have to meet your guests offsite. Finding a local restaurant, park, or church close-by might be a solution for your graduation party, or you could invite your guests to a 2-3 hour Open House at your home later in the day. If you are hosting a niche or solo commencement, finding a graduation venue that has the space to accomodate seating for both the program and the food might be a good solution.
Mid-morning and mid-afternoon ceremonies lend themselves to utensil-free finger food buffets while late afternoon commencements might push your hungry guests into the dinner hour meaning you need to provide a full meal. Be hospitable.
2. Choose Simple, Mess-Free, Make-Ahead Food
Whenever entertaining, it’s best to do as much ahead of time as possible, or else you find yourself rushing around at the last minute like a chicken with your head cut off instead of enjoying the party. Find foods that easily freeze or store so that you can start cooking and assembling in advance. Pay attention to the food next time you are invited to a baby shower, funeral wake, or reception; you may come up with some good menu ideas.
If you are planning a full meal, grilled meats are easy and delicious; a 10 lb. pork shoulder can be shredded and stored in an airtight container for days, and it will feed 20-30 people. Baked hams or whole chickens can also be made ahead of time while stretching the budget. Most mini-sandwiches will require last-minute prep so that the bread doesn’t get soggy, but try to do everything else like the chocolate-dipped pretzel rods or the chex mix the day before. Don’t choose finger foods that have sauces, or you’ll need toothpicks and utensils. Be clean.
3. Add Pizazz with Themed Decorations
Graduation parties are fun no matter what, but a theme ramps up the fun! Go with a three-color combination in all of your paper products, tablecloths, and flowers, or choose a common textured fabric (burlap, linen, gingham) to set the tone. Choose a theme that resonates with your graduate’s own interests like baseball, ballet, or space exploration. Friends of mine compete in a local rocketry club, and I can just imagine how interesting it would be to see some of that paraphernalia decorating the tables. Many graduation parties utilize the colors or banners of the student’s prospective college as their theme.
For Connor’s graduation party, we decided to go with a “vintage travel” theme. We made paper-mache globes and passports, put them in square baskets with a pair of binoculars, and attached two helium balloons to give the table centerpieces the look of a hot-air balloon. Plus we made a “bon voyage” banner which we hung behind the buffet table. Be creative.
4. Make the Food Presentation Appealing
Once you’ve got your menu and theme, garnish all of your tables with themed linens and serving pieces. So for instance, if you go with the three colors blue, brown, and cream, make sure your linens, paper goods, and serving pieces are consistent. In our travel theme, we used creamy linen tablecloths with square toppers of fringed burlap in tan and aqua turned on the diagonal so that the corner hung off the edge.
Elevate some of your food items on tiered stands, or stack 2-3 books to create height for a pie or casserole. Vintage cake stands make an easy platform for food. We used some baskets and suitcases to display some of the food which reminded our guests of the fact that our kids were soon leaving home. Be attractive.
5. Tell a Story by Featuring Accomplishments
How can you condense the successes, adventures, and interests of the school years so that your guests get a good idea of who that student is and what he cares about? Brainstorm a list of his activities, clubs, sports, dramas, and awards over the last 12 years. Which ones are the most significant and reflect his true personality? Pick 3-5 areas of interest to highlight. Is your son a competitive athlete? If so, bring the sports equipment. An equestrian? Bring her riding helmet. A dancer? A pair of beribboned but battered ballet toe-shoes tells the story of her life. A published writer? Display the specialty magazine open to his own article.
My son competed in speech and debate for six years, so he had a lot of medals; continuing our travel theme, we opened a vintage suitcase and hung his medals over a piece of jute that we strung across the lid.You could dedicate a small table for the 3-D display, create a three-fold photo board like the ones you used for science fairs, or order an online customized “yearbook.” If you have kept a portfolio of his work through the years, bring that, too. Scrapbooks are also fun to browse. Also don’t forget a designated container (basket/bowl) to capture cards when your guests arrive. Be notable.
Throwing a graduation party can be a lot of work, but when you remember that hospitality and exhibition are your two main goals, the planning is much easier. Take good care of your guests, and celebrate the achievements of your student. The end of homeschooling is a very big deal and worth the effort! What memorable graduation party ideas have you seen?