All Night Lock-In Parties
To help their graduates celebrate in a safe environment (no drinking and driving), many schools organize an all night lock-in party as part of their graduation festivities.
The party starts shortly after the graduation ceremony. If the destination is far away transportation (eg: buses) is usually provided.
The price of these parties ranges from $30 to $100 per graduate, with lots of prizes and items donated by local businesses. Getting donations sometimes requires lots of legwork on the part of parent and student volunteers but it's well worth the effort.
Riverside, California, is a strong advocate for all night lock-in parties. In 1996 instead of going to the all night party, three graduates celebrated by party hopping. Their car ran into a pole going 90 miles per hour. Two young women were killed instantly and the male driver was left paralyzed from the neck down. Alcohol was involved.
The community was shattered by the event and many parents were inspired to help promote and volunteer at the all night lock-in party. The first few years they hosted an extravagant all night cruise around Catalina Island. Other nearby high schools have celebrated with lock-ins at Disneyland.
Most school parties are organized by a group of parents. Here is some advice from parents we interviewed:
- Recruit parents of juniors: They will not be so busy with their own celebrations and they will be eager to learn the ropes for the following year when their juniors become seniors.
- Plan early: Start planning in November but keep the enthusiasm building to recruit as many volunteers as possible for the big night.
- Make students sign an alcohol/drug free contract when they sign-up and pay in advance. Give the graduates a wrist band for proof that they paid.
- Hire security: Talk to your police liaison about this and check into hiring a security firm. Most police departments work very closely with their community high schools and are always willing to do whatever they can to make high school events safe and secure.
- Liability: Check out your school’s liability contract. If it doesn't cover this event, buy additional coverage through your school's insurance provider.
- Secure your location way in advance. Suggestions include: the school itself, a shopping mall, recreation center, community center, amusement park, zoo. The best places come with some entertainment; for example, if you can get into a mall that already has a video arcade, convince the owners to participate by staying open all night and providing “free” tokens. Mall restaurants are often willing to provide a limited menu for the night.
- Hire professional entertainment: Hire professionals and negotiate a rate that will ensure they show up for your event and make sure they don't expect tips from the graduates. Some ideas include: DJ, live band, hypnotist, karaoke, comedian, casino dealers with their own equipment, masseuse, manicurist, make-up artists, caricaturist, photographer (who can provide photos that are ready that night), photo booth, hand writing analysts, or fortune teller.
- Rent high-quality games: sumo wrestling, moon jump, Elastarun, Jacob's ladder, King of the Hill, inflatable slides, obstacle course, rafts for pools, giant Twister, ping pong, Pop-a-Shot.
- Offer popular food and drinks: coffee, specialty coffees, soda, bottled water, pizza, candy, cotton candy, burgers, popcorn, tacos, burritos, wings.
- Have a theme: carnival, cruise, Mardi Gras, popular movie, song, futuristic. Check out some of the party theme ideas in our book, Graduation Parties! Everything You Need to Know From Start to Finish.
- Provide a secure “coat check” room for the graduates to stash their coats, bags and prizes they win. Get brown paper bags from your local supermarket and assign one bag to each grad. Write each grad's name on a bag and arrange them in alphabetical order. You will likely need an entire classroom for the coat check. As grad's win prizes they can bring them to the coat check room and have the coat check person put them in their bag. When the party is over they can simply come and get their bags with all their stuff in them.
- Photos: Ask each graduate to provide a photo of themselves from when they were younger (baby pics or preschool pics are fun), and mount them with their senior photo alphabetically around the walls. The grads will have a lot of fun looking at each other photos. Make sure your grad is okay with the photo you pick.
- Prizes: Solicit prize or cash donations from local merchants and thank them in an article, letter to the editor or ad in your local paper. Try to get a lot of little prizes instead of huge grand prizes; everyone wants to win something. Send letters to local merchants explaining your party and what you're looking for in the way of donations. Or get a team of parents together and visit and ask the merchants directly. Bring a flyer or letter with you so you can leave it with them.
- If your facility includes a pool, buy or rent fun rafts for the graduates to play on. Make sure you have lifeguards.
- Be sure to confirm all of your hired professionals the day before the event. Our students were very disappointed when all of the massage school students failed to show up because they had the wrong night on their calendars.
- Provide a quiet rest area for grads with cots or inflated mattresses.
- Organize your volunteers well in advance. Identify all the "jobs" you need done and break long jobs down into shifts. Ask senior and junior parents to volunteer for a job. Junior parents can learn the ropes for the following year. For the night of the event, set up a volunteer check-in station so volunteers know where to go when they get there. Provide name tags. Ask volunteers to wear a certain color t-shirt so they are easily recognized. Or provide volunteer t-shirts or aprons for them.
- Provide walkie talkies for key volunteers so you can easily communicate with other.
- Limit the amount of printing. It can get expensive.
Music is a must for your all-night party. Have someone run a music system or hire a DJ.
Money saving Tip: Look for a popular radio station that has a van they could drive into the event and have the DJ broadcast live. Let the grads request music.
In Annandale, Virginia, the parents work with the school to host an all night party at the local recreation center. The large swimming pool is the center of attention with fun rafts anchored around the pool. Everyone receives a disposable camera when they arrive and fun pictures are taken all night. They have prize drawings throughout the night based on the graduates’ assigned numbers being randomly drawn.
Other rooms in the rec center offer gambling, temporary tattoos, palm reading, boxing on a moon bounce, surf boarding, and elastarun (two kids are tethered at the waist to huge rubber bands and they see who can run the furthest, before being sprung back). They also had a rock climbing wall and a wandering magician. Lots of food and beverages were provided.
Most of these games can be rented from rental companies. Check out our Local Products & Services page to see if there are any rental companies listed for your area.
Eden Prairie High School, Eden Prairie, MN
Before its new high school was built, Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota held one of its earlier lock-in parties at the local mall. A band played in the main courtyard while empty store fronts were converted into a coffee and karaoke bar, and a salon with chair massages, makeovers and manicures. There was a gambling club, a hypnotist, and a roving magician. Sumo wrestling was also very popular. Digital photos were taken of all of the kids and given out that night. They hired a video photographer to capture candid shots and later sold the tapes to the graduates.
Now Eden Prairie High School holds its lock-in parties at the high school. The school is transformed into an area of celebration with the gym used for dancing, the cafeteria used for serving food, and different classrooms used for activities, service projects, and rest areas.
Sue in Saranac, Michigan wrote to us to tell us ...
A wonderful place to hold the all-nighter for the high school graduates was a local college. They provided the pool area, multiple gyms, lounges, kitchen area and any classroom areas that were needed. They also informed us of how many chaperones were needed and at what locations in the building.
Poly High School, Riverside, CA
Poly High School in Riverside, California, hosted it’s lock-in at Universal City Walk. The venue included the Hard Rock Café and the 3-D theater where the kids listened to live entertainment. Their favorite performance was by a hypnotist who really got the crowd involved. Dancing the night away for only $70 is a great alternative that keeps the kids safe.
Did your high school do something unique for a lock-in party party? Share your ideas with us at info