Graduation Party News


Article published Sunday, April 15, 2007

A+ graduation parties
It’s not too early to begin planning a successful event


By mid-April, the graduation clock is ticking down the minutes.


Soon-to-be graduates hear it loud and clear (a condition known in high schools as senioritis).


So do their parents, especially those planning a celebration to honor their youngster.


For people who love entertaining, this will be a cake walk. For those less experienced in the art of hosting, a graduation party, especially the first one, can challenge one’s organizational skills (or lack thereof), and even, perhaps, one’s sanity.


Whatever the case, it’s high time to start planning. After all, when it comes to graduation parties, most of which are bunched up on June weekends, the early bird gets the worm when renting tents and tables, getting a caterer, and even finding tableware in your graduate’s school colors.



• Pick a date after checking with the family calendar, key relatives and friends, your graduate’s best friends, and the school (if your party will be before graduation).

• Talk to your grad about what kind of party and food she or he wants.

• Set a budget.

• Decide on the number of guests to invite.

• How much time do you want to spend staging this event?

• Talk to others who have put on similar parties.

• To reserve a tent or caterer, act soon: June is their busiest month.

• Invitations can be included in the graduation announcement, sent as postcards or tri-folded flyers. Save the guest-list addresses for the grad to use when writing thank-you notes.

• Recruit friends, hire a couple of nongraduating teenagers or the caterer to help on the day of the party with set-up, food, beverages, and clean-up. Ask someone to take photographs.

• Bottled water (especially), sport drinks, iced tea, and lemonade are more popular than soda pop.

• Put alcoholic beverages in a separate and highly visible location, and ask someone to keep an eye on them.

• Stores run out of some colors of tableware and balloons, so if you want to have plates, cups, napkins, utensils, and tablecloths in the school colors, buy early.

• Consider nontraditional options, such as a weeknight party, a brunch (a pancake bar), a taco or baked potato bar, a dessert party (rent a chocolate fountain or soft-serve ice cream machine, or prepare for ice cream sundaes and floats in advance by putting scoops of ice cream in cups or bowls in the freezer and pulling them out when you’re ready to serve).

• Consider nontraditional locations, including parks, restaurants, a swimming pool, rec center, or bowling alley.

• Co-host a party with the family of another graduate.

• Close to the event, talk to your graduate about your expectations, such as that they’ll remain at their party for several hours, they’ll greet and thank everyone for coming (this might take some coaching), and that drunken friends are not welcome.

• For additional ideas, get a book from the library or check a Web site such as

Sue Kenney, mother of five, has put on four graduation parties since 2001 and expects to host her last one next year.

“They’ve gotten easier to do. You kind of come up with your format,” says Ms. Kenney, “You start working on it this time of year. You try to pick a date that has as few conflicts as possible. I always try to pick a date that won’t be a real popular date so all your guests will be there around the same time.”

Her formula includes inviting about 100 guests to the Kenneys’ Sylvania home on a Thursday evening in late May, 6 to 9 p.m. or 7 to 10 p.m.

“I find it’s more fun to have one of the first parties,” she says. “We’ve had tents and not had tents and both ways have worked out fine.”

She’ll order the food (salads, chicken wings, meatballs, sandwiches, fresh fruit and veggies, and a cake or cookie-cake) from Sautter’s 5-Star Market and will have plenty of bottled water, sport drinks, iced teas, and lemonade on ice. Alcohol will be in a separate cooler off to the side.

Decorations will include balloons in school colors, pots of flowers she can plant outside after the party, tablecloths and tableware in school colors that she buys in bulk.

The day of the party, she knows how to have the best time: she’ll ask a friend or hire a teenager (who’s not graduating) to assist with the set up, food, and keeping things picked up. “It allows you to give more attention to your guests.”

Total cost, she figures, has been about $800 to $1,200 per party.

Big events
Graduation parties have grown in size and scope over the years, ironically, as high school graduation has become less of an outstanding accomplishment and more of a universal practice.

They can range from small gatherings at a restaurant for dinner or brunch to a major blowout with tent, DJ, dance floor, and the rental of slush, cotton candy, popcorn, soft-serve, or nacho machines, chocolate fountains, a moonwalk, sumo suits, or a dunk tank.

“If you’re looking to make an impression, rent one unusual item,” says Ginger Venable, who co-wrote Graduation Parties: Everything You need to Know from Start to Finish with Mary Anderson (self-published, $14.95 at 

She’s noticed the huge ramp-up of graduation parties in the last decades. When Ms. Venable, of suburban Minneapolis, completed high school in 1980, she celebrated with a dinner party at home with immediate family. She theorizes that bigger, more pricey grad parties may be somewhat of a replacement for a young-adult celebration that’s been delayed for several years in contemporary society: weddings.

“People used to get married very young,” she noted. “I think the graduation ceremony has become a rite of passage to adulthood.”

Parties are often for parents, in large part, she says. Parents of the graduate’s friends are invited, along with relatives and family friends. “It’s also a chance to have an event for kids without having any liquor involved.”

When her first child graduates next spring, Ms. Venable will have a party with the families of four other graduates. “I’m hosting it at my house if it’s nice or at another house a few doors away if it’s raining.”

Biggest mistake people make? Spending way too much money on food, she says. If the party’s on a Saturday in June, you can bet the graduates have other parties to attend, so serving something simple, such as sub sandwiches or pizza will suffice. Ms. Venable suggests five to seven menu items.

And, she’s adamant about getting help the day of. “You can’t cook, clean, have fun, and socialize.”

Lisa Pickard is used to hosting parties on the family’s three acres in Temperance, but her daughter’s party last June, with about 300 attending, was the family’s biggest bash to date.

Brianne Picard (Bedford High School, 2006), wanted a carnival theme. They had a big blue circus tent, carnival games for children, popcorn and cotton candy machines. A dunk tank and a moonwalk they rented were bigger hits with younger children than the grads who enjoyed volleyball and rodeo golf. The menu was carnival food: corn dogs, barbecued burgers and dogs, side dishes, and salads. She even tried making elephant ears on the grill, which didn’t was not a success. For dessert: cupcakes in school colors.

Under a separate tent, tables held Brianne’s memorabilia along with those of her cousin, Blain Beyer, a 2006 Whitmer High School graduate who also was feted at the party.

Ms. Pickard ran the cotton candy machine. She, her husband, sister, and brother-in-law handled the grilling and food.

“It was awesome,” says Ms. Pickard, who did not serve any alcohol. She spent the entire week before the party preparing. Considering that the tents and most of the machines were borrowed and relatives helped out with food, she figures the total cost was about $500.

What would she do differently? Get help with the food. “Somebody who doesn’t care if they’re not mingling.”

For rent
Theme parties have become a modest trend, says Mike Baumgartner, operations manager at Toledo Tent & Party Rentals. He’s seen Hawaaian luau and sports-themed events. “Machines are big,” he says.

An interesting centerpiece he observed: 12-inch-square mirrors on which was placed a large brandy snifter with a goldfish swimming in water.

Companies that rent tents, tables, and chairs factor in tent size and seating at an open house for 35 to 40 percent of the total number of guests, figuring that people will come and go throughout the event, not stay from beginning to end.

People often forget to rent extra tables for food, drinks, and displaying memorabilia, says Michelle Fairchild, manager at Meredith Party Rentals. She added that area rental agencies are likely to run out of tables and chairs by mid-May.

She adds that it’s not uncommon for parents to spend lavishly on the first child’s graduation, and to approach parties for subsequent children more prudently.

Before Nancy Traudt put on her first graduation party, she picked the brains of another St. Ursula Academy mother. When she throws her next party in two years for her daughter Molly, a student at St. Ursula, she’ll be guided by notes from parties she put on for daughter Lizzie in 2006 and daughter Ali in 2004.

By March, she’ll have locked in a date, and soon thereafter will make reservations with a caterer and a tent-rental company. “We do a Thursday night party so people don’t have to go from one party to another,” says Ms. Traudt, of Sylvania.

She flies a flag of her graduate’s college choice, sets large candles on tables, and gets a couple of fresh bouquets.

Finger foods have worked well (macaroni and cheese bites, mini egg rolls, meatballs, chicken wings, cheese and crackers, fruit and veggie trays, potato puff pastries, and beef-frank puff pastries, along with a cake or cookie cake). A soft-serve ice cream machine with toppings was a hit. And having a couple of wait staff supplied by the caterer to manage the food allowed her to enjoy the guests.

She put the party cost at about $2,000, including $1,000 catering bill.

Contact Tahree Lane at: or 419-724-6075.