planning a graduation party, do not decide
to build a deck. Even with a year's head
start. Why not? Ask your physics student,
who will tell you how a renovation project
in motion will reduce its speed in direct
proportion to the approaching deadline -- or
something like that.
Elaine Koyama hired a guy to build an
addition and deck onto their home in Edina.
He came close; there was a roof. But the
interior was bare plywood with no
electricity. On the night of the party,
torrents of rain arrived with the guests.
Far from a barbecue on the deck, "everyone
crammed into the unlit unfinished addition,
kitchen, family room, etc.," Koyama said.
But that was OK. "It was testament to the
fact that a party isn't about where it is,
but who's there sharing in the graduate's
We asked parents and students for their
best dos and don'ts when it comes to
throwing a memorable party. Also, Eden
Prairie is the home base of
www.graduationparty.com, sort of an
Advanced Placement course in planning an
event that, for many people, is their first
big shindig, said Ginger Venable. She and
Mary J. Anderson offer tips in their new
book, "Graduation Parties! Everything You
Need to Know From Start to Finish,"
available on their website.
Bottom line for parents: Keep your
party simple. Talk to your graduates. They
will say that less is more. Remember all
those times over the past year when you
wished they'd show some common sense? This
could be it. Reason enough to celebrate!
Choosing the date
Choosing the day depends on the type of
party you desire. To avoid overlapping with
others, early May has few conflicts. A plus:
Almost every student invited will come early
and stay late because it's the first. A
minus: Friends and family members may feel
If you'd prefer that people stop by for a
bit and move on, choose an afternoon or
evening close to graduation. Weekday
evenings attract bigger crowds than weekends
do because there are fewer parties, but the
students may prefer weekends if they're
still swamped at school.
Waiting until late summer lets you cast
the party as a college send-off, and
students like the excuse to come together
once more. But some classmates may already
One option: Break out of the
afternoon/evening mold with a brunch or
Another twist: Try a staggered
arrival strategy, with adults and relatives
given an earlier arrival time than
classmates, with the groups overlapping in
the middle. The graduate gets to visit with
family members and adults before the herd
arrives. (Or flip it, so that the adults can
linger long after the kids have left.)
Remember the five W's. Many parents
recalled invitations that lacked an address
("But everyone knows where I live."), a time
frame ("5 p.m." isn't enough) or even a day
Biggest complaint: Being unable to
tell from the invitation whether parents are
invited. "Many parents would love to make
the rounds of their kids' classmates," one
wrote, "but won't come unless the invitation
specifically notes that we're welcome."
It is almost better to be inclusive than
exclusive when it comes to classmates, even
if the number seems overwhelming. About that
number: Settle on it. The downside of saving
money on postage is that hand-delivered
invites can get out of hand, going to
teachers, co-workers, the clump of
classmates when only two are on the list.
Students: If the invite list grows, confess
now and revise your plans. This is not a
surprise party for your parents.
Who else gets invited besides classmates
and relatives? Neighbors may like to be
included -- especially if you envision a
parking jam -- plus other adults who've
known the grad for some time. "Remember
their first child-care provider."
Food and drink
Water. Water. Water. Water. Have plenty
on hand. More than you can imagine anyone
Another popular thirst-quencher: Get a
pony keg of root beer, either to drink as is
or to pour over big scoops of ice cream for
root beer floats, thus doubling as food and
And, no alcohol. None. Not even for adults.
Instead, provide plenty of caffeine, in both
hot and cold forms.
As for food, keep it simple. One parent
bought platters of beef and turkey wraps,
then at the last minute added a crockpot of
barbecued meatballs and some Oreo cookies.
The family ended up eating beef and turkey
wraps at every meal for the next week. Her
best tip: Go heavy on things that keep --
beverages you would drink, candy, crackers
Taco bars are popular, partly because
people can make their own with various
ingredients, appeasing both carnivores and
vegetarians. But never discount the appeal
of a simple hot dog with fixings. Too
ordinary? One family's hot dog feast had a
grand finale of "amazing cupcakes" that they
How much food is enough? Less than you
think. "People say, 'I invited 200 people,
so I have to serve 200 tacos or 200
sundaes," said Venable, co-author of the
grad party book. "No, you don't."
Here's the Food Formula from
www.graduationparty.com: List those who
will come hungry (relatives, close friends)
and who probably will not attend other
parties. List the rest of the people, then
cut that number in half. Add the lists
together and plan accordingly. "More may
come but they won't eat much."
Joining forces with one or two classmates
depends on the families. It makes sense if
the guest lists are similar, not so much if
one of the students is expecting a slew of
relatives. As one student said, "Having to
mingle with a lot of randoms is expected,
but double that and it makes for some weird
If there are out-of-town guests, a solo
party will help them feel they're getting
enough time with you.
Joint parties are good for stretching a
budget, perhaps enabling families to rent a
tent or an off-site location. Split the
responsibilities for hosting the party and
preparing the food. Save all receipts.
Crucial for joint parties: Make
sure the students have separate boxes
clearly marked with their names for cards
Play to your strengths. If you're not a
scrapbooker, don't start now. Some grads
made their own slide show to run on laptops
in the living room and in the basement (to
keep people moving around.) Posters or
banners that guests can sign are popular.
(Again, if it's a joint party, mark each
clearly for each student.)
Other activities include dunk tanks, lawn
games, fortunetellers, moonwalks. But just
do one -- never more than two, Venable said.
A rented cotton candy machine provides an
Ask for help. Have someone available to
restock food, plates or direct people to
beverages. Have someone come early and help
with decorations and floral arrangements.
Have someone assigned to take candid
photos. Borrow tables and chairs from
friends and neighbors to save money.
If you rent a tent in case of rain, pitch
it on the driveway instead of on a lawn that
may grow soggy.
A shrewd tip from
www.graduationparty.com: "Before the
cards started arriving, we talked to our son
about how he was going to spend the money he
received as gifts. We agreed that he could
have half of the money, but the other half
went into his savings account. I taped the
checks to a cupboard and he was allowed to
deposit them when the thank-you note was
mailed. I'm glad we discussed it ahead of
A final and perhaps unexpected piece of
advice from a parent: "Don't expect your own
student to want to stay for the entire
length of the party. He or she also wants to
go with friends to the next party. So plan
on 'dismissing' them from their role of
honored guest at least 30 to 45 minutes
before the party ends."
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185 •
email@example.comBY Kim Ode