Graduation Party News


Graduation 2007: Parties that take the cake

When 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 big day."


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, 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 outnumbered.


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 be gone.


One option: Break out of the afternoon/evening mold with a brunch or pancake breakfast.


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 ("Oops!").


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 drinking.


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 drink.


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 and cheese.


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 purchased.


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 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."


Going solo?


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 encounters."


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 and gifts.




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 unexpected treat.




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 "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 time."


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 kimode@startribune.comBY Kim Ode