Here’s How to Plan a Graduation Party—Or Any Big Event

May 14, 2016

Here’s How to Plan a Graduation Party—Or Any Big Event

Have a student graduating high school or college this year? No doubt you want to celebrate with family and friends. Probably lots of family and friends.

But if it’s been a while since you threw a big bash, you might be feeling a little rusty. We can help you conquer the intimidation factor: Just follow these simple steps to plan a graduation party (or any big event) without a hitch.

1. The Vision

It might sound silly but this step is probably the most important. Picture what kind of party you’d like to throw for the graduate, as well as what party vibe they would most enjoy. Is it a casual backyard barbecue? A louder affair with a DJ at night? A cozy brunch with only close friends? Jot down as many details as you can about how you’d ideally see the party turning out. This vision will help guide all your planning and execution.

2. The Budget

It’s important to be honest with yourself. You may have college loans coming up or another child’s tuition to cover. Staying within the amount of money you have to spend will simplify decisions and dictate where you can have the event.

3. A Guest List

Make a list of all the people you and your graduate would like to invite. Now divide it into “must haves” and “nice to haves” in the event you need to scale back based on budget or location. (Hey, it happens.)

4. Location and Date

It’s time to get details locked down. Is this a small enough event you can host at home? Would you prefer a restaurant or rented location for ease of setup and cleanup or to accommodate more guests? Your vision, budget, and guest list drive this decision. If you choose to host outdoors at home, be sure to rent a tent in case of inclement weather. Rent additional tables, linens, chairs, and glassware from the same vendor to keep things simple.

5. Creative Customizations

It’s always a beautiful touch to use a meaningful and consistent look for your event. A favorite way to toast the grad is to use pictures of them in cap and gown, or as a child, on invites, paper goods and other party decorations. Or you may have a theme or color scheme in mind, such as tumblers with their school logo, favorite flowers, or future career. Visit Pinterest for inspiration. Book balloons or flowers if it suits the setting.

6. Invites

Invitations can be as simple as posting a Facebook event, sending a group email, or mailing pretty printed cards. Any such option will get the job done. Make your decision based on how much time you have to prepare them and send them. Be sure to give a clear way to RSVP, and include the event time and location.

7. Food and Drink

If you’re hosting at home or renting a space, you should seriously consider hiring a caterer and/or bartender. They’ll help not only with food prep but also with setup and cleanup. They’ll be worth every penny and you can go as simple as trays from a local deli to an elegant spread from a high-end caterer. They can probably take care of the cake for you as well. If needed, purchase all paper goods well in advance of the party. Tip: No matter whom you hire, be sure to request a simple, signed contract listing all details and costs. Avoid surprises!

8. Entertainment

Music is a must and your grad can probably help here with favorite or nostalgic playlists. A friend, cousin, or sibling can run this for you with a laptop and some fun and festive speakers.

9. Confirm

The week before the party, call and confirm with every single rental and delivery. Go over timing, contact info, final costs, and how and when to pay.

10. Delegate

Make a detailed list of all the last-minute, day-of things that need to happen. This is especially important if hosting at home. Put friends or family members in charge of each thing so you can enjoy the graduation ceremony and welcome guests. These things include putting up decorations, setting out paper goods, greeting and paying for deliveries (and showing the delivery people where to set them up). If there will be underage partiers present, you may want someone to keep an eye on the bar.

11. Relax and Enjoy the Day

You’ve worked hard to plan this event and, really, it’s all about celebrating your graduate.


If you are planning to host this or any party outside, check out our “25 Tips to Take Outdoor Entertaining Up a Notch.”

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