Graduation is a time of change and excitement, so it's the perfect occasion to throw a fun and engaging party. Whether you're hosting close friends and relatives or you want to coordinate a massive event for your class, you need to know how to plan a graduation party. Fortunately, we're here to help. From the venue to the entertainment, here's everything you need, complete with a checklist, so you can cross off specific items as you go.
Planning Your Graduation Party Checklist
Checklists are perfect for coordinating or planning any kind of party, as they ensure you never forget anything and that you can track your progress. While each graduation party will be unique, here are some standard elements to consider, starting from months before the party to the day before.
One Month+ Before
- Reserve a Graduation Party Venue (ASAP/6+ months before)
- Determine Entertainment Options (2-3 months before)
- Come Up With a Theme (1-2 months before)
- Send Invites w/Theme and List of Entertainment (1-2 months before)
- Determine Food and Beverage (1 month before)
3-4 Weeks Before
- Start Buying Decorations and Party Favors (if applicable)
- Create an Itinerary for the Day of the Party
- Finalize Catering and Entertainment Options
- Order Specialty Cakes or Treats (if Applicable)
- Check Your RSVP List and Re-Send Invites as Needed
1-2 Weeks Before
- Finalize Guest List (including any +1s)
- Do a Venue Walkthrough (if Renting a Venue)
- Finalize Entertainment Needs (e.g., party music playlist, special songs, announcements, speeches, etc.)
- Update and Finalize Party Itinerary (arrival times, set up and tear down times, etc.)
1-3 Days Before
- Finalize Jobs (e.g., who's doing decorations, who's bringing the guest of honor, etc.)
- Pick Up Any Specialty Cakes or Treats
- Adjust to Any Last-Minute Changes (cancelations, time changes, etc.)
- Re-Confirm Arrival Times of Any Vendors (DJ, Catering, etc.)
When confirming various details, make sure to be as accommodating as possible and avoid basic mistakes. For example, ask about dietary or beverage restrictions. If someone can't have dairy or meat, you should provide alternative meal and snack options. Also, budget for some extra food, just in case. If the party runs for several hours, people will want to eat and snack throughout. It's always better to have too much (within reason) than too little.
How to Plan a Graduation Party
Now that we've shown you the graduation party checklist, let's dive in further and break down the various elements of planning your event. These tips and recommendations should work for any type of graduation party, no matter the size or context.
Choose a Date and Time
Realistically, you should already know the date of your graduation, and it's best to set your party after that date, although the specific time can be a little flexible. For example, if it's on a Friday, you can set it for the following day, or you can set it a week later.
Also, when choosing a date and time, consider the following factors:
Venue Availability - Many venues can fill up during graduation season, so you may have to plan your party date around their availability.
Guest Availability - Ask people on your guest list if they'll be available during the date or weekend you're planning on.
Select a Venue
Venue selection is a crucial part of planning any graduation party, as it will dictate factors like the size of your event, how much preparation or decorating you may have to do, and whether you need to consider other elements like bathrooms, garbage service, or catering. Here's a rundown of some basic elements to focus on when selecting the right venue:
Guest Count - If you're having an intimate graduation party with friends and relatives, it may make sense to host it at a house since that will be much cheaper than renting a venue. However, if you're hosting more than 50 guests, it's better to upgrade to a space that's built to accommodate crowds.
Weather - Graduation celebrations typically happen in late spring or early summer, when the weather is relatively nice. So, you may opt for an outdoor venue for your event, such as a park or amphitheater. However, weather forecasts can change up to and including the day of the event, so prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Parking - Another challenge of hosting a house party is that there may not be sufficient parking in the neighborhood. Some venues have dedicated parking, while others may not. So, determine how much parking you need and whether your venue is ideal for your guest count. If necessary, you could recommend guests to carpool to make it easier.
Music and Entertainment
It's not a party without music or something to keep your guests occupied. Graduation parties can be kind of tricky, though, as they tend to attract both younger and older guests (i.e., graduates and their parents). So, it's often best to choose a party music playlist that doesn't feature anything too graphic or controversial.
That said, there may be "stages" of the party, so the music can change throughout the night. For example, you could have background or "dinner" music at first, then after any announcements or speeches, you can switch to dance and party music. This way, older attendees can still come and celebrate, then leave when the party starts to get wild.
As for entertainment, some options include:
1. Social Video Games (e.g., Wii sports or competition games)
2. Board Games
3. Game Show w/Host
4. Live Bingo (can be related to graduation or the school)
Another fantastic option to engage your guests is to use Storybook. This app allows you to create a customized experience for your guests that they will love and appreciate. Storybook enables you to incorporate customized quizzes, photo libraries, and an interactive wall where guests can post images and text throughout the event (and see what others are posting).
Storybook is a fantastic addition to any party, but it works perfectly for a graduation event, especially if you're inviting friends you may not see for a long time. This way, you can capture and share memories that will last forever.
Come Up With Cool Party Photo Ideas
While regular photos are always a treat at a party, you can kick things up a notch by providing some special and unique photo opportunities. Some examples that work for a graduation event can include:
Yearbook Photos - Have guests dress in a cap and gown and take their picture as if they're graduating. Then, you can compile these images in a digital or physical "yearbook."
School Pride - You can incorporate props with the school logo (e.g., hats, hoodies, banners) or print a backdrop with the school or its logo on it. This way, guests can all share in your school pride, especially if you're inviting fellow graduates.
Historical Photos - Graduation is a time of reflection, so you can incorporate images of yourself throughout your educational years. For example, a backdrop with old family photos lets your guests be a part of that history. Best of all is if some of the guests are also in the older photos.
To make these photos more engaging, you can use Instant Spotlight. This program allows you to collect and display photos at the event in real-time. So, as guests take pictures, they can upload them to the queue and see their images displayed immediately. This way, guests don't have to wait to share their images after the party, they can see everyone's snaps right away.
Budgeting for Your Graduation Party
Before you can finalize any details, it's imperative to have a party budget. Realistically, you may need help from friends or relatives to make the event a hit, but it's also crucial to be practical with your limits. As a rule, the most expensive elements of party planning include:
- Venue Rental
- Entertainment Rental (i.e., a DJ or live band)
- Professional Catering
If you have a limited budget, you may have to choose which elements are most important for the party. For example, you might choose a venue rental and supply your own food and snacks to trim your costs. Or, you may provide excellent catering for a house party and save on venue expenses.
When crafting your budget, make sure to list everything out, then start trimming what you don't need. If necessary, you can break your list into "must-haves," "want-to-haves," and "only if we can afford it." This way, you can start trimming from the bottom and work your way up as needed.
Develop a Theme
While the theme of "graduation" can sometimes be enough for a party, why not make it even more special by incorporating a unique theme? Some common themes can include:
- Roaring 20's
- Tropical Paradise (Tiki)
- Video Game Characters
- Dark and Spooky
Choose something that makes it easy to decorate and dress up. Most guests will love the ability to dress for the theme, such as wearing Hawaiian shirts for a tropical theme or fancy attire for a Roaring 20s party. That said, also choose something you like and appreciate, since it's your party.
Food and Beverage
Catering is often the easiest option for a graduation party since you don't have to worry about buying, preparing, and cooking food. However, hiring a caterer can be expensive, particularly if they create a unique event menu.
That said, you can still cater your party without blowing your budget. For example, most sandwich shops offer platters, or you can buy catering packages from one of your favorite restaurants. Also, you can see about renting a food cart or truck that can park in a parking lot or your driveway.
If you supply the food yourself, you'll need a meal and various snacks. Also, don't forget to ask about dietary restrictions from your guests. If you're hosting a relatively short party (i.e., two to three hours), you can probably get away with just offering snacks. However, it's best to have small bites, not just chips and dip.
Sending Out Invitations
Your invitations should be a reflection of the party itself. Some elements to include are:
- Theme - If you're using a unique theme (like tropical), you can incorporate elements into the invitation imagery (i.e., palm trees or coconuts).
- Entertainment - Make sure to include any entertainment options so guests know what to expect.
- Call to RSVP - Many people don't realize they have to respond to an invitation, so they might show up without prior warning. Make sure to tell guests to RSVP on the invitation (and still follow up with them)
Some guests may be excellent at responding to an RSVP, while others aren't. Although RSVPs can be a good indicator of how many people to expect, it's still best to reach out to everyone on your list in the week leading up to the event. Texts, emails, and phone calls are fantastic, and you can mark everyone down on your master guest list.
Overall, confirming RSVPs just before the event works well because it reminds your guests of what's coming up and helps you adjust your plans accordingly (if necessary). Ideally, you can have a master list of guest names, contact information, and whether they're a yes, no, or a maybe. Then, just update that list as people confirm.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, planning a graduation party involves a lot of steps, but the more you prepare, the easier it will be to pull it off. Success isn't necessarily a matter of having the best budget or venue. Instead, it's a matter of creating a memorable event with engaging elements (like Storybook).
FAQs About a Graduation Party
1. What should be included in a graduation party?
The essential elements of a graduation party should include music, entertainment, and photo opportunities with the graduate. You must also have at least snacks and drinks for guests.
2. How do you plan a graduation party checklist?
The best option is to write down everything you need to do and then assign deadlines for each item. As you come up with a deadline, you can rearrange each task in chronological order. That way, everything is finished on time.
3. How many hours should a graduation party be?
The correct answer depends on the type of event you're trying to have. However, most graduation parties can be a minimum of three hours and a maximum of six to eight hours.