I spent most of Mother’s Day in pajamas, binging Law & Order SVU. Which was actually an excellent way to spend Mother’s Day; highly recommend. Anyway, I was completely fried from hosting my twin daughters’ high school graduation open house party the day before. Even though I outsourced way more of the party work than I normally do and even though I had loads of good help setting up and striking the party.
I’m sure part of all that was having had bronchitis for about a month and just juggling so much. The party was the milestone I’ve been trying to get through. Graduation is two weeks after the party, and while there are still lots of events between now and then, and plenty of getting ready for college stuff to do, none of that rests mainly on me in the way the party did, so I guess it all feels easier.
Senior year is no joke, folks. Expensive and busy. You heard it here.
Onto the party!
First of all, we had a great time and I’m so glad the girls wanted to have a party. It gave us all a chance to celebrate with family, neighbors, special friends, the girls’ friends and their parents. It felt really good to mark the moment.
How we planned our graduation open house
We left it up to the girls whether or not they wanted a graduation party. They had opted for a trip instead of an 18th birthday party, so when they asked for a graduation party, we went bigger than normal for this event.
I started by prompting the girls to brainstorm what they wanted for their graduation party. We hit all the basics: location, guests, food, activities, decor, party favors. I always wind up creating the tools I need for hosting parties, so out of this planning process, I made my Graduation Party Planner — maybe it can help you plan and organize your graduation party!
Choosing a location for your graduation party
The 90+ guest list made renting our subdivision clubhouse an easy choice. (And thank goodness we didn’t try to have the party at home because the guest list swelled to about 120.)
Of course, so many kids are having graduation parties in this season, that a 3-hour open house made sense. It allowed guests to pop in and still have time to visit another party. We scheduled our party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on a Saturday before graduation.
How to arrange your graduation party space
One of the tricks to a party with a large guest count is traffic flow: how do you keep guests moving through your party space?
I had basically two large rooms to work with, so I sketched out stations for:
- Guest book
- Gifts and cards
- Drinks (keep drinks separate from food to keep guests moving)
- Eating and visiting
- Party Favors
The easiest way to sketch out your space is by taking measurements of the space, furniture and rentals, then trying out arrangements on graph paper.
Our plan included moving furniture from the large room where guest entered into the second large room. (Hint: furniture sliders!) The plan was to focus decoration and party stations in the first room and use the second room for seating. We rented five cocktail tables and white tablecloths to create our party area in the main room.
P.S. Once you know how much staging you have to do, you can estimate what time you need to begin setting up. We started loading our cars at 8 a.m. for a 2 p.m. party start time.
What to serve at your graduation party
Time usually dictates party food. For an afternoon birthday party, I usually serve only a dessert table and don’t feel like a lunch is needed. But for an open house, we treated it more like a cocktail party, and served charcuterie-style appetizers and dessert. Four boards were the traditional mix of cured meats, cheeses, crackers, fruits and vegetables and two boards were a combination of sweets and fruits. It was all delicious!
We skipped a cake because with guests coming and going during an open house, there wouldn’t be a moment to cut the cake.
I did have a delusional moment where I thought I could prepare some of the party food. Thank goodness I left it all to the caterer and gave myself that break! I only wound up adding red and black M&Ms to each cocktail table.
For drinks, we served lemonade and ice tea in beverage dispensers plus half-size water bottles in a beverage tub.
How to decorate your graduation party
I would have chosen to decorate in the high school colors, but my girls wanted their future college colors. For us, that meant University of Georgia red, black and white. Super easy, because my husband went to UGA and so I could pull “party props” from around the house.
We started with a welcome sign at the door of the clubhouse. The sign is a printable template that we customized and then had mounted on foam core board. Baby A added the honeycomb and baby’s breath accents at the corners.
For the fireplace mantle, I pinned a variety of UGA felt pennants to foam core board and added it to an open frame. (We first used the frame at my girls’ Nancy Drew Mystery birthday party.) I also made a custom version of my red, black and white ribbon bunting.
On each cocktail table, we added a small arrangement of white flowers. (Another party item I opted not to create myself when our local florist worked with me to get the cost of each arrangement down to $25.)
To each arrangement, we added a custom mini pennant from Pennant 4 Your Thoughts on Etsy. These little felt pennants were probably my favor decor item. The pennants read:
- Meg & Grace
- Class of 2023
- Go Dawgs
- Next 4
- Athens Bound
- Future Bulldogs
What to do at your graduation party
We created a few moments in our party for guests to circulate around and marked them with signage for clarity.
As guests entered, they could sign a guest book. Guests could write a little note on a card and then slip it into an envelope I’d mounted inside the guest book. (Idea from Martha Stewart.)
In the side room (leading to the seating area), we set up a balloon garland photo booth area. (Baby B’s request and yet another party element I did not want to stress over assembling myself on the morning of the party.)
We also created a mini high school memorabilia area, using some senior photos of the girls, plus scrapbooks I’d made for each of them of their school pictures throughout the years. We also included Baby B’s glove and bat from her softball days.
We also set aside a cocktail table for cards and gifts.
And of course, the girls took LOADS of selfies and photos with their friends.
Party Favors for a Graduation Party
My main goal for the party favors was to have a sweet token that was also cost effective. The white treat bags were supposed to have custom art printed on them, but the bags were cursed (long story) and so we went with plain white bags tied with red, black or white ribbon. Each bag had candy chosen for it’s name: Nerds, Smarties, Air Heads and Starburst. Candy is a choice that works for the parents and kids attending a graduation party.
- Party planning and styling: The Party Teacher
- Photography: Barefeet Imagery
- Welcome sign: Scarlett Weddings Co on Etsy
- Catering: Graze Craze
- Balloons: Balloons by Miniel
- Flowers: Brenda’s House of Flowers
- Ribbon bunting: The Party Teacher
- Guest book: Amazon
- MIni envelopes and notecards: Amazon
- Plates & forks: Amazon
- Cups: Amazon
- Napkins: Amazon
- M&M bowls: Amazon
- Beverage dispensers: Amazon
- Black placecard holders: Amazon
- Red, black and white honeycomb pennants: Amazon
- Black wire basket for cards: Amazon
- Black 5″ x 7″ frames: Amazon
- UGA pennants: UGA bookstore
- Mini felt pennants: Pennant 4 Your Thoughts on Etsy