Glitter, gifts and guestbooks: A guide to grad parties

CONGRATS GRAD. Grad parties require lots of planning, but they are a fun and lively way to recognize the accomplishments of high school graduates.
CONGRATS GRAD. Grad parties require lots of planning, but they are a fun and lively way to recognize the accomplishments of high school graduates.
Eliana Mann

Graduation parties are a time-honored tradition designed to celebrate graduates and all of their accomplishments. Typically held in the early summer after seniors have finished high school, these events invite guests to visit with the graduate and their family, reflect on the years past and offer a gift for the journey ahead. Although each grad party is unique, they all require planning on the part of the hosts and proper etiquette on the part of the guests. So, what exactly do grad parties entail?

The planning basics
The first step to planning a grad party is inviting guests. The gathering can be large or small, depending on the desired level of intimacy and the size of the event space (usually a home and/or backyard). Once the guest list is set, invitations can be sent out through the physical mail or digitally through a service like Evite or Paperless Post. The key to the invitations is including the date, time and location of the party, and collecting RSVPs if possible in order to adequately plan for the number of guests. Think carefully about the party date so as not to overlap with many other grad parties.

An excellent next step to planning is gathering inspiration. Making a Pinterest board or browsing websites with grad party tips can be helpful ways to get started.

Some important things to keep in mind when planning a grad party are the theme, decorations, food and refreshments. Grad parties don’t necessarily need a theme, but many graduates enjoy coordinating the decorations to the colors of their high school or the college they plan to attend in the fall. Developing a color scheme can help create a cohesive feeling in the event space. Decorations might include balloons, streamers, centerpieces on tables and photo displays showcasing the graduate through the years.

Food and refreshments are optional, but most grad parties have them to create a welcoming environment for guests and encourage them to stay longer. Often, food is catered by a restaurant or other catering service, and food trucks are another crowd-pleaser. It is always a possibility for the hosts to make their own food instead, but that requires significantly more work.

Overall, the planning process works best when it is organized and done well enough in advance to avoid any last-minute stress. The plan for the party should reflect what the graduate wants in a celebration, and this truly varies person to person.

ADD IT TO THE CALENDAR. The senior class has compiled a grad party calendar in Lower Schilling where students can add their party date. (Eliana Mann)

Planning insights from current seniors
Seniors Jane Higgins and Melina Kannankutty will both be throwing grad parties this summer, so they shared some of their own experiences with the planning process. Higgins will be hosting a non-traditional pool party, while Kannankutty’s party will be a joint celebration with her cousin.

Q: What’s your vision for your grad party?
Higgins: “Definitely some games like cup pong, maybe set up a volleyball net, get some pool noodles [and] beach balls out, definitely some food, dessert, drinks, music for sure.”
Kannankutty: “I’m thinking sunny summer day barbecue type vibes.”

Q: Who are you planning on inviting and how did you decide?
Higgins: “Just SPA [seniors] and it’s… less of a graduation party for me, and more of like, I want it to be a celebration of the end of the year that happens to be hosted at my house.”
Kannankutty: “[The guest list] just started ballooning anyway, so I was like, I can invite everybody and not everybody will come.”

Q: What are you most excited for about your grad party?
Higgins: “I’m just really excited to see everyone and it will be after senior projects. Obviously, everybody will be having grad parties at the same time, but we won’t have really seen each other together for a month.”
Kannankutty: “I’m really excited to be able to, I guess not say goodbye to a lot of people, but you know, just celebrate the end of an era and see my whole family. It’s really hard to get them in the same place.”

I feel like there is a lot of pressure to have a specific grad party and you don’t have to, and you can do none or you can do something a little different, and it doesn’t have to be up to the same caliber.

— Jane Higgins

Q: What’s your advice for people who are planning a grad party?
Higgins: “I feel like there is a lot of pressure to have a specific grad party and you don’t have to, and you can do none or you can do something a little different, and it doesn’t have to be up to the same caliber.”
Kannankutty: “Get your mom to do it really early because things go really fast […] and then also just sending invites and reminders, even to grandparents.”

Guest etiquette
Most grad parties function as multi-hour open houses, so guests are welcome to come and go as they please. Graduation season can get very busy and students often have several parties to attend in one day, so it is not necessary to stay for very long. However, if guests have more time on their hands, it is respectful to stay for food and spend some time chatting with the graduate and other guests. If possible, thank the host(s) for the invitation before leaving.

Attire can be very variable with some parties being more formal than others. A safe bet is to wear something that toes the line between casual and formal, but still looks very put-together. This might be a sundress and sandals, or khaki shorts and a polo, just to name a few examples.

Finally, cards and gifts are a crucial thing to consider when attending a grad party. In general, gifts are never expected from attendees. However, for those who would like to bring one, some common gifts include money, gift cards or jewelry. Getting creative with gifts can be fun, too — all that matters is choosing a gift that will be well-received by the graduate. If writing a card, try to write a personalized message that goes beyond the typical “Congratulations on your graduation!” or “Good luck with your future endeavors!” Graduates will really appreciate the kind words.

The St. Paul Academy and Summit School Class of 2024 will graduate on Sunday, June 9. Following graduation, many students will host their grad parties. Keep these tips for planning and etiquette in mind as the season of grad parties approaches.

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