Your Graduation Party Planning Guide

Do you have a kiddo graduating from high school or college soon? Congratulations! This is definitely something to celebrate—it’s a major milestone for you and your soon-to-be-grad. If you are considering throwing a graduation party but feel bogged down by the details, use our planning timeline and checklist. It will help you organize a fun event while keeping your frazzle-rating at a minimum.

Four Weeks Before the Party

  • First, set a date and time.
    • Make sure it works for your grad and your immediate family, as well as a few extra-special people that you or your grad would really like to attend.
    • If you can, find out from your grad’s circle of friends if anyone else may be having a graduation party. You may try to minimize conflicting party dates/times if there are other parties.
    • Keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be the weekend of the graduation ceremony. In fact, it may be easier to do it a week or two after.
  • Next, decide on the location. Whether you do it at home or at a venue, both choices have their own sets of pros/cons.
    • Home considerations include space limitations, doing the shopping and cooking, set-up and clean-up, party rentals such as tents and tables/chairs, and possibly catering services.
    • Venue considerations include a higher budget, reservations and a deposit, minimal set-up/clean-up, limited menu options, and more rigid party hours.
  • Create Your Guest List.
    • Be sure to include your grad’s invitees: friends and their parents, teachers, coaches, tutors, bosses, the family they babysit for, etc.
    • Go ahead and invite friends and family who don’t live nearby. Even if they can’t make it, they can still send a card or present.
  • Send out the invitations. Evite or Paperless Post are both free and easy for sending electronic invitations.

Three Weeks Before the Party

  • Start working on the party decorations. I like Shutterfly’s list of 90+ ideas—some DIY and some you can buy, but all really cute!
  • Order fun customized items such as cups, napkins, banners, or balloons. No doubt about who the celebrant is!
  • A party is going to need music! Ask your graduate if they’ve got a Spotify or Pandora playlist they’d like to play (trust me, they’re not going to want your “Hits of the 80’s and 90’s” playlist blasting at their party). They may wish to create one just for the occasion.
  • Create a slideshow of photos to play on the TV or large monitor.
    • Guests will love seeing photos of your kiddo from birth to present!
    • Your grad may have photos of themselves with friends they’d like to add.
    • Play it in “Shuffle” mode and test it on the big screen before the party.

Two Weeks Before the Party

  • Are you providing a customized dessert, such as cupcakes or a cake in your grad’s school colors? Order now and make sure you specify the date/time you need to pick it up or have it delivered.
  • If you are providing all the food, start making the items that can be pre-made and frozen (such as sauces and cookies).
  • Buy a guestbook or create a giant card or poster for guests to sign. Get Sharpie pens, too.
  • Make a list of anything you still need (e.g., tables and chairs, chafing dishes, etc.), then borrow/buy/rent as necessary.

One Week Before the Party

  • Go through your guest list and send reminders to or call those who have not yet RSVP-d. This should give you close to your final headcount, which helps with menu planning.
  • Finalize the menu.
    • If you are providing all the food, create your grocery list of food/drinks.
    • If using a caterer, finalize the menu selections.
    • If the party is at a venue, finalize the menu with their party coordinator.
  • Check the weather and prepare or make changes as needed.
  • Finalize the party music and slideshow, and test both. You don’t want any technical glitches on the big day!

Two Days Before the Party

  • Start prepping and/or cooking some of the foods that can be stored in the fridge.
  • On the food and drink tables, put Post-it notes to mark where you will set the platters, utensils, napkins, cups, etc. This helps you visualize how the tables will look, in case you need more room.
  • Check the weather once more, in case something changed and you need to make adjustments to your plans.
  • Set out garbage and recycling bins, and place extra bags at the bottom to make changing them out quick and easy.
  • Make sure your bathrooms are clean, there is enough hand soap, and there are extra toilet paper rolls in sight.

One Day Before the Party

  • Arrange the furniture as needed. If you’ve rented items such as a tent or tables/chairs, these will be delivered—set them up in party formation.
  • Arrange the party napkins, plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Have a table especially for gifts, with a card box, guest book, and pens.
  • Set out all the party decorations. Good times are a-coming!
  • If the party is at a venue, call or email their party coordinator and finalize all the details one last time.
  • In the afternoon or evening, prep and prepare any of the food that you can. The less you’ll have to actually cook on party day, the better.

Party Time!

  • Earlier in the day, get ice from the grocery store and place it in a cooler. Fill it with beverages before guests arrive.
  • Charge your smartphone or camera so your devices are powered up for the party.
  • Tie balloons or ribbons to the mailbox or signpost by your house.
  • Prepare and set out the food. Keep cold items in the fridge until the guests begin to arrive.
  • Before guests arrive, start the slideshow (have it play in a continuous loop) and the music.
One last thing: Before the party starts and the place is full of people, take photos of your family with your graduate, and as well as of the decorations, food, and settings. Along with all the photos you’ll take during the party, you can collect them all together for a photobook keepsake for yourself, and your grad. Have a great time!

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