Rice isn’t the only thing getting thrown over the next few weeks, graduation caps will also be taking to the skies. Alongside brides, high school and college seniors will be planning parties with multigenerational guest lists. What should you keep in mind when the party goers range from small children to grandparents? We talked to experts and compiled five simple tips on making your guests comfortable with these unique graduation party ideas.
Graduation Gifts: Five Creative Ways to Giving Money
Whether they’ve just finished high school or earned a college degree, most new grads appreciate graduation gifts of cash. And giving money is an excellent way to say, “Do something nice for yourself, you’ve earned it”. But giving money can also mean “I put very little effort into choosing this gift.”
Avoid looking like you took the easy way out and gave your cash graduation gifts a little pizazz. Here are our five favorite ways to get creative when giving money.
Money Flower Bouquet:
She will probably get flowers on graduation day anyway, right? Replace the blooms with some green she can actually use. Here you will find detailed instructions on creating a lovely flower bouquet perfect for giving as graduation gifts or for any other special occasion.
Give your graduation gift in $1 denominations, bound together like a checkbook. Simply take your stack of dollar bills to the local office supply store and ask them to glue-bind the top edges with a cardboard backing. Once completed, slide the “checkbook” into a cover and include a check register showing the starting balance.
Practice the ancient Japanese art of paper folding with some crisp bills for an entirely unique presentation of your cash graduation gifts. You can buy a book with detailed instructions or search online to find free money origami instructions.
Soap making has become a popular hobby. You can pick up a kit at just about any craft supply store. Simply follow the instructions for making a batch of transparent glycerin soap, but place a folded bill into the mold before pouring.
Also, decorate for the graduation party with money balloons. Before inflating, stuff a bill or two into colorful balloons and hang them around the party room. To help the grad get to those graduation gifts out, wrap up a lovely package containing a straight pin for popping.
When you’re dealing with many different appetites, dietary demands and arrival times, a buffet meal is best. Cousin Sheila showed up early with a cranky three-year-old? Steer them to the finger sandwiches. Your great-aunt Betsy only wants a dainty morsel while Uncle Bob could eat a horse? Everyone can fill their plates as they please.
Lizzie Post offered a buffet at her own college graduation party — but first kicked things off with some hors d’oeuvres, since people tend to show up at different times. “My family came back right after the ceremony, and we had something like a cocktail hour,” she told. “We had a stretch of time when people were arriving, getting settled, getting drinks and nibbling [on snacks]. An hour in, the buffet was ready to go.”
Post advises hosts to “try to find a middle ground when it comes to music. You don’t need to go too much classical because your grandparents are around, but find a mix of ‘oldies but goodies’ like Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, stuff from the 1950s and 60s that’s fun yet not blaring.” And keep in mind that by now, pop hits from the 1980s count as party-friendly vintage, too.
Modern bands with a slightly retro or world-music sound are another good bet, like Pink Martini, Norah Jones or Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. If you’re putting together a dancing playlist, ask yourself, “Would Tom Hanks listen to this?” (If you’re wondering about “Single Ladies,” the answer is yes.)
3. Prepare a toast or two
Plan on a few minutes to thank your family and friends, not only for coming to your party but for their support and love over the years. This is especially important if your graduation ceremony only allows a few attendees per student so that other close family and friends weren’t able to see the official pomp-and-circumstance event.
As with a wedding, toasts should be appreciative, sincere and short. The toast is a fantastic opportunity to thank people who may have contributed to your education in unusual ways, like the roommate who kept you sane during final exams, the teacher who sparked your love of math or the godparent who got you your first library card.
Such toasts also help as icebreakers for a multigenerational group. Post explains, “a sweet toast by the parents and the graduate will help everyone feel connected.” Friends of the graduate may hear a touching story about older guests — and vice versa.
4. Be considerate about seating
With a diverse crowd, you’ll need different kinds of seating to accommodate various needs. Picnic benches or cushions on the lawn might be fine for younger people, but older guests will likely want seats with backs. If you’re expecting someone who’s expecting, make sure there’s a steady chair with arms so she can get up easily.
5. Consider providing a babysitter and/or a play area
If you have more than three or four young children at your party, carve out some space and a bit of your party budget for a play zone. This could be as simple as a table stocked with basic, low-mess craft supplies like stickers, crayons, and colored paper, or a part of the lawn set aside with bubble-making sets and hula hoops.
Expecting an entire pre-school’s worth of kids? Having a babysitter on hand will give the parents a breather. Of course, the children don’t need to be tightly chaperoned or taken to another room, but having a designated person to watch over the play area, lead some games and hand out the juice boxes will give the rest of the guests a bit more peace of mind.
Graduation Announcement Etiquette
Graduation announcements serve to let family and friends know of your student’s academic achievement without actually inviting them to the commencement ceremony. This is necessary because most schools limit the number of guests from each family, and those seats must, therefore, be parceled out to only a select few.
But for those with whom you wish to share the good news, graduation announcements are the way to go. Most schools make it a cinch to order them through pre-selected stationers, or you can design and print your own.
However you decide to acquire your graduation announcements, the etiquette is the same. It should include all the details, including the name of the student, the school, the degree conferred and the date of graduation. The outer envelope should be hand-written and addressed formally, i.e. Mr. and Mrs. Bob Smith. Inside, the announcement and the graduate’s photo, if desired, should be included within an informally addressed inner envelope, i.e., Aunt Lori and Uncle Joe.
Gifts should not be expected from those who receive graduation announcements. Because this is often a source of confusion, a “No Gifts” line at the bottom of it will ensure the recipient understands that all you are after is their well-wishes.
If, however, the graduation announcements result in a shower of gifts, it is important that the graduate sends timely notes of thanks. As a rule, thank-you notes should be sent within a month of receipt of the gift.
How Will You Celebrate Graduation? That Depends on Where You Live
Over the next few months, at nearly every high school in the country, students will don ill-fitting caps and gowns in their school colors and take part in the pomp and circumstance of graduation. It’s a pretty standard formula with little deviation, after all, it’s tradition.
However, when it comes time to celebrate the graduation, tradition merges with geography and local culture. Graduates and their families host everything from town-wide blowouts to intimate family gatherings, and in our experience, the choice of party is widely controlled by geography. Think about it: Didn’t all of your high school friends throw the same kind of graduation party that you did?
I graduated from a rural high school in Kentucky. There were about 180 in my graduating class, and every year near graduation, a huge paper calendar was hung in the hall so the seniors could write down the date and time of their open house. Everyone was invited (hence the open part of the open house); mine was held in the backyard of my parents’ house and was enormous. I don’t know that I even knew the names of everyone there. I figured that was the norm.
However, when I moved to New Jersey, I attended the graduation parties of my friends’ younger siblings and was shocked to see that I was among just a handful of friends and family in attendance. In some cases, the graduate didn’t even make an appearance — it was just a chance for close friends and family to celebrate and eat a little bit of cake.
So what are the regional traditions for graduation celebrations? We spoke to folks from all across the nation about graduation parties in their area. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Park Tudor High School Indianapolis, Indiana
Michael Knapp graduated last year in a class of approximately 115 students — but don’t think that a small class size meant a small party. “My family, along with the families of my four closest friends, hosted an open house throughout the afternoon at a country club. There were easily over 200 guests throughout the day — friends, parents’ friends, and relatives,” he recalls. “Other students in my class held similar events to celebrate their graduation.”
Knapp’s party was catered, as were most of the open houses he attended, with most having cash or open bar. A few families opted to cook out in the backyard.
While the primary objective in holding an open house is, of course, to celebrate the graduate, there is often another incentive, at least for the guest of honor: The gifts. “I received a lot of money (which, of course, was part of the plan) as well as other beautiful items or even college supplies like a laundry basket and directions on how to do the laundry!”
Roscoe Central High School Roscoe, New York
Katelyn Aileen Horton graduated from a rural New York high school last June, and her mother, Mary Jo, threw a party similar to others in the area. She and her daughter decorated room at a local restaurant with inexpensive party store decorations and lots of balloons. They had about 40 guests — not a bad turnout, as Katelyn’s graduating class had just over 20 students.
Mary Jo Horton and her mother did most of the prep work themselves, including the food. “Are you kidding? We are an Irish family, of course, there was food! We had finger foods, cheese, and crackers, veggie and chips with dip and much more.”
Although Katelyn’s party was small, her guests came with gifts. “I definitely would not go to [a graduation party] without bringing a gift,” said Mary Jo. “My own personal opinion is to give cash unless you know of a particular item a college-bound teenager needs. But any kid going off to college can use cash or dorm related items.” Some things don’t vary much by region after all!
West Valley High School Fairbanks, Alaska
Jeff Roach describes the graduation party experience in his area a little differently. While there are small, individual parties held the weekend after the Thursday night graduation (his daughters had sleepovers with five or six friends, and his son had a video game all-nighter with 10 friends), the big party in Fairbanks is held the night of graduation.
“There is a large, parent-sponsored graduation party held annually,” Roach tells us, saying that most of the 240 students in the class attend, and it’s an all night party ending at 9:00 am the morning after the graduation. Typical activities include dancing and karaoke, sumo suit wrestling and other games.
This party isn’t about the gifts, though — instead, there are the prizes. “Prizes of all types are donated by businesses and purchased with funds raised by parent volunteer group,” he adds. “The community and businesses are very generous with prizes. Some years cars are donated as a grand prize. Every grad attending leaves with something.”
One thing is for certain — there will be a lot of graduation parties this year. Why? Because there are so many graduates, of course!
Graduation Party Food Ideas
Throw an Unconventional Cocktail Party for Graduation (with Boozy Food)
Unless you’ve raised Doogie Howser, your child’s college graduation marks the jump from childhood to adulthood, and it’s the perfect opportunity to add some tasty liquor to your upcoming celebration.
We always think of 21 as that year when kids let loose on the waves of liberation. But it also marks a whole new world of celebration opportunities. Graduation parties are no longer limited to hot dogs, hamburgers, and coolers fill with soda. They can now have a boozy twist — one that is best served in the food. We wouldn’t dare suggest everyone drink ’til they pass out; instead, this year’s college graduation shindig can use alcohol in a more mature way, digging into delectable eats while ushering the grad from red plastic cups of beer to cocktails and maturity.
As delicious as alcohol is when it’s well-prepared and served in a glass, it’s equally tasty in some foods that can celebrate flavor without an ever-rising blood-alcohol level. To get you started, here are some great eats that thrive on a little libation:
Instead of a frosting-laden monstrosity from the store, whip up a simple rum cake. It’s nothing more than a simple cake that’s baked and then soaked in a rum glaze. Just be sure to use a good-tasting rum. Skimping on the liquor will leave you with a cheap-tasting cake.
Brown Sugar and Bourbon Ribs
Lots of graduation celebrations take place outside, so put the bourbon to work with roast ribs that are finished on the barbecue. These babies are grilled ’til sticky and served with some extra sauce on top.
On the same track, add poultry to the mix with Grilled Brined Turkey, which gets amped up with 2 12-ounce beers. What kind is up to you. (As an added taste of bourbon, the breast is topped with bacon gravy.)
A pretty simple recipe from an old favorite. The sauce is just a simple tomato sauce boiled with vodka and then perked up with some heavy cream and grated parmesan. Super straightforward and super tasty.
You may have noticed artisanal truffles gaining popularity. Here’s the secret: they’re super easy to make! A quick chocolate mixture is melted up, mixed with alcohol, and cooled in the refrigerator. When firm, they’re only rolled and re-chilled. Any number of liquors will do the trick; Grand Marnier, Kirsch, Kahlua, cognac, you name it.
Super-easy for the party situation, Rachel Ray gives a cheese plate a kid with sliced oranges doused in brandy. The alcohol quotient can be increased by hitting your local cheesemonger and finding cheeses with wine, vodka, and other libations.
A quick marinade with tequila and lime is all these chicken needs. After cut into strips, the bird is marinated, grilled, and topped with cooked marinade.
Graduation Party Decoration Ideas
Let These Graduation Quotes Inspire Your Party Decor
Graduation quotes are a time-honored and traditional way to send a new graduate off into the world. These carefully chosen words of wisdom are meant to inspire and encourage as the newly-minted adult goes forth in search of success and happiness.
But rather than just raise a toast and recite some words that will quickly be forgotten, why not create a permanent record of all these well-wishes and advice? Here are some inspirational party decor ideas for making graduation quotes the centerpiece of your post-commencement celebration.
Cover party tables with clean, white clothes and provide a supply of permanent markers. Ask each guest to jot down a personal graduation quote on the cloth and present them to the grad at the end of the party.
Purchase a large photo mat and ask guests to decorate it with their graduation quotes. After the party, use the personalized mat to frame a special photo to present to the graduate.
Give each guest a 3×5 piece of card stock and ask them to jot down a few words for the graduate. Gather the cards together after the party and have them made into a one-of-a-kind graduation quotes book.
And if you’re drawing a blank trying to come up with meaningful graduation quotes on your own, feel free to borrow one of these gems:
“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” – Dr. Seuss
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” – Les Brown
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson