Planning the Ultimate High School Graduation Party – Part 1 of 7 – Initial Planning

Soon the graduation season will be upon us, and many weekends will be spent at High School graduation parties. My wife and I are veterans of putting on really fun graduation parties. Our last was a few years ago, and friends still come to us for help planning theirs. Since I now have this blog, I thought it would be fun and cool to create a series of articles on how to plan and execute a great High School Graduation Party. In this series, I’ll be writing on several topics, including:

  • Getting the Food Right
  • Getting Drinks Right
  • Tables, Tents, Chairs and Activities
  • Having a killer play list for the party
  • The ultimate photo and awards display
  • Capturing the memories

For this first part, though, we will describe the early planning phase.

I am writing and publishing this first post in late March. If your party is this summer, now is the time to start preparing. As I mention in my introduction to this blog, I am a project manager by day. As a result, I approach most things in my life as projects to be managed.  In this post I will pose several questions and thoughts to get you started planning your project.

The Date Part I – Picking the weekend – Usually in the summer before your graduate starts their senior year, the date of the graduation ceremony will be known. This is the first step to knowing what date you will want to plan. Some families like to have their party on the same day, or weekend as the ceremony. We didn’t want to do this because we didn’t want our party rushed.

Most graduation ceremonies take place in early June. Keep in mind when planning your date that June is a very busy month. There are usually weddings to take into account, Fathers’ day, and also other graduation parties. Ask around to your family and friends to find out what other events are going on. If there is a wedding in your family, then you will know that far enough in advance to accommodate that schedule.

We found that the weekend immediately after the ceremony yielded the best results. Typically it is the weekend before Fathers’ day. It still runs the risk of clashing with other parties, but that’s ok. Some of your guests will be party flies, others will choose only yours to attend.

The Date Part II – Choosing between Saturday and Sunday – Generally speaking, Saturdays in June are more likely to be busy than Sundays. If you want to have the fewest clashes, Sunday is a good choice. If, though, you have a lot of guests who may be coming from out-of-town, or if you think your party will go late into the evening,  Saturday becomes the better choice. It gives Sunday as a recovery / travel date for those who might decide to make a weekend of it in your area. We have a lot of family that lives in other states, so Saturday was our natural choice.

 Size – how many people will you be inviting to your party. We actually started with our Christmas card list. We wrote down the names of the families that we wanted to invite, and how many adults and children from each family would be involved.

Next we went through the lists of our children’s friends. We looked at any affiliations they had through sports and school. For this early phase we concentrated on those friends whose families were going to be invited. We left the graduate to get the word out to their other friends about the party.

Once we had a good working list, we were ready for the next consideration

Location – For us this was actually a fairly easy question to answer. We held all of our parties in our house and yard. We have the advantage of having a field near the house for some activities, so hosting the party here was a good choice.  In a later post I will tell you how to plan for the weather, but at this early stage it is completely out of your control.

If you choose to use an indoor facility like a rented hall, you will want to get on the phone immediately. Most of these facilities are booked well in advance. (If you are reading this, and you have a Junior in High School, one year in advance is not out of the question for lead time).

Choosing an indoor facility may limit you for size, and also for the food, drinks and activities you may plan. Additionally, indoor facilities have a cost associated with them.

The upside of the rented hall is that it’s impervious to the weather, and it means that your house and yard will not be trashed on the day of the party.  Some places will even have the option of catering the party, which has a huge convenience factor accompanied by increased costs.

As I said above, we chose the outdoor option. We love a good yard party. June is early enough in the summer that the heat usually isn’t sweltering (at least that is true here in Michigan), but it is usually pleasant enough to have a great time.

Now that you have your guest list, date and location, you can begin planning in earnest. Here is where making a list is very helpful, or things will get away from you. Some things to consider in making your project list:

  • Small home improvements – if you are hosting the party at your house, look around at things that might need some minor repair, or sprucing up. Winter in the Midwest usually generates plenty of these honey-do items, the party will serve as a good milestone to getting them done early
  • Landscaping – again, if you are hosting, you will want to make sure your flower beds are up to your standards, the grass is green and manicured, and the trees and shrubs are neatly trimmed. You’ll actually accomplish most of these tasks in the weeks immediately before the party, but you will want to set those weekends on your calendar now so you don’t get behind
  • Planning the menu – I will have a post on things to consider when planning the menu. Planning early gives you the opportunity to shop for non-perishable items when they are on sale, and also lets you understand how long each item will take to prepare in the days just before the party.
  • Tables, Chairs, and Tents  – There will be a post coming on this as well. If you need to borrow or rent tents, tables or chairs, you will want to make those arrangements early so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute

When we did our planning, I actually bought a note book and filled it with the things we needed to do. I made sure to buy one with pockets so I could insert notes, contracts, etc. along the way to keep track of the details. This all allowed us to check things off as we went. I am an old-school, pen and paper kind of guy, so that worked well for me and served as a nice visual for everyone involved. The notebook and folder were always handy for people to add things, make updates, or check off completed items.

Today I would probably be a little more tech-savvy. There are terrific note keeping applications for smart phones, such as Evernote. If you buy the upgrade, you can share notes across multiple devices and keep everyone involved informed about the status of the project.

The important thing here is to have a good list to work from, and to get everyone on the same page. The goal is not only to have it all come together for the party day, but to do it in a way that minimizes the stress on the family.

Now that you have your basic planning done, we can move on to the details. Next up in the series we will discuss The Menu

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3 Responses to Planning the Ultimate High School Graduation Party – Part 1 of 7 – Initial Planning

  1. Pingback: Planning a Great High School Graduation Party – Part 2 of 7 – Planning the Menu | Just some thoughts I have…

  2. Pingback: The Play List from my daughter’s High School Graduation party in 2007 | Just some thoughts I have…

  3. Pingback: Play List from my son’s High School Graduation Party | Just some thoughts I have…

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