I’ve taken it slow on this blog of mine since that conference back in March, where I spoke of “pivoting’ in my talk to a room of beautiful fighters, survivors and caregivers…a talk of which I will share here on the blog soon.
I looked out in the crowd as I took in a breath before speaking and thought, “These are my people.”
It is quite a feat throwing a graduation party for over 200. Thank goodness I was not alone in it, as my 2 sisters-in-law also had graduates this year, so my Teagan and her cousins decided to do a joint graduation party.
This made sense because we have a large family and many friends in common, so it would save many of them from having to attend 3 different parties.
Thank goodness my gracious in-laws have an amazing space with a large patio, deck, and yard that we could use. It was the perfect venue!
We crossed our fingers for good weather and it turned out to be a nice day…cloudy but nice.
Planning a Graduation Party
My sisters-in-law’s and I used the convenience of group text to do most of our communicating.
We also used our monthly family Pizza Sunday tradition as opportunities to start planning and met together one evening at a coffee shop as the time drew near.
This was much fun and I find myself missing our constant group texts! I love the friendship we have and am so grateful for them.
My hope for you (if you are here reading before planning your own graduation party) is that hearing how we did it will give you some tips, tricks, and direction in how to plan yours!
My Anxiety Over The Graduation Party – What Not to Do!
I have to admit, I started feeling a bit of anxiety over planning a graduation party early in the school year.
Want to know my biggest dread? Finding and organizing photos from my Teagan’s lifetime. Seriously! I was so hard on myself for being so unorganized with photos.
I had visions of photos being perfectly filed away by year on my computer and put a ton of pressure on myself to have this done by the party.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Just when I think I have learned to let go of my perfectionist ways…something comes along and I get to practice letting go again!
I know I am not alone in having some photos tucked away in shoeboxes, some on disks, some on an old computer that has not been turned on for years, etc. Tell me I am not alone!
See why I had to let go of my perfect vision of perfectly perfect digitized, alphabetized, organized by year photos? Too many photos in too many places.
Thankfully this was much less of a hassle than I thought it would be. I cannot tell you how relieved I felt when I realized it was not going to be as big of a deal as I thought.
My Teagan took the initiative in gathering her favorite photos, and I decided to let go of perfection. It was a joy to see what memories and photos she was personally drawn to and her choices really showed her character as they were full of meaningful people and occasions.
She found treasures in that photo shoebox, and we used an app called Photomyne that digitizes them in minutes, by taking a photo of several hard copy photos. It then scans them and you have digital photos in seconds!
We used these digital files to make a quick iphoto slideshow to play on my laptop next to her grad table. It was a nice personal touch and people enjoyed standing there watching our girl grow up right before their eyes.
I let go of perfection which means we did not have a photo of her for every single year and stage of her life, but we had so, so many precious memories to remind us of what a blessing she has been to raise and parent.
The Layout – Decide Where and What
We talked early about where we would put the food table, beverage table, dessert table and 3 grad tables. These were all kept indoors just in case of rain.
We put 5 round tables outside (3 on the patio and 2 on the deck) which was enough to seat about 40 people.
The food buffet table was in the dining room, the dessert table was displayed front and center as we knew it would be beautiful and we wanted it out for all to enjoy.
The beverage table was kept near the dessert table. We did talk about putting it outside, but then decided we didn’t want to worry about cups blowing away.
Our graduate display tables were all in the main living room area, and there was also extra seating in there with several couches comfy chairs and benches.
Keep the weather in mind and plan accordingly.
Think about how you want the ‘flow’ of the party. Where people will walk when they enter, how they will get to the grad tables and food tables.
Keep the pretty tables front and center! Our dessert table was so pretty that it was like one big giant decorative element.
The graduate table is the perfect place to get personal and let your graduate’s personality shine.
My Teagan had some great ideas for hers, letting me know she wanted a pallet to hang some photos in a creative way, also that she wanted her love for succulents to show and help beautify her table.
She shopped at local thrift stores and found a fun gold tree with branches to hang her wallet senior pictures on, and we used elements from nature, like wood (simple wooden cutting boards from our kitchen became display boards), airplants and succulents.
She had envelopes with directions for people to leave their address so she could thank them for coming. She also had a journal sitting out with a sign that said: “write a note to the graduate” which ended up being such a special keepsake.
She chose the photos she wanted to display, and we framed one large senior photo and had framed collage of photos of her growing up, along with a slideshow playing nearby on my laptop.
She also had her college acceptance letter, different scholarships and certificates displayed, and all her marathon tags gathered on a ring.
A candle and string lights added some nice sparkle to her table. It was so fun to take the elements she gathered and create a table that reflected my girl!
Think about your graduate’s personality and what they love, and reflect it in the table decor
Shop thrift stores and your own home for items that have the look you are going for, think about bringing in an element from nature and different textures to add interest.
The element of light can make a table warm and welcoming. A table lamp, battery operated string lights or twinkle lights and a candle can create nice ambiance on your table.
Graduation Food Table
We decided early that we wanted to have a burrito bowl buffet from Chipotle and ideally would cater in the chicken, fajita veggies, and rice.
We would then get the toppings from Sam’s and Costco. This would allow us to have more control over the toppings and would be cost-effective, but we would not have to worry about cooking.
Chipotle has a policy where you have to order their entire buffet (including toppings) and would not allow us to order individual entries.
We ended up using Qdoba catering instead, and they did an amazing job, provided delicious chicken, fajita veggies, and rice, set it all up for us in a timely manner and made us very happy!
We rounded out the buffet by purchasing our own toppings (guacamole, shredded cheese, tortilla chips, salsa, and sour cream.)
I can’t tell you how yummy these burrito bowls were, and the addition of the fajita veg made it very vegetarian-friendly.
Also, by going with Qdoba instead of Chipotle, we cut the cost by 2/3rds without compromising on taste. When you are providing food for 200-300, this is a substantial amount of savings.
Don’t hesitate to call around for different prices of food, and be flexible with initial plans. By doing this we saved hundreds of dollars and you can too!
Decide what is worth paying for. It was huge that we didn’t have to worry about cooking and allowed us to really enjoy the process.
You don’t have to cater the entire meal. Decide what makes the most sense (and save the most cents, if that is a desire) for you and your situation.
Graduation Dessert Table
This was the fun part! We decided to bring all our white or clear glass platters and cake stands. Between the 3 of us, ended up having so many beautiful things to create a beautiful dessert table.
We each decided what dessert we would bring, and our graduates had a good say in this!
My Teagan decided she wanted cupcakes because she knew her little sister had mad skills in decorating them and would make them pretty!
We made 150 cupcakes, which really was a breeze because we used boxed cake mixes and homemade frosting. I baked the cupcakes the night before, and my youngest daughter, Avery, rocked the frosting the morning of the graduation party.
My one sister-in-law brought macarons, which make any dessert table look instantly delicious and special!
She also took some brownie bites from Sam’s (the ones in the shape of mini muffins) put a bit of chocolate frosting on top to help hold on a fresh raspberry. Oh, the cuteness of these! I thought it was a brilliant idea and a great way to provide little bite-sized beauties for a large crowd.
My other sister-in-law covered our gluten-free crowd, as her son eats gluten-free. She made her famous gluten-free Carrot Cake into cupcakes and they were a huge hit with the crowd. So delicious!
She also provided little bite-sized cheesecakes also from Sam’s. Again, so delicious and huge cute factor when displayed on white pedestals.
Our dessert table was amazing if I do say so myself. It was delicious and super appealing to the eyes and stomach!
If you are wanting to keep your party simple, might I suggest just doing a dessert table? Plan it at a time when people are not expecting a meal (like 3:00 in the afternoon) and go to town with desserts!
Don’t be afraid of using store-bought items! The cheesecakes and macarons were so well received!
Dress up store-bought brownie bites to make them super special like we did –custom brownie bites!
Using homemade frosting on cake mix cupcakes is a great way to make easy, delicious cupcakes.
Keep color scheme for platters and pedestals simple! Stick with one or two colors. Keeping ours white or glass with no patterns allowed the desserts and centerpiece flowers to shine!
Graduation Beverage Table
We had 2 dispensers, one filled with lemonade and one filled with ice water.
We put sliced lemons in the lemonade to make it pretty, and sliced fruit in the water for extra flavor and a special visual touch.
Simple confetti on the table, a flower arrangement, and clear plastic cups made for a pretty beverage table
Just say no to brightly colored cups, unless they match your color scheme.
Keep beverages simple. No need to have 10 different choices.
Floating fruit is a super inexpensive and easy touch that adds instant beauty and flavor to beverages.
Graduation Party Decorations
This was another thing that we kept simple. Potted flowers on tables outside were heavy enough to not tip or blow away and could be given away as gifts after the party.
Arranged flowers indoors made for beautiful natural beauty indoors.
The flowers and greenery were from Trader Joes and they were gorgeous! My sister-in-law and niece did a great job arranging the flowers.
We all brought whatever glass or white vases we had from home, and had plenty between the 3 of us.
We had gold confetti, a gold sequined “HOORAY” banner hanging over a mantle in the dining room, and a “CELEBRATE” gold banner to greet the guests as they walked into the main room.
My sister-in-law found a fun chalkboard arrow sign that happened to have 3 arrows to write the 3 graduates names. It was stuck in a pot on the front patio to greet the guests as they arrived.
Outside we hung round white paper globe lanterns (borrowed from a friend and sister) from a tree which made quite a statement and the perfect backdrop for a simple but elegant photo booth.
Figure out a color scheme. Keep it simple with only 2-3 colors. You don’t have to use school colors if they are not your favorite! We had 3 graduates from 2 different schools and they didn’t love their school colors, so we didn’t focus on that.
Borrow items from friends. Look through party decorations you already have. Our ‘congrats’ sign and ‘celebrate’ sign were not specific for graduation parties. Our paper lanterns were borrowed.
Do not be pulled in by all the different graduation decor you can find at party supply stores and online. Oftentimes it can look cheap, cheesy and just too much. Find decor that is tasteful, classic, and that you can use again in a different party setting.
Graduation Party Photo Booth
If you search Pinterest, you can find all kinds of ideas for photo booths. It can be as simple as hanging twists of crepe streamers with washi tape, or much more elaborate.
The most important thing to think about with a photo booth is lighting. Natural light is best. If indoors, by a window. If outdoors, somewhere protected and even shaded, as the sun can give harsh shadows on the face.
The second most important thing to think about is what is going to fit in the frame of a camera.
The whole purpose of a photo booth is to provide fun, special photos, and memories, so the background should add to that, not distract.
We used nature and the simple beauty of paper globes as our graduation party photo booth.
My daughter’s boyfriend and my brother-in-law were super helpful and climbed ladders to help hang the globes the morning of the party.
We placed a shabby chic bench that Grandma already had sitting in her yard in front of a tree, and voila! A photo booth.
Grab your phone and look into the lens for a photo…see what shows up in the frame and that is the area you want to decorate.
Most young people are sharing photos on SnapChat or Instagram, so square or vertical images are the ones that you want to think about and allow room for.
Lighting is key. Natural light is best! No harsh overhead sunlight, unless you want all of your guests to have shadows under their eyes!
Tables & Chairs for Graduation Party Guests
We were able to get tables from the organization that my husband Todd works for. We brought in 3 rectangular tables for the grad tables, and 5 round tables for guest seating.
Grandpa has a truck so my Todd and Teagan picked the tables up the evening before the party and we stored them overnight in the garage.
We set up the 3 grad tables indoors the day before, so we could focus on the outdoors the day of the party.
My mom-in-law had a small fold-out table for beverages and we used her two dining tables, one for the burrito bowl buffet and one for dessert.
We rented white linens for the tables for $6/cloth. It was well worth it! You simply pick them up and they are pressed and ready to spread. After the party, we simply gathered them into the provided cloth laundry bag and dropped them back off. So convenient!
We also rented chairs. We decided to pay a little more and chose white wooden folding chairs over white plastic folding chairs. It was a nice touch and didn’t cost a whole lot more.
My nephews helped set up the chairs. They brought Grandpa’s loaded truck right up on the lawn to unload which made me smile. This was for sure a family joint effort!
Borrow as much as possible and use what you have on hand. We borrowed tables and Grandpa’s truck, paper globe lanterns, Grandma’s folding table and well…her whole house!
Use your local party rental stores. Rent chairs and linens. Search online around at different sites for the best price. We saved $.50 a chair by comparing prices, which adds up when you rent a bunch of chairs!
Know when to save money and when to spend a bit more. This all depends on what is important to you and your budget. Comfortable, classy seating for our guest was important to us, so we went with more sturdy wooden chairs.
Parking for Graduation Party Guests
This is another area where my nephews came in so handy!
They were our official parking attendants, on scooters to boot! Grandpa and Grandma live off of a two-lane dirt road, so parking had to be on their property.
They have a lot of land and a nice long, winding driveway with 2 parking lot areas, so as long as people parked in an organized way, there was enough space.
This is where my nephews on scooters came in. They directed people to exactly where they needed to go, and made me grin from ear to ear as they did it!
Think about parking ahead of time and do your best to accommodate your guests.
Ask family members to help. Many hands make for a successful graduation party!
This is another area we tried to keep as simple as possible.
Clear cups for beverages. White plastic forks. White disposable bowls that were not too big but not too small.
We tried to stay away from styrofoam and set out a recycling bin for the plastic.
Napkins are one area we decided not to go with plain white. We knew it would be an easy way to add beauty to the tables and a bit of style.
We found some fun grey napkins with gold- foil confetti shapes on them at Target.
They added a hint of style and shine but were still neutral enough to let the color of the flowers arrangements pop instead of competing with them.
There are many paper plates in stores that have patterns and colors but we purposefully stayed away from them. Instead of bringing visual busyness with the cups, bowls, and forks, we wanted them to blend and almost go away visually.
Use tasteful napkin design to bring in a pop of color and style.
Accommodating Families and Children
This is another area where my in-laws home made it so easy for us!
They have a wonderful backyard with a playground area for kids, a large grass area for kids to run around, and swings that appeal to the kid in everyone!
They also have a toy room in the basement that my little niece and nephews took full advantage of.
Think about those with young ones. Simply providing a table and chairs will help them unload their plates and feed their littles.
If outdoors, have games like Cornhole sitting out for kids of all ages to play.
How Many Guests at Your Graduation Party
It was so hard to figure out how many people would show up at the party. It seems like it is a guessing game, and really it sort of is!
When I met with my sister-in-laws one evening at our local coffee shop, this was the first thing we tackled.
We started with writing down family members we would invite. Obviously, we had a lot of them in common so we were able to condense our lists.
We then wrote down family friends we thought would come and saw that we had many of those in common too.
The last step in estimating how many guests to plan for was to check out our kids’ Facebook invite. This is how they invited many of their school friends, and it was helpful to see the number of ‘accepted’ invites there were.
Even in doing all of this, it was still a bit of a guessing game. We overestimated a bit on the food numbers, but much of the food was returnable as were the paper products.
Don’t open all of the paper products at once. You may not need all of them and will be able to return some.
Create a Facebook event page to invite friends and family. This is one great avenue to get a feel for who can make it.
Remember that people often have multiple graduation parties to go to, so buy smaller serving bowls and plates. They will eat less than you might think.
Be mindful when buying food that non-refrigerated food with long shelf life is returnable. We were able to return pantry stable jars of salsa and unopened bags of tortilla chips.
Enjoy The Graduation Party
After all the work of planning the party, do your best to enjoy it! I was overwhelmed with the feeling of gratitude I felt when I saw who came to support our girl.
There is nothing like other people loving on, investing in and showing up for your kid. It was a beautiful feeling.
I was taken by surprise by how much I was drawn into just talking to those who came to support my girl, and I’m so very thankful for my Mother-in-Law and Sister-in-Law, and my Sister-in-Law’s Mother who all kept the food, beverage and dessert table running and filled up.
I was not able to do it myself, so it was such a meaningful gift to watch them step in and surround us with support by serving!
take in the moments, they are fleeting
enjoy watching your graduate engage those who came to love and support them, and join in!
arrange people to help with refilling the food tables so you are free to greet your guests.
I hope these tips are helpful and give some direction and vision if you find yourself planning a graduation party or a party and this large in scale.
Let me know if you have ever thrown a grad party or if these tips are helpful to you!
Last AP Weekly update I was talking about prom. Now I’m sharing about our graduation open house party!
This life of teenagers is a full one, and we are experiencing so many milestones all at once. It is crazy busy, but I’m finding pockets of time to slow, inhale and recognize how precious all of these moments are.
We celebrated our Teagan’s upcoming graduation and along with her 2 cousins who are also seniors this year. I had such a great time planning this party! It was a joint effort with my amazing sisters-in-law’s! We made a great team.
My wonderful Mother-in-Law opened up their home and hosted the party for us, which was no small gesture as we planned for 200-300 people to come.
There was much planning to do, from figuring out parking (my 2 nephews on scooters did the job beautifully and made me smile while watching them) to seating, tables, tablecloths, flowers, grad tables desserts, food & decor.
It was so much fun but I must be honest and say I’m relieved it is over and needed a slow Mother’s Day to recover, which thankfully I got!
My favorite part of the day was watching our Teagan welcome her guests so graciously and with poise. I could go on and on about the emotions I felt throughout the day, and may just write another post about how felt that day and also how we planned the party. Let me know in the comments if you are interested in this!
It forces me to stay present, see all the beauty in the busy, have a slow mindset and notice all there is to be thankful for. It also gives the best mood boost!
Join me? Use the #nnthankful anytime you post something you are thankful for on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I will see your posts and it will let me know I’m in good company with finding my thankful in the busy seasons of life! I will also feature some of my favorites on my Instagram stories.