Seniors and Parents, the time is coming - GRAD PARTY SEASON! Believe it or not, it's not too early to start planning this! Get ready to celebrate the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. I have sent two of my own kids off to college in the past few years (2017 and 2019) and learned a LOT about graduation and the grad party season! So whether you are a senior or the parent of one, hopefully this post will get you thinking about what you might (or might not) want to do to celebrate!
In 2017 my daughter graduated and headed off to Texas A&M (Whoop!) In planning her graduation party I fell victim to the Pinterest trap and literally obsessed over theme, color, food, how many cute monograms I could use without it being obnoxious, etc. But I LOVE a fun project so I was ALL IN..."Should we do everything in maroon and white? I mean after all it was her high school AND upcoming college colors?... How many people do we invite? I mean I don't want to invite people for it to seem like we just want a gift - but on the other hand I don't want anyone to feel excluded!..." These are the things that ran through my head at stoplights and grocery lines.....all while holding back tears that this was actually happening. MY BABY IS LEAVING ME. It hits hard mamas - believe me, I know... but YOU CAN DO THIS. After all, you didn't raise them for 18 years for them to not spread their wings and become the people they are meant to be. I know, I hated it too when people said this to me and felt like I was the only one feeling quite this sad about it.
My son graduated just last year in 2019 and headed off to play football for UMHB so I'm fresh off another graduation and remember VERY well the feelings that go along with it! Wipe those tears though because ready or not, it's time to celebrate!!! Here are some things to consider...
Will you have your own party or have a joint party with friends?
There is no right or wrong way to do it! I have been to grad parties for 5, another for 4, many for 2 and several for 1 senior. My daughter's was just for her and my son's was with his friend. Joint parties can potentially help share the cost but may also increase the guest list when each senior invites his family and friends that they don't share in common. But, when people have several grad parties to attend they sometimes really appreciate celebrating multiple seniors at once.
Side note: Yes, it can be awkward when you only know one of the seniors....I mean do you bring a small gift for the other boy you don't really know since it's his party too and being held at his house?? (Always a struggle...)
When should you have it?
I learned from my friends who have kids older than mine to CLAIM YOUR PARTY DATE EARLY. You will find that the weekends in May become FULL of grad parties. BE SURE that you reach out to your friends so that you don't schedule your parties for the same days/times as others when a lot of the same guests would want to attend. The weekends leading up to graduation are hot commodities but some will want to wait until weekends after graduation to do theirs. Saturdays are the obvious choice but you might consider a weeknight too - especially if the following day is not a finals testing day for seniors.
Side note: Grad season is baseball playoff season. If you attend a school that has a strong baseball program like ours (Go Dragons!) you can run into the conflict of a playoff game being scheduled on the exact same day and time as the party you've been planning for months. Can't blame anyone for cheering on the team instead of eating fajitas in your back yard...just a heads up since it happened to us! It's a good problem to have if your team has that level of success but just be aware it can affect your attendance.
Where to have it?
Most parties seem to be held in people's homes but some opt for venues - especially if for multiple seniors. I've seen everything from barns, country clubs, Top Golf, restaurants, etc. Basically anywhere that can hold your guest list. Locally, Lone Oak Barn is a great option and seems to be a favorite for boys! Both of our grad parties were held in our back yard and worked out great. However, we did have an 80% chance of rain and high winds forecasted for my son and his friend's. We did the whole "buy tents, move food inside, put the bar in the cabana, add tables in the foyer" dance, but it all worked out - despite black skies 10 minutes prior to the party and putting legs of tents in the pool with weights to create a covered walkway....we stayed dry and still got to play horseshoes in the back yard. (This mom may have had an early margarita that day.)
Tip: If you do have your party in your back yard and put tables on grass, go get some rolls of turf and set it down over your grass. This keeps any chance of creating a mud pit (especially with 80% chances of rain) getting all over people's shoes and all in your house/patio...OR just borrow your friend's turf who had their party days before yours and steal their idea....thanks Carie!!!
Who do you invite?
You'll find that your Graduation Party guest list can get big QUICK. Moms, you are thinking "Oh we will just invite family and some close friends" while your senior may be thinking "I'm gonna post it on Instagram!!" So make sure you get on the same page. When you don't know that your son "kinda-sorta-maybe" invited the entire football team it's hard to know how much food to have...just sayin':)
You can definitely keep it small or you may decide to invite everyone who has played a part in the past 18 years of her life - from the kindergarten teacher to the high school soccer coach. It's your party and completely up to you! If you decide to have a joint party be sure you communicate with the other seniors/moms to find out if you all have the same vision. Is this gonna be an all out bash or just tea and cookies after church at 2pm??
What about the invitations?
This is personal preference but I'm a sucker for a great printed invitation that physically comes in the mailbox. It may be "old school" but I feel like it's just more special to receive something in the mail and really sets the tone for your event. With your Senior Portrait Session Photos we can create some amazing custom invitations for grad parties!
What typically happens is moms will mail out invitations to family and close friends while seniors will either hand out either printed invitations to friends or use a digital version to text. (Be careful though...keep in mind this potentially going on social media. Not to presume everyone who sees your snapchat story would come to your party, but you may end up with a lot more than you expected when things are digital and easy to share.)
Another idea is to put the party details on your custom graduation announcements themselves. One side can even be the graduation details and the other side can be all about the celebration. This keeps things simple and on one card. Remember though that doing this would mean that every person you want to send an announcement to will also be invited to the party. Maybe that's perfectly fine and exactly what you intend, but when your Aunt Edna who lives 300 miles away actually shows up on your doorstep for the weekend with her cat don't say I didn't warn you...
Some opt for cute smaller party invitation inserts so that they can include them in the same envelopes as the announcements but only put them in those going to local folks or those people it's appropriate to invite. Just something to consider.
It's no secret that a "Grad Party Ideas" search on Pinterest can provide more party ideas than you know what to do with...and maybe even make you feel like yours will never compare! Don't get sucked in!!! All that matters is that you make it what YOU want it to be and personal for your senior! No one remembers the custom candy wrappers anyway...BUT if you're like me and LOVE cute ideas, consider custom photo banners, printed cups, napkins and more to jazz up the scene!
Some great ideas I've seen and used myself include:
Print 4x6 or 5x7 photos of your senior from growing up years to use in centerpieces on the tables,
Create a scrolling slideshow of photos of your senior from birth to now to show on a screen or TV during the party,
Provide a photo backdrop for guests to take pics, etc. (At my daughter's we rented a fun photo booth and guests took home their photo strips!)
Use a matted photo for guests to sign so that your son/daughter can frame it after the party and hang it in their room to remember when they come home from college!
A "candy bar" with jars full of sweets and custom printed bags (ours said "Gig'em Abby!") for guests to fill and take home as party favors
"Koozies" printed with monogram or with Congrats (your seniors name) Class of...(ETSY)
Custom printed cups (ETSY)
A cute entrance sign with photos so that people don't ring the doorbell and you can tell them to "come on in!" ()
A great cake, custom cookies or cupcakes with cute photo flags
Don't forget! The majority of the gifts given in this season come as checks, money or gift cards in envelopes so having a designated place for guests to put them by the entrance is nice. Just set out a cute basket or box on the table. Decorating that table with personal items is always great too. Use their football helmet, baseball glove, soccer ball, pom poms, etc. whatever they are involved in helps make it personal and fun.
Bonus idea: Create a Snapchat Geofilter for your party! All of your senior's friends are on it and it adds a fun touch - plus it's easy and inexpensive. You can use a template they offer or upload your own creation! Create your Snapchat Geofilter Be sure to let guests know it's available though, although the kids will find it anyway when they go to post pics.
The party may over but you're not done yet!
Oh don't worry - you still have lots to do before college. :) After the party you still get to focus on dorm decor, sorority rush packets, learning (or teaching) how to do laundry, stalking your soon-to-be roommate's social media to scope them out, and more! Just don't forget to write your thank you notes! Take that box or basket that guests dropped those envelopes into and make your list!
Want to make it easier? Order custom thank you notes with your Senior Portraits and have your return address on the envelopes ready to go. Count how many you need to write from your list and divide the list into equal piles of 5-10. Tackle a pile a day until they are done. Tell yourself you're not allowed to deposit any money into your savings account until a thank you note has been written to that person. Do your best to mail them out in a timely manner and let people know you appreciate them for attending your party and that you will put that gift card/check/etc. to good use in college!
(Moms, full disclosure - I may have written a few examples on scratch paper for my son to have examples to recreate. Whatever makes the task easier and gets him to do it! My daughter needed no prompting but I know I'm not alone with needing a cattle prod for the boy!)
No matter what, do your very best to ENJOY this time! Your time has come....if you're a senior it's very exciting (and maybe a little scary) and if you're a mom it's very exciting (any maybe a LOT scary). Regardless though, you have EARNED THIS TIME. Enjoy it and celebrate it!! Remember too that the next time you (or your senior) have your photo professionally taken just may be at your wedding. So take the time to CAPTURE THIS TIME. And PRINT it....but that's whole extra blog post...Congratulations!