Cool Commencements: Easy Gatherings for Grads

preschool-gradIf you’re hearing strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” in your future, that means you have a graduation coming up. Whether it’s preschool or college, eighth grade or high school, commencement is a time to celebrate. We gather our friends and family to offer congratulations on a job well done.

This spring, I have two such parties to plan. My daughter graduates from high school, and two days later, my son from eighth grade. In the past few years, we have attended many graduation celebrations, ranging from intimate gatherings of family and friends, to huge, all-day affairs that last into the wee hours.

Whether it’s a small gathering of a few people or a large party with the whole class invited, the graduation party is the time to celebrate achievements (or just breathe a sigh of relief that your graduate made it!). As with any event, the success is in the planning. You could enlist the help of a party planner if you don’t know where to begin, but here are some things to consider before your child dons that cap and gown.

High school graduation usually garners the largest celebrations, as most people have some sort of party to mark the occasion. College, preschool and eighth grade graduations are less elaborate affairs, usually attended by a small gathering of family and friends. Dinner out after the ceremony is a common way to honor the graduate. If you have a preschooler, keep in mind that he or she is happier with a picnic lunch in the park than a formal dinner out. Regardless of whether your college graduate chooses to attend ceremonies—some don’t—you could celebrate this milestone with reservations at an elegant restaurant to welcome your graduate into the “grown-up” world.

Determine the size of your party.
This will decide whether you hold the party at home or rent another space for the day. If your guest list is getting longer by the minute, consider hosting with one or two other families. It’s more and more common to see close friends celebrate together. Chances are, your guest lists include most of the same people. Keep in mind, however, that in this day of social networking with websites like Facebook and MySpace, your party may turn out to be a lot bigger than you think. Nowdays, high school kids post everything they do on these websites. Discuss this with your graduate before he or she issues an open-ended invitation on the internet. If you don’t, planning for food and drink will be a guessing game. If the ease of sending computerized invitations appeals to you, but you still want to control the size of your gathering, consider Evite or other electronic invitation websites. These services let you control who gets the invitation, allow guests to RSVP, and eliminate the printing and mailing costs of traditional invitations.

Set the date and time for your party.
This sounds really simple, but it’s not. Depending on the size of the graduating class, there will be quite a few parties to attend. Make sure you check with friends who also have graduates before you print invitations. One idea that will alleviate the party pile-up in June is to have a “Send Off Party” before your graduate leaves for college or starts a new job. Usually, college-bound kids leave mid-August, so an end-of-summer pool party or evening backyard gathering is a great alternate celebration. Your graduate will love the chance to say goodbye to friends before they all begin their college years.

cupcakeChoose a menu and decorations.
If there are several parties in one day, keep in mind that your guests will have eaten a lot of meatballs and cheese cubes at every stop. You may want to rethink the menu and serve something a little different. How about setting up an ice cream sundae bar with lots of delicious toppings, or having a local bakery make several kinds of cupcakes to display on each table? Decorations should be fun and reflect your graduate’s personality or future plans. If you have a party for more than one child, display photos of each graduate on separate tables, and have a place for guests to leave gifts and cards for each one.

Enlist some help.
Yes, this is a day to celebrate the accomplishments of your graduate, but you made the journey too! By hiring some help for the day, or asking a friend or family member to replenish food or clear plates, you can enjoy yourself. A week before the party, meet to go over details involving set up, clean up and food preparation. By the day of your event, you’ll be relaxed and ready to celebrate!

If you’re like me, you can’t believe your graduate’s journey is coming to an end. This milestone calls for a celebration! Wipe away those happy tears and plan a great party. After all, this really isn’t the end…it’s a great new beginning!

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