Your baby is graduating from high school. I know, just say the words and the tears start to form.
So even though you want to curl into a ball and gaze at his or her baby book, you’re going to smile, get organized and throw a party—a celebration of your child’s accomplishment, and a public recognition that things are about to change.
“It’s a beginning, but it’s also the end of a lot of things,” says Catherine Rocca of Evanston. Ruminating on the bittersweet nature of graduations, she notes, “the transition is what makes it different from a birthday party.”
So where to begin as you mark this important rite of passage?
“Start with your graduate,” counsels Maria O’Rourke, owner of FoodLove Catering in Lake Forest.
For a child looking forward to college, use the location or colors of the school as a theme. Tulane? New Orleans brunch. University of Southern California? Tacos and a beach theme. Or look back at high school accomplishments. Honors French student? Maria Callas and a crepe station. Football player? Tailgate party with sliders.
Planning for 500
While you contemplate your graduate’s unique likes and personality, think about the job facing Linda Eisenberg and Sheri Smason, co-chairs for the graduation party at Glenbrook North High School. They are coordinating a party for 500 graduates. And not just for a few hours: It’s an all-night lock-in party, with hundreds of parent volunteers and thousands of dollars of community donations.
“It works because we get the right people in the right place and everyone does their job,” says Eisenberg, who has been helping with graduation night since 1999.
Tasks include coordinating waves of food—all donated by Northbrook restaurants and vendors—entertainment, games, movies, a DJ, and a few surprises this year that Eisenberg refuses to divulge. She wants to make sure that when the kids walk through the door, their reaction is, “Wow!”
If They Can Do It, So Can You
On your much smaller scale, you also want to ensure that “wow.” Start by choosing a date, time and—if needed—a caterer. (And no, it’s not too early to book all of these.) There will be a lot of parties overlapping in the weeks around graduation. Coordinate so you don’t choose the exact same date and time as your teen’s best friends.
And with young adults, who aren’t legally allowed to drink, you also need to think about what you’re serving and when.
“Drinking is definitely an issue at graduation parties,” Rocca says. “Because we’re strict about that in our house, we decided on an afternoon party.” She felt it let them downplay alcohol. But no matter when the party is, set firm expectations with your child about what is allowed at your party.
The Wow Factor
What will set your party apart from all the other graduation parties? Here are some ideas we’ve collected:
- If you have a signature dish your child loves, plan on making it and using a caterer or take-out for labor-intensive dishes like fruit salad or crudites, recommends Debbie Karhanek, owner of Simple Gourmet in Evanston.
- Make the graduation cake a map of the U.S. and give each guest a little flag to write his or her name on and put on the cake to show where they’re headed next year.
- Instead of toasting the graduates with champagne, make the toast part of dessert. O’Rourke makes mini desserts and serves them in martini glasses for graduation parties.
- Party favors can be white t-shirts that say, “Meet Me At … ” Each graduate writes in next year’s destination. Get fabric markers in popular school colors.
- Collect old pictures of your child and friends. Frame the best and then have all the props necessary to recreate the photo. So, for that cute Little League photo, have hats and gloves ready. Encourage friends new and old to get into the photos and make memories.