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I was recently chatting with our friendly electrician who also happened to have a child graduating from high school this year. He asked me where we were planning to have the party, and I explained that we were of course having it on our new deck. He was actually at our house finishing up the built-in lights in the stairs of the new deck just in time for the party (if you missed the new deck you can see photos here: “COMPOSITE DECK MAKEOVER“). Well, he looked a little surprised/confused, and I had a feeling he was wondering how I would fit people on just the deck. I explained a little further and said that we were keeping it small, and there was plenty of room for the teens in our yard by the fire pit, and the older folks could relax in our kitchen if it got too hot. I then decided to ask him how many people he had coming for his son’s graduation party. He said about 200 😯 . I wished him luck because honestly he looked pretty stressed out about it all. I had no idea people were actually having graduation parties that large now a days. Regardless, no matter what size your graduation party I hope my “Graduation Party Ideas” inspire you to really focus in on what the party is for. Better yet, who it’s for. Graduation parties should be based on the graduate and about the graduate, not how many cars line your street the day of the party. The best advice I can give after going through this, is ask your graduate what he/she wants. It really should be up to them.
Let’s get this party started, shall we? The graduate agreed early on that a smaller, more intimate party would be best. We invited close relatives and friends, and special people that shared an interest in our daughter’s life. All of our relatives live out of state, so that definitely influenced the number of people that would be able to come. The deck being the main focus, with the kitchen adjacent to the deck we could keep all of the food on our island and scattered on the tables. Also, folks could gather in the kitchen at our table/island especially if it became too hot. We also had a full yard for the teens to hang out at the fire pit, and a large swing we recently installed (photos below).
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The photo above was the weekend before the celebration when my husband I put together the 2 canopies. Weeks before the party I decided we needed some sort of shelter on the deck in case it was too hot, or if we had a sprinkle or two. I quickly realized that renting 2 canopies for the deck would cost almost as much money as buying them. So, we decided buying the canopies would be a great investment since we could keep one up over our deck furniture, and the other we could store away for our 2nd born when he graduates. Hey, maybe we might even have a wedding here some day, who knows. If you’re interested in the canopy information, please read below, or click here. They were a great price, easy to assemble, and I completely recommend them.
Before we get to the main party area, we also tried to make the front of the house just as welcoming. We started out at the mailbox with a personalized sign, and colorful flowers. Our front porch was filled with colorful flowers as well, but I tried not to over do it with heavy graduation decor. I’m not a big fan of all that plastic/paper junk at the party stores. The “Welcome to our Home” sign I found at Joann’s. The cute flower filled night stand is actually from the thrift store and I wrote all about that here: “Thrifty Night Stand Turned Flower Planter“. Oh, and the little “Mason Jar Lamp” looked so cute out there.
By the way, if you’re searching for inexpensive fresh flowers for your party, I usually find mine at the grocery store. Kroger to be exact. Instead of displaying a large arrangement, I split it up so it goes farther. I enjoy using smaller vases and line them up like I did here in our foyer.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the kitchen during the party (bad Julie), but I have plenty of deck photos for you. It was rather hot for our party day, so the canopies I ordered were a life saver. They shielded us from the sun, made it very easy to decorate, and really looked so cozy and beautiful. My husband and I put these “vented” canopies together in approximately 1.5 hours for each canopy. As mentioned above, I purchased 2. One to keep on our deck, and the other to use for our next large gathering. Buying them was so much easier than renting, and I knew they would be in perfect condition. The most important detail I can share about having the canopies on our deck, is that they were vented so the air could flow through them and not tip them over. As I write this post it is a very breezy day, and the canopy we kept up doesn’t even flinch.
As far as the pretty extras I used for decorating (my favorite part), I ordered the white sheer velcro curtains here: “White Sheer Velcro Curtain Panels“. I purchased 8 of them which was perfect for the way we set it all up. Now that I only use 1 canopy on the deck, I still use 2 curtain panels per corner. They un-hook by velcro, so they are easy to take on and off. Believe it or not, they have been out there for over 3 weeks and they still look perfectly clean. Of course if they start to get dirty I will just wash them. As far as the candle chandelier we hung in the center, I have had it for years, but I found a similar one for you here.
(see remaining source list below)
We added the EASY BLOW-UP BUBBLE LETTER BALLOONS last so you won’t see them in all of the photos. They were an excellent alternative to helium balloons and lasted so long that I offered them to some other graduating families after we were finished with them. Extra 6ft. tables and folding chairs were rented through a local party rental facility. These were extremely inexpensive and I was sure to order the white wrap-around elastic table top covers that they offered for a little bit more money. They were way easier than table cloths.
BLUE CUSHIONS: TARGET
PICKLE JAR VASE: MY FRIDGE
PARTY FAVORS: SEE BELOW
As for the food 😆 ,we decided on a menu that was mostly all of our daughter’s favorites. I forgot to get photos of everything (whoops), but she loves the “Chicken & Gnocchi” soup from The Olive Garden and she makes it almost monthly. So, she had a big batch of her homemade soup warmed up in a crockpot ready to go in paper coffee cups/spoons accompanied with a big bowl of another favorite of hers…goldfish crackers. She also loves roast beef submarine sandwiches so we had a large variety of those, too. Everyone was thrilled to know that she took the time to make the soup herself!
The shrimp cocktail platter I made with fresh shrimp that I ordered the day before from Costco using their delivery service. I now have all of our groceries delivered. If interested you can learn all about that here. For the shrimp platter I used a champagne glass as the cocktail sauce holder. It looked so pretty and was a huge hit.
An afterthought of mine was to order a few platters from our favorite party store in case we ran out of soup and subs. Those ended up being a huge hit and were beautiful to look at. Our daughter loves chocolate chip cookies and fudge brownies, so that’s what we stuck with. Having no cake was one of the best decisions ever. NO CAKE = NO MESS. My advice is to save the cake for the wedding.
Before we get to the favors, I wanted you to see the deck from a few different angles. This was my favorite shot from our side porch.
And finally, the favors…
I ordered personalized M&M candies with our daughter’s name on them and a special message that totally suits her. She chose the colors which by the way are not her high school colors. She was so ready to graduate, so she didn’t want those colors, ha ha. We added the M&M’s to little plastic shot glasses from the dollar store. I want to warn you that these little M&M’s are not cheap. I kind off splurged on those. We gave these away to our guests and a few ate them right on the spot!
As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s important to personalize your party to suit your graduate. The party is not about the parents. It’s not about the neighborhood. And it certainly isn’t about the food, booze, or decor. It’s about the graduate. Our daughter is an artist, so it seemed only natural to have an area dedicated to her artwork & achievements (see one of her art pieces at the end of this post) in our kitchen. I also invited all the guests to sign the memo board I made a few years ago, so she could read the messages later. Here’s my tutorial for that project: “DIY Paper Roll Message Board“.
On a side note…we opted not to use a “card box” as I feel they can seem less personal. I had a special safe location set up for the cards and Daphne enjoyed opening up her cards in the presence of the card-giver if it was at all possible.
We also gave out another very unique favor that I had seen my sister-in-law do at her NY coffee shop. Our daughter LOVES coffee, so this “Mason Jar Coffee Favor” was perfect for her party. Besides…I think promoting coffee to the teens is a great idea, don’t you? Brilliant, actually. Each favor contained freshly ground coffee for 2- 12oz. cups from my sister-in-law’s fresh roasted coffee beans. Her coffee is the best. The tags were made by my sister-in-law and I can only take credit for the title, “Daphne’s Fuel”. If you want to try this on your own, you could always hand write the tags. As a special touch, we ordered the sleeves and personalized stickers.
This is where all the caffein injected teens hung out. They had a blast while the old folks stayed up on the deck telling jokes.
Oh, and don’t ever think the old glow-sticks or bubbles aren’t a good idea for a graduation party. I must tell you they were a hit with the young and the old. My husband’s best friend wore one on his head most of the day, and Aunt Loretta had never seen them before!
I thought you might enjoy Daphne’s “Geode” art piece that helped her earn numerous scholarships towards college, and was featured in a Scholastic competition. The colors and rock on her face represent layers of depression (a hot topic right now).
Before I go…this is the deck now. I added that pretty ponytail plant and we sit out here almost every night…