The Empty Nest

Graduation Party Planning Guide

woman throwing confetti

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It’s time! Time to talk about planning your teens graduation party. Oh man, I know it probably stings a little (or a lot) to think of our kids at this stage of their life already. But I am here to tell you… You. Made. It. And everything is going to be okay.

It definitely brings back the sniffles just thinking of my little boy’s graduation. He used to be so small and cute and cuddly! Oh whoa is me!

Okay enough of that crying (for now), let’s get this graduation party planned!

Photo by Juan Ramos on Unsplash

Type of Party

If you are reading this post then I am already going to assume that you discussed the idea of a graduation party with your teen. I mean why go through all this work if they want something more low-key and private or even nothing at all?

So with that being said, you need to figure out what type of party you want to have. Do you want an open house style where you set a time and people can come and go? Or do you want it more formal where people come and leave at a specific time?

I know from past experience open houses work really well for many reasons. When you are having a larger party with a large guest list an open house is perfect. This allows the guest of honor, in this case the graduate, the ability to mingle and spend time with everyone.

They can sit and eat with one group or just snack while hanging out with another. They can play a game of corn hole with some or discuss future plans with others.

Some cons could be, constant flow of people mean having to keep food trays filled. This could be tricky. Also, it might be hard to really plan how much food you need and when.

A more traditional party with a scheduled arrival and departure time might be more your style if that’s the case. You can have set guest list with everyone rsvping so you know exactly how much food to serve. The guests can eat at the same time so you are not refilling food all afternoon.

Also, there might not be any games or photo booths. However plenty of decorations and memories to look at. I’m also thinking the graduate will have less time to mingle, which might be okay, maybe the guest list will be smaller to accommodate everyone at once.

So, really there are pros and cons to each type of party. It just needs to be discussed over with your teen before any real planning begins. Since the party is about them after all.

Photo by Shaun Montero on Unsplash

Time, Date, Location

The next thing or things rather that need to be decided is the time, date, and location. These need to be chosen pretty early on in the year. This way if you have to rent a location you have plenty of time to get dibs on it before anyone else books it.

Simply decide where you would like the party to be and around what weekend and then you can start making your calls.

If you are planning on having the party at your own home than that cuts down on a lot of the worry about date and time.

The other thing you need to consider is, every single one of your teen’s friends are graduating at the same time and having their parties around the same time, you don’t want to overlap with anyone else.

I know it might be nearly impossible but try scheduling the party either early in the season maybe even right before graduation. Or try scheduling it later in the season like in the middle of the summer.

My son’s party was in the middle of July. There was just so much going on that summer that we just decided to push it out later and let things settle down a bit. This worked perfectly and allowed him to have a great turnout at his party. And he didn’t feel that he was missing out on anyone else’s either.

crop anonymous financier planning budget writing numbers in notebook
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The budget is the next important thing on your party planning list. There are so many things that you need to plan for that you definitely need a budget.

Here is a list of potential items that need to be included in your budget:

joyful young multiracial girlfriends dancing together during party on sunny day
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Guest List

Based on what type of party you are having and where, will tell you how many guests you can invite. Have your kiddo help you pick who they want there.

You can also have them post a picture of the invitation or just create an invite on social media that can be shared with their friends. This will eliminate the need to send out singular invitations to all the kids you know are going to come anyway.

After you have your number of guests and list created go ahead and order announcements and invitations. You could also consider ordering, save the dates. That way people will put it on their calendars and may potentially avoid any other parties being scheduled that day.

Photo by Lee Vue on Unsplash


The theme of your party can vary greatly from a traditional cap and tassel theme to a luau. Check out this fun fiesta decoration set or this super cute traveling theme. Again, having a quick discussion with your teen about their thoughts would be important.

I know for my son’s party we chose a much more traditional theme. I chose to keep it simple (because he asked me to) and stuck basically with school colors and that’s it. Which for him it was fine and I still think we had a beautiful set up.

When deciding on a theme it can also help to think of what kind of food you want to serve. This way it can tie into your theme (or not).

celebration colorful colourful cupcakes
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So, that takes me into my next planning area, food. There are many ways that you can do food at a graduation party. You can have a buffet style dinner/lunch. Or, you could just have appetizers and desserts. Or, you could have food trucks and snack machines.

There are a lot of really cool ideas on what you can do and serve. I suggest tying it in with your theme if possible and this will really give your party an awesome feel.

You can have a pizza truck and an ice cream truck and maybe serve appetizers, salad, bread sticks, mozzarella sticks, etc.

You could have a hot dog truck and a cotton candy machine and have a carnival type of theme.

Don’t forget the dessert. Decide to go either with a full cake or even a smaller more manageable cupcake and cookie setup. Either way you can get them frosted in any color to match your theme and decor.

Like I said the possibilities are pretty much endless. Just make sure you are talking it over with your kid as to which direction they would like to go.


This is an optional part of the decor of the party but most people will tend to have some sort of set up that involves personal items. Whether it be your students accomplishments over the years or simply their school pictures. It’s nice to see some history on your kid.

The displays can be done in so many different, and fun ways. At my sons, we used a huge wooden frame with tiny lit-up clothespins to hang all of the pics of his friends.

I also used wooden crates set around as shelves to put photos and accomplishments in frames. It was a very cute set-up.

Some people use poster boards or trifold boards propped up on the tables with their students pictures and accomplishments all around.

Any way you choose is fine just make it yours and meaningful to you and your kid.

Photo by Katie Burkhart on Unsplash


Depending on your party type and style, entertainment might totally not be necessary. However, if you are looking for some fun additions to your party I have a few ideas.

Definitely I suggest having some type of photo booth. It’s so much fun and the kids actually really love it. And it honestly doesn’t have to be anything really expensive just a large plastic tablecloth or even sheet for a background and throw some balloons around it.

Sure you could get really fancy and create a background. Honestly the kids will like it either way. If you want something to match your colors/theme check out this background for a photo booth. Throw in a bucket of props like these and you are all set!

Outdoor games, such as corn hole, and this giant Connect Four are also fun additions especially if your party is outside. You could have different yard games set up around the area for the guests to play.

A bounce house rental can be a fun addition, as well as, a slushy machine. We had one at my son’s party and it was a huge hit. Not to mention the fact it was mid July and hot as heck! Plus, we rented it for the whole weekend and the kids just loved it!

So there are really a ton options for you to add in entertainment, from a DJ to a karaoke machine, or a bounce house to a portait maker. Possiblites are really endless.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Plan Help

I am not just talking about planning help for the actual planning phases. I am talking about before, during, and after the party.

It is important that you are not taking the whole party on by yourself. Enlist some friends or family members to help.

I had some really amazing friends that helped with the set up and tear down of the party. Not to mention my family going above and beyond making sure my son had a wonderful party.

During the party, ask someone to be in charge of the food stuffs. So that way you can sit back and enjoy yourself as well. A lot of the people at the party will probably be people you will want to visit with too, so go ahead and make a plan.

My mom was the food lady. She made sure everything was stocked and ready to go as people were coming in to grab food, drinks, snacks, and desserts. It was so nice to just be able to enjoy the day with my kid.

So, find your team. Find the people who will help you get through what will most likely be an emotional, but fun and happy day. Like I said, do not take it all upon yourself. Spread the work around. People are definitely more than willing to help, just ask.

There you have it. All you need to know about planning your teen’s graduation party. I would love to hear how it went or what ideas you have for planning the greatest party ever! Drop me a line in the comments.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

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