Graduation Party Ideas

Graduation is a great accomplishment for the graduate and a moment of pride and delight for the parents. It’s a rite of passage from one platform in a student’s life to another. For the graduate, it’s filled with mixed emotions- little sadness about saying goodbye to the past, some friends and teachers, some excitement and anxiety about the anticipating the future. That’s why, as a tradition, a graduation party is thrown to honor the triumph of the achiever and a walk down his memory lane to cherish the moments of success and failures. Playing some graduation party games is an awesome way to spend the time with friends and teachers and make the party a memorable event for everyone!!

Here are a few suggestions:

*Play graduation party game: pin the mustache on the teacher. Blow up a picture from the yearbook of one of the teachers; your teen will give you an idea of which one. Make mustaches out of cut out black construction paper. Place tape on the back of each mustache. Then the game proceeds just like pin the tail on the donkey.

*Another teacher specific game- Place the name of a teacher on a sticky label. When a guest comes in, stick it on their back. They have to ask other guests yes or no questions about the teacher and guess, “who the teacher is” by the end of the night.

*Water Balloon Game- Here’s something really cool! If the graduation party is outside when it’s warm or if it’s a beach party theme, a water balloon shootout might be a lot of fun. What you need is plastic funnel about the size of the water balloon you are going to use when filled and a rubber tubing – two pieces about 3 feet long is good. Make two holes at opposite side of the wide end of the funnel large enough to pass the tubing through. Make good strong knots. A homemade water balloon launcher is ready. Set up objects to hit over. Whoever knocks over the most wins. To make it more exciting for your graduate’s friends-photocopy some picture from their scrapbooks, stick them on the balloon and let them target their best picture!!

*Another idea for graduation party game is a round of “Guess the Guest” from a board of pictures, it can be a lot of fun. A graduation party has people of all ages so find baby pictures, middle school pictures or funny pictures! The one, who guesses the most, wins. Afterwards, use the photos as nametags for everyone. People can get to know each other better and have a good laugh in the process.

*“What happened on this date? “- Go through your old school year calendars, and write down some of the special dates of which major events occurred. You may include the first day of summer vacation, the first day of school, final graduation results day, Homecoming, Freshman Orientation, and so on. Read only the dates–day, date, and year, and have your guest try to remember what happened that day. The guests might end up talking about some good or bad times while playing the game, its okay, that a part of the fun!

*Picture Perfect-Photocopy pictures out of your guests’ yearbook, and glue them onto individual sheets of paper. Give each guest a picture, and have him or her write down a funny job title that that person might become.

*Have a sign in board. You can use a large scroll to keep the diploma theme or place pictures of as many of the classmates as you can find around the edges of a large poster board. Let everyone write some good funny stuff about each other, some unshared secrets or good luck messages. You can take the poster with you to your new college and post it on the walls of your hostel or wherever you stay.

Now for the food:

What are your graduate’s favorite foods?

Keep it simple 

Make it easy on yourself and serve five to seven different menu items. The most common mistake made at a graduation party is serving too much food. Read on for advice on quantity.

Dare to be different! 

After going to too many graduation parties where the same food was being served you will understand. We encourage you to be imaginative! For example, if your graduate is a pizza freak, serve pizza.  It is an unusual open house item, and yet the number one most popular food among teenagers. Mix it up by serving some unique gourmet pizzas in addition to the standard favorites, cheese and pepperoni.

 If your graduate loves desserts, have a dessert party that starts at 7:00 p.m., and specify “dessert party” on your invitation so people know to eat dinner earlier. Desserts can be made ahead and require little serving time. The bakery is an easy way out. Or how about make your own sundaes and banana splits?

Ask for help in the kitchen 

Hire a caterer if you can, this is one party you don’t want to miss! If you can’t afford a caterer, ask friends and neighbors to help. If you’ve agreed on a theme, be sure to maximize the opportunity to find foods that fit the theme. 

Keep hot food hot & cold food cold!

As you plan your menu think about how you are going to set up your buffet table.

Chafing dishes are available for rent and make an excellent presentation. You may want to borrow one or two from a friend. Or you can rent them at your local rental company.

To keep cold food cold we recommend setting up an ice table. These may be available for rent or check out this new product:

Brunch ideas 

A Weekend brunch is a great time of day to have a graduation party. You’ll get a great turn out and your guests will be hungry.

  • Make it simple – offer a variety of fresh baked bagels and a selection of spreads.
  • Cook pancakes on a big griddle and serve them with different toppings/syrups. You can hire a professional to bring their own griddle.
  • We all love frosted doughnuts! Order ahead for a quick stop at the bakery. You can even request frosting in your school colors. Be sure to have lots of napkins!
  • Sausages and bacon can be pre-cooked and kept warm in a chafing dish.
  • You can prepare hard boiled eggs with your graduate’s name and the year on them and place them in a beautiful basket. Great for people on the low-carb diet.
  • Coffee bar kiosk: Check with a caterer or the local coffee shop for service or supplies. Or create your own with rental equipment and supplies.
  • Serve exotic juices, or use your juicer to prepare custom beverages.
  • Serve fresh fruit in a watermelon boat. Cut your school logo out of the watermelon.

Afternoon and evening menu ideas:

  • BBQ sandwiches, ribs or chicken served with coleslaw and chips, baked beans and a fruit salad.  Tip from the professional caterer for the BBQ: If you want to use the grill, reduce your stress and precook your meat.
  • Mexican taco bar: Serve spicy ground beef in a crock pot, and put the cold items (lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, olives, onions) in bowls floating on ice to keep them cool.  Arrange the hard and/or soft taco shells in a Mexican serving bowl or basket. Or serve taco chips. You can rent equipment for dispensing hot cheese.
  • Buy large bread shaped like the graduation year.  Serve it with spinach dip or do a big submarine sandwich.  Plan ahead on how you are going to keep the hoagie cool while it sits out for several hours.  We recommend setting it on ice.  Rectangle shaped flower pots can be bought in various sizes.  Or a wallpaper hanging trough will do the job.
  • Hoagie or Sandwich Bar: let your guests assemble their own sandwiches. Stop by your local submarine sandwich shop for inspiration. Or order a big variety to be sliced and served as needed. Keep the extras in your refrigerator.
  • Rent a cotton candy machine, slushie machine or popcorn machine. They add a festive flair and the kids love to serve themselves. Beware: Cotton candy machines can be messy so you may want to set this up outside.
  • Salad bar and fresh fruit for the health nuts
  • Baked Potato Bar
  • Pizzas – order them from a local delivery service.
  • Swedish or Barbeque Meatballs
  • Tortilla Wraps – ordered from a local restaurant
  • Lasagna
  • Pasta Bar – serve several different pastas (eg: rotini, penne, shells) and different sauces (marinara, a white or alfredo sauce, and a meat sauce). Let your guests create their own favorite pasta dish. Pastas and sauces can be kept warm in chafing dishes or crock pots.
  • Veggie Tray

Tasty Desserts

  • Custom cakes: Have you seen the new photo cake? How about a custom cake made in the shape of a basketball or tennis shoe? Order one custom cake to display and a second cake to cut and serve.
  • Graduation Cupcakes with icing in your school colors. Use a sweet station or cupcake tree to display them and keep replenishing the cupcakes throughout your party.  You won’t have to worry about when you should cut the cake and they’re less messy too.
  • Smores at a fire pit. Provide several baskets full of marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers. Have plenty of roasting sticks on hand.
  • Ice cream sundae bar: serve ice cream with different toppings, fruit, cookies, and coffee. Its easy, fun and guests will love it.
  • Frozen treats from your favorite ice cream specialty store, packed on dry ice. You can rent an ice cream cart for the day.
  • Trays of your graduate’s favorite bars, cookies and candy. Or, use a cookie cutter shaped like a graduation mortarboard. If you have family members who like to bake, ask them to help.
  • Fortune cookies filled with special messages and advice from relatives.
  • Custom made chocolates: Order gold foil-wrapped coins with your graduate’s name on one side and the year on the other.
  • Root beer floats were a huge hit at our friend’s party. She offers this time saving tip: Scoop the vanilla ice cream into plastic cups and freeze them overnight. Then at the party all you have to do is add root beer and a straw. You can buy a keg of root beer from the liquor store.
  • Cheesecakes in a variety of flavors served with different toppings. For example: hot fudge, strawberries, blueberries.
  • Buy lots of suckers in your school colors.
Chocolate Mortarboards
  • We saw this idea for chocolate mortarboards in the Family Fun magazine (great magazine!). Place miniature peanut butter cups, bottom up, on a plate. Top with a small dollop of peanut butter, then press on chocolate covered graham crackers. For a tassel, cut up a long rectangle of fruit roll-ups, keeping part of the little square in tact, cut little tassels. Stick on top of cookie. This is a great project to have younger siblings help with – and they look so cute!


The most popular beverage to serve at graduation parties is bottled water. Stock up when water is on sale. You can use it all summer if you have leftovers.

For an extra fun surprise buy personalized water bottles with your grad’s photo or a congratulatory message. Or buy the labels and apply them to your own water bottles (the ones you bought on sale!).  

Provide your guests with a variety of beverages to choose from. Here are a few suggestions:

  • A summer tradition of big pitchers of iced tea, lemonade or Kool-aid are refreshing.
  • If you want to serve soda, most people we interviewed suggest liters instead of cans. It goes a little further, and you don’t have half drunk cans all over your house.
  • If you do serve cans, put out a couple of recycling bags or boxes. People will hound you if you don’t. You can clean up the official recycling bin you got from your garbage company so that it looks more presentable. If you want more than one, borrow your neighbor’s.
  • Always provide water for your guests who don’t like carbonated beverages. Bottled water is very popular with high school seniors.
  • Rent a slushy machine from a party rental store.
  • Punch bowls are fun. Make an ice ring using one of the punch ingredients so that as it melts it will not dilute the punch. A bundt pan works well for an ice ring.
  • Borrow or rent tubs for ice. You can put the sodas right on ice. If you use coolers, label them so people don’t have to dig around.  

A Word on Alcohol

Design your graduation party so it is free spirited, but “spirit-free”.

Keeping the graduates entertained at parent-sponsored and supervised parties can prevent a tragedy.  Do not serve alcohol to minors.  Even if no one gets injured, adults that provide alcohol to minors can be charged with a gross misdemeanor and go to jail for up to one year and be fined thousands of dollars.

The Food Formula 

The number one complaint we hear after graduation parties –

“I have so much food left over!!”

To help you determine how much food to serve you need to determine how many people will come that are hungry.  Start by reviewing your invitation list.  Divide the people into one of the following lists (a or b).

A List: Add up the number of people you can count on to come hungry (close relatives, close friends)    _____________
B List: Add up the rest of the people and cut in half.  Our logic here is that more may come but they won’t eat much. +  _____________
Add A and B lists together to determine the number of people you should plan to serve:  =   


If your party will overlap with other parties, scale back, because your guests won’t be hungry.  Have more bottled water on hand.

General tips on food:

  • Limit your menu to five items to keep it simple.
  • Single servings may consist of 6 oz of meat, one half cup of two side dishes and one dessert.
  • A watermelon boat full of fruit can serve 75 people.
  • 15 heads of chopped Romaine lettuce serves 75 side salads.
  • People will drink 8 ounces of juice.
  • If you offer two entrée choices, only serve 60% of each entrée.
  • Have lots of disposable containers on hand to send leftovers home with your guests.
  • Food can be left at room temperature for up to 3 hours, but must be refrigerated soon after that.
  • Instead of serving one large platter that sits out for hours, it’s better to serve a smaller platter that gets refilled or replaced as the platter becomes empty.
  • Serve or freeze leftovers within 48 hours.
  • Have non-perishable back up items that you can bring out if you run out of your main menu items. For example: mixed nuts, chips and salsa, frozen mozzarella sticks, chicken wings, pizza, candy, cookies.

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