How to Plan a Graduation Party and Buffet

glasses with graduation hat straws


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Whether it's a high school or college graduation extravaganza, plan a party that's both stylish and special. Here are some ideas to make your party a success, from the right venue, meaningful activities, and great gifts, to a buffet that guests will talk about for months to come.

  • 01 of 05

    Pick a Venue

    Family toasting drinks

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    Many high school graduation parties are held at home. If you're planning a college celebration, several venue possibilities could work well. If you're planning a long-distance event, some options could be your young adult's off-campus apartment, a private room at a restaurant, or on the college grounds. Planning a long-distance party can take teamwork, so see if you can approach a couple of good friends that might live near your graduate to help you organize the event. For guests who can't attend, go virtual and livestream the event so all can join in on the celebration.

  • 02 of 05

    Plan the Food and Drinks

    party food

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    Plan a crowd-pleasing buffet that can be easily catered by a local restaurant or chef. Anchor one end of the buffet with a big tub of iced sodas, beer, wine, or champagne (for the 21-and-over crowd). At the other end of the buffet, serve up a beautiful spread of easy food that allows guests to mix and mingle while they enjoy their meal. Plan the party portions to estimate how much food you'll need. A few favorite buffet food ideas for graduation parties include:

    • Appetizer meatballs
    • Ham and cheese pinwheels
    • Grilled shish kebabs with chicken, beef, shrimp, and veggies
    • Salads such as three-bean and grilled corn
    • Stuffed breads
    • Pasta salads
  • 03 of 05

    Make a Video Memoir

    Young Vlogger Recording his next Vlog at the Patio
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    Throwing a high school or college graduation party means you can focus on food, conversation, and sharing memories instead of activities. (But if you're guest list includes small children, do have one or two activities available, such as a coloring station.) Guests will be happy to chat, sample the buffet, and make toasts to the graduate.

    A video slideshow can be a touching addition to the party. Use the video to trace the new graduate's childhood, from babyhood to the present. Pick meaningful images, including photos of family and friends. Pace the images and add a soundtrack. For a dramatic send-off for your grad, create a floating lantern for a magical celebration or send the world a sky full of message-filled balloons.

  • 04 of 05

    Party Activities and Decor

    Young male and female friends preparing for party at cottage
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    If you want to include a few low-key activities at your child's graduation festivities, here are a few fun possibilities:

    • Advice: Ask guests to offer the new graduate advice for college or post-college life in a blank journal. Supply an assortment of colored pens for fun. 
    • Decor: Decorate the room with the college graduate's school colors, sorority, or fraternity symbols.
    • Keep in touch: Set out a bowl for people to drop in their business cards and have a stack of cards with the new graduate's future address, cell phone number, and email address so friends and family can keep in touch. 
    • Photo timeline: Create a timeline of class photos of your graduate and hang them up at the party so guests can see your graduate grow up before their eyes.
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Great Graduate Gifts


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    Go beyond money gifts for both high school and college grads. While a check, cash, or gift card is always a welcome gift, grads heading to dorms, first apartments, or first jobs might prefer problem-solving or household tools that can help them start their life and stay organized. Here are other meaningful ideas besides money: 

    • Small appliances: Whether your grad is going off to dorm life or first apartment life, you can't beat the value of a small appliance such as a coffee maker or Instant Pot.
    • Professional headshot: For new college graduates that need to create a professional social media profile, a quality headshot taken by a photographer is a valuable and original gift.
    • Professional wardrobe: College grads and those going for their graduate degrees and advanced studies might prefer help in building a work-appropriate wardrobe in the form of gift cards or wrapping up career attire or an accessory, such as luxury ties or a quality tote or briefcase.
    • Entertainment: Theater tickets are a fun and indulgent gift that create a wonderful memory.​
    • Technology: Smart luggage, fitness watches, tablets, chargers, vacuums, and digital assistants are tech gadgets that will all help the high school or college grad handle the daily life of a new college campus or new career.
    • Car maintenance package: Whether your grad is living solo or moving back home, the gift of helping with a year's worth of car maintenance could be a welcome relief when it comes to finances.