It's that time of year again. The time of year when school colors are flying high and the words "Class of 2018" plasters yard signs and car windows. Yep, it's graduation season, which means it's also time for grad parties.
Pulling off a graduation party takes some preparation, but with a little effort you’ll be able to celebrate your high school or college graduate with a party they won’t forget. Here's how we do it at Southern Kitchen.
Send the invites
There won’t be a party if you don’t send invitations! Using websites like Shutterfly or Snapfish, create a customized invitation with photos of your grad. If you want a more traditional look, pick up a pack of paper invitations and handwrite the details of the event. Make sure to get these invites out a few weeks ahead of the party date, and make sure to include a RSVP date. You'll want to get an accurate head count!
Create a menu
Get creative while crafting the party menu. Does your grad love biscuits? Create a biscuit bar. If they are more of a barbecue fan, make pulled pork the center of attention on the table. Customizing the menu to include easy small bites and salads will help cut down on preparation time and allow for more time to celebrate. No need to fuss over a large, elaborate meal.
If your grad has a sweet tooth, keep things simple and simply offer a selection of sugary treats during the party. Think about baking a handful of mini desserts that are easy to make and eat. Get punny with “Smart Cookies” and a candy buffet featuring buckets of gummy “Book Worms,” “Smartie Pants” (with Smarties, natch), “Class Ring” Pops, and “Reach for the Stars-bursts.”And you can’t forget about the cake! Anne Byrn’s German Chocolate or Red Velvet cake will make a statement on the dessert table. To make it mini, you can turn these these recipes (or any of Southern Kitchen’s cake recipes) into cupcakes. Simply fill lined muffin tins three-quarters of the way with the cake batter. Start testing the cupcakes for doneness about halfway through the baking time, and when they’re out of the oven, top with whatever frosting is in the recipe. To keep with the graduation theme, look for edible graduation cap toppers and color frosting with your grad’s school colors. Whether you like the boozy or non-alcoholic versions, a good punch is easy to make and will keep your guests' spirits high throughout the party. Twists on refreshing Arnold Palmers or red sangrias work particularly well this time of year. If punches aren’t your thing and you want to keep the beverage selection simple, think about having one signature cocktail, such as a bourbon prosecco spritzer, on the menu, and accompany it with bottles of water and cans of soda.
Keep in mind the number of guests you’ll have to serve and be realistic about whether you can cook for that many. We won’t lie: Sometimes we call a caterer too. If cooking for a large party is overwhelming, consider making desserts yourself and allowing a caterer to handle the rest of the food, or vice versa.
Show off your grad’s school pride by decking your house with balloons, streamers, tablecloths, napkins and confetti, all in their school's colors. Make sure to add the graduation year into the decorations — a few fun, easy ways to do so are to deck the house with giant number balloons, arrange the cupcakes on a platter to spell out the graduation year, or make a simple “Class of 2018” banner.
Streamers and balloons are party essentials, but to set your graduation party apart, add even more personalization with photos galore. Using ribbon or string and clothespins, hang up school photos of the grad, beginning with kindergarten and going all the way up to senior year. Photos of the grad, both professional and candid, should be everywhere you look. It’s okay to be a little selfish and show her or him off. You can even have friends and family contribute to a photo collage to take it to the next level.
And don't forget to dedicate a table for gifts. To make sure you don’t lose any cards, create a card box. Simply decorate a simple cardboard box with paper, or pull out a cute metal basket or wooden crate from storage. Or, if you're really crafty, you can turn that cardboard into a graduation cap-shaped box, complete with a tassel.
Fun and games
While you and your guests will certainly be doing a lot of eating and drinking, you’ll also want some activities to keep the party flowing and guests entertained. Weather permitting, outdoor games like cornhole and backyard Jenga are fun for guests of all ages.
To make lasting memories that your grad and guests will cherish forever, set up a photo booth in your backyard. And no, we’re not talking about a professional photographer snapping elaborate pictures. Simply drape or pin a neutral-colored flat sheet or tablecloth over a wall and gather some fun props, such as a congrats sign or graduation cap, to complete the photo booth. If you don’t have a camera, use a cell phone or disposable cameras to take the photos. If you've got a Polaroid or other printer, let guests leave a hand-written message with their pictures.Leave words of wisdom and advice for your new grad on something he or she can take along wherever he or she may go. This specialized gift could be a photo of the grad, framed with large matting to allow guests to write a message. Or it could be a separate box of cards to fill out during the party. Collect the messages in a Mason jar or a decorated box.
Don’t forget to say thank you!
After the cake has been eaten and the streamers have been taken down, finish the celebration by having your grad send out handwritten thank you notes. This extra personal touch will show your guests how much your grad appreciates them. To help keep track of who lives where, leave a stack of envelopes and pens on a table at the party and have your guests write their address on them.
Photo credit (hero): Oriental Trading Facebook
Photo credit (biscuit): Ramona King
Photo credit (cake): Mitch Mandel
Photo credit (punch): Andrea Behrends
Photo credit (balloon): LolliLoot Balloon & Party Facebook
Photo credit (graduate): Shopify Partners
Photo credit (thank you card): Lettersbylottie Facebook