A Graduation Party Planning Checklist: Elfster’s How-To Guide

A Graduation Party Planning Checklist: Elfster’s How-To Guide

graduation party planning

Plan to celebrate your 2017 grad | Image courtesy Unsplash user Glenn Carstens-Peters
Plan to celebrate your 2017 grad | Image courtesy Unsplash user Glenn Carstens-Peters

When I was getting ready to start college back in the 90s (cue lightning and thunderbolts in the background), we didn’t really need much. Bedding and such, of course, but besides that just a couple of packing crates, my books, my Discman, my CD case, and, of course, some decorations to show just how unique and idiosyncratic I was. I think there was an Escher? That blew some minds, man.

In some ways, not a lot has changed. College students still need bedding, and still have the need to demonstrate their personality. But there is more necessary in order to compete, to survive, and to thrive these days. College-bound students are entering a very competitive atmosphere with technology that people my age couldn’t have even imagined, and are still dealing with the terror-thrills of independence, the fear of failure, and the rush of exploration that makes for a great college experience.

So, as we roll through graduation and college preparation season, how should you celebrate that? What kind of party should they have, and what should you give them? What can you gift your graduate, or the grade-school friend from whom you’ll be separated for the first time? What should you give to send someone off without really saying goodbye? Here’s your elfishly insightful graduation party planning checklist and gift guide.

The Go-To Graduation Party Planning Checklist

So, the first thing you need to do before sending them off to the halls of academia is the graduation party—and we have your planning checklist. Graduation parties are kind of an odd hybrid, both a culmination and a consecration: you’re getting them ready for a voyage and honoring how they got here. So what do you need to make it successful, to honor the past and the future and that winnowing present?

graduation party cake
Not pictured: the “Because You’ll Need It” banner | Image courtesy Etsy seller SoSimpleSoSweet

Cake, obviously. But more.

  1. Reserve a venue. If you’re going to throw a big party and need to pick a venue, make sure you pick it well in advance. Remember that you aren’t the only one with a graduate (unless you’re from a really, really small town), so your favorite place is probably someone else’s too. Book a few months in advance.
  2. Send out guest invites. Make sure you send out the invites far enough in advance. Graduation season and wedding season are at the same time, and coincide with vacation season. And summer TV season, which is really good these days, amiright? Anyway, get out the invites early. Make sure your friends pick you.
  3. Choose: music or band? How much do you want to go all out on this? If you’re having a big party, make sure you book a band in advance. And, honestly, don’t make it a surprise. Check with the graduate. Don’t just think, “The kids will love this Nickelback cover band!” You’re on the internet. You know better.
  4. Plan for food: At the last few parties I’ve been to, I’ve noticed that the catered food came from a friend who was starting a company. Different parties, different friends, different companies. And it was all awesome. There are a lot of startups out there, with people trying their hand at business. And with a lot of the established brands booked, give them a shot. The food I had was great. It’s a perfect mix of supply and demand.

    graduation party planning 2017
    Of course you need balloons | Image courtesy Etsy seller Paris312party
  5. String up decorations. This is the hard part. You don’t want corny. You don’t just want a few mortarboards lying around. Celebrate who they are, and celebrate who they will be. Try out a few different things. Some of our suggestions include:
    • Pictures of and information about their college. These are great conversation starters and can actually help prevent the grad from repeating “I’m going to X” 100 times.
    • Yearbooks. Everyone wants to see the yearbook. Don’t hide it (depending on the autographs, of course).
    • A slideshow of them growing up, hitting key moments of their life. Show how that tiny person with impossibly small toes became an incredible human on the cusp of adulthood. Because that’s what this is all about.

It’s also about the gifts, though, so here are some ideas for both parents, friends, and other family to send someone away at their last hometown bash in style…

The Starting-College Basics Gift Guide

What does a college dorm room need? Something that’s practical and fun? Obviously, you’ll want to get bedding, at least a couple sets (let’s be honest, laundry will be low priority). And you’ll want to get them some nice clothes so they don’t end up going to class in sweatpants (spoiler: they will anyway). So above and beyond that, what can you get them to make the college experience even better? Let’s start with some sweet chairs.

Some Sweet Chairs for Making Friends

party gift for grads
Modern knit bean bags… who knew? | Image courtesy GeiMarGa

I never actually had a beanbag chair, but I had a few roommates who did. I never quite understood the point of them: these shapeless lumps with virtually no function that wouldn’t support you and did nothing but lurk uncomfortably in the room. And the chairs weren’t much better! But that’s different now. I was looking up beanbag chairs, and discovered that they now have form and support. Some, amazingly, even have fur.

But those aren’t the only kind of chairs. A chair should be comfortable, but should be sort of expressive. It should tell you something about the person. The furry beanbag shows a goofy sense of humor, a pratfalling luxe, if you will. But there are others. You can take a look at:

Needless to say, these are all seats for lounging around and hanging out with friends in the dorm, or playing video games. Some homework will be done on them, but for that, you need a desk.

desk for college grad party gift
Retro can still hold a computer | Image courtesy Etsy seller ReclaimedWoodUSA

A Throwback Desk to Prepare for the Future

Some colleges, of course, provide desks in the dorms, but if your doesn’t, or if your college student will be living off campus, they’ll need a desk. So, above and beyond the Marley poster, this is a good chance to show off some personality. A nephew of mine needed a desk, so my wife and I got him a very cool, old-fashioned, rustic-looking one.

That’s what’s in these days, for both young people and old men like myself: bespoke, traditional, hand-crafted items that smack of a DIY aesthetic and aren’t the exact same thing as seen in everyone’s dorm. There’s been a silent revolution against mass production, and nowhere is that more true than in young people. Unless that mass production is in video games, of course. That they are fine with.

Gifts to Say Goodbye to Friends

College is about meeting new people but, in a very real way, it is also about separation. We’ve directed most of this article to parents getting ready to send their kid off to school for the first terrifying time, and ways to make them more comfortable. But what do you give a friend when you are saying goodbye, maybe for the first time ever, save for some summer camps and family vacations?

graduation party planning
If your grad doesn’t like their party, I’ll eat my hat | Image courtesy Etsy seller Bakedlovely

These are old-fashioned, but they never go out of style.

  • A journal for two. You’re both going to be doing amazing things, and meeting new people. You’ll have new adventures. And while text, Facebook, and all the other social media things make it easier than ever to catch up, they don’t have much depth. So give your friend a journal, but with a twist. Address it to each other. Write down thoughts like letters, and you can exchange them. That’s a way that you can stay connected even when you aren’t, and can catch up.
  • Your favorite movies. What movies did you watch over and over and over together? Make sure they have copies, whether it’s the physical movie or buying it for them on Amazon. Even if it’s a kid’s movie. Especially if it’s a kid’s movie. That brings a sweet nostalgia when everything seems to be changing.
  • A shared playlist. Chances are, you’ve listened to a lot of songs together over the years. You have a soundtrack of your lives. So put it into a playlist, and give it to your friend. Whenever they put it on, they’ll remember the time you went swimming at night, or stayed up til dawn watching movies, or went nervously to the dance then had a great time. 

But here’s the thing about those songs: they’ll listen to them, and create new memories. There will be new associations. And that’s ok. They won’t replace the old. They’ll swirl together, mixed in that great rush of life. Memories don’t have to be exclusive. That’s the heart of going to college. You meet new people and try new things and forge new memories but remain fundamentally yourself. It’s not about chairs or desks or even music: it’s about the people who interact with them. The ability to do so, to forge a path in life while staying in touch with the past, is the greatest gift of all.

It’s been awhile since we graduated from NPU (North Pole University), so Elfster wants to live vicariously through you! Share your favorite college prep stories—and this year’s best gifts—on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Beach Getaway Gift Guide.

Brian B

Brian B

Brian thinks that giving someone a gift is just about the most fun you can have, so long as you don't stress out about finding the right one. He likes helping people not stress out during the holidays. Hit him up for ways to make your Christmas more fun.
Brian B
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