Our oldest is preparing to graduate high school next week. We knew we definitely wanted to celebrate this milestone accomplishment, but we weren’t sure exactly what to do. Should we host a party? Should we skip the party and plan a family trip? Forget the littles, should we take our oldest on a trip with some friends? Or could we do none of the above, and instead hand her a check for the amount we might spend to add to her college account? So many options, and so many things to take into consideration.
We finally settled on the idea of a graduation party. I’m so glad we did this!
In my opinion, the venue is the most important aspect of party planning. We knew from the beginning that our home was not an option. The chaos of the our regular life + two little brothers + two full-time jobs = no parties at home. EVER. We personally don’t host a lot of functions in our home, primarily because of the inconvenience but also because of the size. Luckily, my dad was able to secure his apartment clubhouse for a reasonable rate on a Saturday evening. Just two miles down the road, it seemed like the most affordable and convenient option for our family and friends.
Other venue ideas we explored: City rentals at the local recreation center or public library, church meeting spaces, coffee shops with private rooms, restaurants and local event spaces.
Our location: The VUE Castle Hills apartment clubhouse.
What I loved: What’s not to love when you show up in a big, clean space ready to decorate for a party? The location was not too far from where we live, so convenient for most of our guests. The clubhouse offered an open environment designed for party hosting: small kitchen, countertops for food, seating, TV and a pool table.
What I learned: I wish we would have thought more about the clean-up process and arrived better prepared. Thankfully, my Dad’s apartment wasn’t too far so we ended up using his cleaning supplies: broom, garbage bags for trash and spray for wiping down countertops. Another factor that we weren’t sure how to handle was parking. There was limited parking for the clubhouse, so our guests had to maneuver through the complex to find an open spot. No one complained, but maybe they were too nice to tell me about it!
Another cost-saving idea was to offer an array of snacks, instead of lunch or dinner. This was a great way to include our daughter, who we were celebrating. We incorporated some of her favorite foods: Whataburger Apple Pies, Chick-Fil-A nuggets, donuts, a chocolate bundt cake, Dr. Pepper and Izze drinks.
We also included an assortment of fruit, cheese and crackers. I used Pinterest as inspiration for our own charcuterie board set-up. The mini chalkboards were easy to write on using a chalk marker and even easier to wipe clean for future use. We used pre-cut round spruce pine fir boards from Lowe’s and used Howard Clear cutting board oil as a food-safe sealant before using as serving platter. I was shocked to see the price of ready-to-use cheese boards. Like, what in the world? This was the cheapest alternative for its size and super easy to do. We made two boards so that they could sit on either side of the counter, accessible to all our guests.
To celebrate her decision to study at the University of Arkansas in the fall, we featured a signature red drink, purchased fun college cups and ordered personalized cookies to be the focal point of our snack spread.
What I loved: Our party was a go-and-come event, so having an assortment of snacks was a great idea. We made sure to have something that people of all ages would eat, from kids to grandparents. It was cost-effective and there wasn’t a lot of food to take home or throw away at the end of the party. By only offering party foods, we didn’t have to worry about purchasing big plates or silverware either. The biggest hit of our party were the apple pies from Whataburger. The teens loved those!
What I learned: Teenagers are always hungry! Because the majority of our guests were high school students, jumping from one party to the next, we should have purchased more chicken nuggets and less decorative cookies. Perhaps the cookies were too pretty to eat, but we brought home almost 2/3 of the cookies we ordered.
The details of the party decorations were simple, but created a hint of personalization. We didn’t want to carry EVERYTHING our daughter created, accomplished, earned and produced in her 13 years of schooling. But we wanted for the clubhouse to feel welcoming, so she selected specific photos and artifacts to display. We framed some of her senior pictures and a photo of her taken during a family photo shoot when she was in Kindergarten. A big hit were all of the yearbooks we had purchased throughout the years. The high school students and younger siblings enjoyed looking through the old photos of themselves and teachers.
What I loved: Simple decorations made for simple set-up and clean-up. Because our life seems to be crazy busy these days, I enjoyed the time spent crafting with my Cricut to make the signs for the party.
What I learned: I need to be a better organizer, especially with my photos! I had grand visions of displaying photos from Kindergarten to Senior year, but I couldn’t pull my act together to actually go through ALL. OF. THE. PHOTOS. we’ve accumulated since our girl entered school. It was overwhelming, so I never actually did what I had envisioned!
If you’ve spent any time on Pinterest these days prepping for party-planning, you know that a good photo backdrop is a must-have for teenage girls and their friends. This was no different. Our girl wanted something that was instagram worthy, but we wanted something cheap and easy to haul. Bonus points for something we could potentially sell or give to a friend for them to use. Fortunately, we didn’t have to construct anything because a friend offered their backdrop which had most recently been used at a bridal shower. It was black and white and fit our color scheme perfectly. It wasn’t easy to haul, but because it was FREE to use and already constructed we weren’t complaining!
The top of the wooden back drop was full of holes where an assortment of paper flowers had been installed. Our girl didn’t want flowers, so we opted for balloons. The installation was SUPER EASY using this balloon arch and garland kit from Amazon. We purchased additional balloons from Party City in smaller sizes to fill in the gaps. They were adhered by using the adhesive dots that came in the balloon kit from Amazon. My husband and daughter helped me secure the garland using yarn looped and tied through the holes already drilled on the board.
What I loved: This was the perfect backdrop for us to use. We positioned it to hide the computer stations located in the clubhouse. We didn’t want the younger kids messing with the computers and since residents were not allowed to enter, the computers would not be in use. Because we had created the garland prior to the party set-up, it took minutes for us to assemble at the clubhouse. By purchasing the DIY kit, it was so much more cost effective than hiring a balloon company.
What I learned: Blowing up balloons is not as easy as it looks. I purchased a hand pump from Party City and it was well worth the $6.00 investment. I also wish I would have been more methodical about the entire balloon process. Instead of creating the balloon garland as we blew up the balloons, we just hunkered down in the living room one night and blew up as many balloons as we could! It took 7 big garbage bags to contain them from our littles and dog. Because we made a last-minute decision to NOT have the balloon garland cascade down one side of the backdrop we only ended up using less than 1/2 of the balloons we blew up!
Party planning can certainly feel like a job. I’m convinced that some people have a party-planning gene that I must not have inherited. Instead I scour Pinterest for weeks and overthink every single decision until I drive my husband insane. I think our girl and her friends had a great time, so it made the entire event worth it. And shout out to my amazing mother-in-law who helped us wrangle two little boys in the midst of party hosting and even took them home early before meltdowns occurred. Another big thank you to my aunts and uncles who helped us tear down the party and clean up in a record 15 minutes so that we could be out at the end of our 4-hour time window. It was a great evening with friends and family celebrating our girl!