[ Audra Kutz Mehl ]
Story by Audra Mehl
Photography by M.Schleif Photography
When your child graduates from high school the experience is emotional for everyone. It is not only the acknowledgment of an educational accomplishment but also a formal farewell to childhood. For the graduate, both excitement and anxiety link arms, the future a captivating siren song of unknown possibilities. For the parents, it’s a cocktail of pride and the bittersweet acceptance of letting go. Are they ready? Are we ready? It doesn’t matter. Graduation day is here and it’s time to throw a party!
Last spring, I had all these aspects, times two, as I faced down the emotions and logistics of throwing a double grad party for my daughter, Sophie, who graduated from South High School, and my adopted daughter, Karrly, who graduated from North High School. (There was no way I was going to do this twice, so they didn’t get to vote for autonomy.) After pulling it all off, I've noted some key components that made the day a success. As many of you plot and plan your own celebration this spring, here's are my tips to help light the way.
Having an open house at home is the most cost-effective choice, but isn’t always plausible. Sometimes space is an issue, or family dynamics, such as divorced parents, make choosing an offsite, neutral location best for all. As a general lover of party-throwing, my Plan A was a backyard garden party; Plan B would involve cleaning my garage. Thankfully, Mother Nature delivered a seventy-degree, calm and sunny spring day, so Plan A it was.
No matter your venue, plan the flow of the party. Where will your guests enter? Have your graduate greet their guests and direct them, and don’t forget to place a basket/box for cards nearby. Make a plan that allows your guests to wander through the party at their leisure once they have been greeted.
Simplicity is key to everyone’s sanity. The menu is usually the most complicated part for most people. If you can have it catered, that’s always easiest, but I have lots of friends who make it all themselves. And yes, I would like to canonize them for sainthood, but it is proof it can be done.
I chose to have our open house in the afternoon and serve desserts, iced coffee and lemonade. Many guests have several parties to attend and throwing an afternoon open house fits nicely into their other obligations. Keep in mind, a breakfast or brunch are also great options.
Do not do it all yourself. I relied on an army of family and friends to pull this off. My oldest daughter spent weeks creating a video montage of Karrly’s childhood set to music, and I asked Sophie’s father to do the same. The two of them merged the videos together and it was the most popular aspect of the party. The video played in my sunroom; guests lingered there comfortably, paging through the scrapbooks I’d strategically placed there, before heading into the sunshine.
I also recruited three of my longtime girlfriends to help host, and they were lifesavers, helping to refill beverages and restock the desserts and ice coffee bar, as needed. This allowed me to socialize more, and not have to worry so much about the details as I soaked in this milestone day with my daughters.
Adequate seating is a big logistic to tackle. If you're hosting at home, you can either borrow folding tables and chairs from friends and family or rent seating. I rented vintage wooden tables and chairs from Gathered. Boutique Rentals & Events, which they delivered, set up and tore down. For centerpieces, I bought inexpensive vases and filled them with the lilacs that happened to be blooming in my backyard that weekend.
Celebrating your graduate’s childhood and accomplishments should be the centerpiece of the party. Dedicating a table or two to display photos, awards, and achievements are the focal point of celebrating your graduate. I had one table for each daughter, draped twine over the windows, and attached photos with clothespins. I also scattered photos creatively around the table next to some of our favorite framed shots. (As you wander down memory lane, you'll need some tissues...I cried the whole time.)
For the athlete or artist, you can create a secondary display to focus on their specific accomplishments. I dedicated a separate sitting room specifically to my daughter, Sophie’s artwork as she is pursuing a career as an artist, and her guests really enjoyed seeing her talent on display.
Fly High Little Birds
There is no right or wrong way to celebrate this milestone; be as simple or as elaborate as you want to be. My one over-the-top splurge was renting a bounce house. The little kids enjoyed it during the party, and that evening my daughters and their friends used it to celebrate one last hurrah to their childhood, their giggles floating on the night air as they bounced and laughed into their futures.
So just remember, during the to-do lists, the planning, the plotting, and the prayers for sunshine, don’t get so caught up in the details that you forget to focus on the purpose for it all, the opportunity to show your graduate that although things are changing, your love for them is unwavering. You’re simply creating one more treasured memory that they will tuck into their pocket and take with them and as evidence of the roots that raised them and the love that launched them into flight.
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