For the past few years, I have been operating my own business as a party planner. It is my passion and I love every minute of it. I get to be a part of some of the biggest moments of people’s lives, and better yet, I get to help people give their achievements and milestones the recognition and huzzah they deserve. Whether it’s a wedding, baby shower, cornerstone anniversary, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, or Quinceanera, most are all too eager to celebrate it in the most lavish and wonderful ways they can afford.
But, there is one thing missing from that list, and it’s pretty major: graduation. Graduation, whether it be high school or college, is a truly momentous occasion in anyone’s life. However, I have never been hired to put on a graduation party. My party planner buddies say it’s rare that people go all-out for that particular occasion, and I’m just not sure why. I personally worked so hard for my degree in creative writing. I carefully selected my major, and despite the fact that it is one of my biggest passions, it was still difficult, tedious at times, and required me to give more of myself than I ever thought I could.
When I finally got to walk the line, I was too exhausted from the journey it took to get there to do anything. My family took me and a few close friends out to dinner, we had some champagne. That was it. I felt like everyone was proud of me, and that it was truly an occasion worth celebrating, but if you think about it, isn’t it worth more? Is there any reason not to put graduation up on the pedestal with major life milestones, like marriage, childbirth, or coming-of-age traditions?
I don’t think so! I can tell you that looking back, I really regret not throwing a big bash for my graduation. What I regret even more is not including all of the people who love me and are proud of me. Everyone was invited to my commencement ceremony by either phone call or Facebook invite, and I completely ignored those who I knew couldn’t make it.
I realize now how important it is to take the time and effort to include everyone in your major achievements in any way you can. Almost all of us have friends or relatives that might not be able to make it. Maybe they live too far away, or will be entwined in their own work or family obligations at that point in time. Just because they can’t come see you walk the line doesn’t mean they don’t wish to be a part of it.
The best way to include those who care about you is to send out graduation announcements to everyone you know and love well before the actual invites go out. A booklet or tri-fold style graduation announcement will have room for you to describe your journey and your future plans. This will provide everyone, even those far away, with a memento of your amazing accomplishment. It will make them feel like they are a part of it, even if they can’t actually be there to cheer you on.
I also realize now how important it is to celebrate this life goal being met. So many people have dreams to earn a degree in a certain field, and only some of them set out to actually do so. Even fewer make it to commencement: in 2013, the graduation retention rate in the US was a mere 59%. When it comes to community colleges in particular, the graduation rates are even lower. Same goes for high school students: not everyone ends up with a diploma, and for some, that is all they will ever earn (that’s not necessarily a bad thing, college isn’t for everyone.) Either way, any graduation should be paired with a huge celebration worthy of the triumph.
I’m not saying you need to spend a ton of money, or even go out and hire a professional like myself. None of that is necessary unless that’s your kind of thing. The most important part is gathering everyone together to let you know how proud they are of you, and to offer words of encouragement and life advice that they personally select from their own experiences for you. These are the types of things in life that are invaluable. Just throw together the biggest guest list you can, and worry about the rest later.
If you don’t have a home big enough to host, ask a friend or family member with a big back yard. A local church might also be willing to share space. Venues can be expensive, but if you do a little digging, you can find some very reasonable options. It’s definitely worth it to be able to include everyone who wants to commemorate the occasion with you.
If you don’t want to prepare a bunch of food, the magic word is: potluck. Potlucks are absolutely great because you end up with a wonderful and eclectic variety of food, and you only have to make one dish yourself. Don’t feel bad about asking people to bring something to eat or drink: some absolutely love the opportunity to show off their culinary skills to a crowd, and those who don’t know the chips and dip and fruit and vegetable tray aisles at the grocery store like the backs of their hands.
I always say a party doesn’t necessarily need a ton of of decorations, or any at all. It just depends on your taste and budget. You can literally decorate and supply an entire party by making one trip to the dollar store. Be careful, though. Sometimes they offer great products in smaller amounts, and you can find them cheaper in bulk online.
Another great option to consider is DIYing decorations, games, activities, even favors. There are a ton of online resources with DIY graduation party ideas, and magazines always have great pictures and tutorials, as well. Crafting and DIYing is also an awesome way to spend quality time with family or friends, and it can save money.
Graduation really is worthy of all of this. If having a DJ and a dance floor is your style, go for it! You can even take over your local bar or club for the night. If a laid-back barbecue is more your type of shindig, do it. I have never known a single person to complain about being invited to a barbeque.
Bottom line is, this is one of the biggest moments of you (or your child’s) life so far. It takes so much hard work, dedication, and strength to get to this moment. Don’t sell it short by not allowing it the celebration it deserves.