Do you have a senior that is preparing to graduate? Here is a simple timeline of things to consider doing to prepare for the big event!

(photo from from free stock photos)

Feeling stressed about your child’s upcoming graduation? After doing three high school graduation parties, two college graduation parties, plus a wedding, I have some thoughts about preparing for the party. Maybe these tips will help you feel relaxed or at least organized as you plan for a successful celebration to your child’s special day. After all, you have raised and nurtured your child, you have cheered them on, and wiped their tears. It is a celebration for you as well. Congratulations on this big event. Plan ahead so you are done early and can sit back and enjoy this special time in your child’s life. 

Senior Year

Summer before senior year:

Schedule Senior pictures and order them. If you are having your photographer create your invitations, be sure you know the date of the graduation so they can add any information you want to the invite. I would encourage you to consider making your own, but be sure to include details for the actual graduation on the card and be sure to note if the party is on a different day. Give the physical address to both, but be sure it is very clear as to dates, times, and locations.

By December

Think about the day of your child’s event and secure a location for your child’s event. Put down a deposit if necessary. 


Discuss with your child what they want for a menu and look for recipes or a caterer. 

If you are in need of a caterer, be sure you contact a reputable one. Pay the deposit fee to be sure you have them on your calendar. 


Make a list of people you want to invite. Most senior students will send out a Facebook invitation, but encourage them to keep it private so you aren’t overwhelmed with a larger than anticipated crowd. This would be especially important if you are having your gathering in a smaller space. 

To determine how much food and drink, take the number of people you have invited and multiply it by ⅔. That will be pretty close to the number you will want to prepare for, but in all reality, only about ½ the number of people you invite will actually show up, and if you have the party on the same night as others, many people will not eat everything you serve. So, give yourself permission to run out! Leftovers are overrated!


Fill out the FAFSA form! Sorry parents, you really do need to do this. Go ahead and have the form linked to your taxes, it will save you a lot of time and headaches!

Fill out all scholarships. Ask for letters of recommendations from teachers. Try to have all of this done this month. Most likely your child began this earlier in the year. If not, put a rush on this! 

If you are preparing your own food, you can start to look for some things on sale. Some things like browning ground beef can potentially be done this month and placed in packaging in your deep freeze to speed things up as you prepare them later. 

You will want to secure tables, chairs, and begin looking for sales on disposable dishware, napkins, table cloths, canned beverages, etc. 

If you have room in your garage or a spare room, you can stockpile these items. Be sure to keep them organized so you can keep track of them. 

If you plan to order chips or things like that, then consider using Food Direct Services. They are really speedy and have a ton of things available that can help and you can avoid a trip to a major store. 

If you are purchasing soda or water bottles, consider purchasing the small bottles and can. Most people will not drink all of it and you will have a lot left over. Consider purchasing the small cups if you are serving lemonade or punch for the same reason. 

If you don’t have 30 gallon trash cans, consider going to Menards or some other store and purchasing several along with the liners. It will help you out when the day of the party actually happens. Consider your plan for the full trash bags as they fill up. Most people don’t consider this, they place them outdoors and then coons or dogs get into them. Consider throwing them in the back of a pickup if you don’t have other options.

If you are using a venue, you may have to purchase your own liners as well, so ask about this and get the correct size. You may also have to supply things like hand soaps, dish soaps, and hand towels at your venue, so ask questions.


If you are having cake and are ordering it, this is a good time to contact a baker and make arrangements. Be sure to pay the deposit as needed. 

Consider sending out your invitations 4-6 weeks in advance. Many people want to have advanced notice. This will give them time to purchase a gift and make time to attend the event. They may need to make arrangements for travel time as well as hotel accommodations. 

Consider asking a couple of older people watch any alcohol if you plan to provide it. You don’t want any underage drinking going on. Remind them of their job the day of the party. 

Ask a couple of trusted friends to help you with your serving for the day of the party. Ask the in ADVACNCE! You will NOT want to have to worry about this. Your family will tell you they will help, but they will get distracted with relatives and not follow through. You want several people in charge that are not relatives. You will be glad you did this! Consider asking a freshman or sophomore for help if you want a high schooler. Pay them to do the job and then they will take it seriously. You could also ask a service group like Girl Scouts to help and then give a donation to their club.

While it would be nice to have your entire extended family stay with you, I really encourage you to avoid this. Especially if you are hosting at your home. Your house guests will not be concerned about keeping the house cleaned up and you will want it to be picked up! It is too much stress. They will understand. 

If you are hosting the party at your house, this is the month where you will be very busy. You will either want to hire help, or complete these tasks on your own. Do a deep clean of all rooms. People will literally end up everywhere!

Clean up your yard and make it as presentable as you can. If you are planning on putting in flowers and you live in an area that this is difficult to do, then consider preparing planters. These can be pulled in if there is a late spring freeze.

As crazy as it sounds, organize your closets, cupboards, drawers, people will look in just about anything! Or better yet, leave a sign in them and say something like, “Did you find what you needed?”

Consider removing all medications that guests may get into without your permission. As much as we would like to believe no one would mess with it, you never know! 

Consider asking a friend to be in charge of taking candid photos. I have seen people lay out disposable cameras for friends to use at the party. 

Either borrow or purchase things like: roasters, beverage dispensers, coolers, card tables, display boards for photos, decorations. 

I purchase rolls of table covering so it is easily rolled out. I will then have leftovers for other gatherings that I host.

Determine what type of collection box or basket you want for the cards. If you want to decorate it, this is the time. A great idea is to get a larger Amazon box and cover it with wrapping paper and place a large slot in the top. Then you don’t have to worry about things getting lost!

Purchase thank you’s and stamps. You may want to consider purchasing postcards. Then you can avoid an envelope. One less thing to take care of.

If you are having a display of photos or awards, determine what you want laid out and how it will be displayed. You may need to line up extra tables for this, so as you determine tables and chairs, keep this in mind.

Get your appointments for your hair style and if you do nails or something like that, have them scheduled. 

Make any signage for your party, however, be careful about putting your name on anything. While this is helpful, it may lead to other issues, like unwanted guests. If your guests need directions to your home, then include them in the invitation. Most people use some navigation system now, so most people only need an address.

May/June or month of graduation

2 weeks prior to graduation, double check to see that you have everything you need (minus any fresh foods). This will give you time to run and get what you need.

If you are using a garage or shed, this is the time to clean it out. Then don’t allow anyone to park in it, or you will be starting all over. Keep the door closed! This will keep out the bugs and dust.

If you are able to and have access to tables, then you should set them up, but you may need to dust them off if it is really windy.  

Consider your outfit for the party. You want to be comfortable yet dressed nicely so the photos you preserve show how much you cared about the day. 

The week of graduation you will want to have some friends or family help you out. We all want to believe our child will help us get things ready, they are busy with their own agendas, and you will just need to give yourself permission to ask for help. 

Pick up the tables and chairs from the venue you are renting or borrowing them from. Be sure to find out when and how they are to be returned. Some places will rent picnic tables on wheels that can be pulled home hooked up to a pickup. Some towns will rent the picnic tables from the local park, but this will require a pickup or a flatbed trailer. If you have access to those things, these are definitely a possibility. You do not have to have searing for everyone invited. If you run your party as an open house, then have some tables and chairs. Many people will stand and visit. Then they will sit as others leave.

If you didn’t set up the tables, then this is the time to do it. Don’t put covers on them until the day before or the day of to avoid dust. 

Clean the house. Be sure to lay down extra throw rugs if people will be in your house. Put them over your carpet as well. People will not be taking off their shoes! 

Have extra toilet paper and paper towels on hand for guest rooms and the kitchen. Put extra liners in the bottom of your trash cans so they are ready to go and helpers can just take out the bag and add a new liner.

Place the canned drinks in coolers so the only thing you have to do is add ice the day of the party (add labels to the coolers).

Begin to prepare anything that can be done in advance. If you are making tacos, mix it up and then put it in bags and freeze it. It will only take about 2 days to thaw in your fridge if you don’t have too much. If you have a lot, then adjust. 

2 days prior, continue to get any food items made or picked up. DO NOT try to pick all of that up the day or or even the day before. You will be in tears from stress! Allow your family and friends to help you out!

Hang up all of your displays. 

THE DAY of the Party

If you have done your work in advance, then today should be easy!

Go early and get the ice you need to cool your beverages. As long as you don’t overfill your coolers, you should be able to get by with 20 pounds per cooler. Your drinks will melt the ice, so even though 20 pounds sounds like a lot, it won’t be.

Determine the route you want your guests to enter and leave. It is a good idea to have your graduate by the door your guests are entering. Wherever you are serving the food, consider the flow of traffic and the ease of laying food out. 

Think about where you want packages and graduation cards located. 

If you have food to warm up, you will want to provide plenty of time for that. You will want to consider putting the main food item first with all of the other items behind them. 

Place your signage. 

Lay out all cutlery, food, drinks, etc. Put out garbage cans with liners in the bottom. 

Get dressed and take some family photos before people arrive. 

Sit back and relax! 

You will want to put all of the foods that needs to be refrigerated away before you go to sleep, but the rest can wait until the next day. 

The Day after the Party

Clean up all of the trash. 

Return the tables and chairs. 

Begin the returns of the coolers, etc. 

Take down all decorations and begin placing them in storage containers. You may want to consider a storage unit for under the bed.  Or several, if you have a lot! The following year, have them go through it and decide what they REALLY want to keep. 

Sweep floors, vacuum, wash floors, wash bathrooms, wash all surfaces in your kitchen, wash the toilets and sinks and countertops. Dump trash from the kitchen and bathrooms. 

Open the gifts later in the evening when you have things cleaned up. You should have some leftovers, so you shouldn’t have to cook. Be sure to take good notes on who gave what, most people expect a written thank you sent in the mail. 

Within a week of the party

Write the thank you notes and get them in the mail. Waiting much longer means your child will procrastinate! 

I hope this was helpful! There are so many things that you have to do, and you can either take this advice or leave it. But, having done three, there are countless things to do, and I am quite certain that I have left a few of them out!

Congratulations on your special celebration!

Note: Sheryl is a full time teacher and part time tutor. If you’d like to know more about her, check out

Published by Tutoring with Sheryl

I have 32 years of experience teaching in public schools in Nebraska. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincon. I hold a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Doane University. I have 2 Google for Education Certifications. I have been tutoring online for 1 year. I have worked with countless students of all ages to support their education. I also support teachers with planning and management in their classrooms.

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