First Things First - What You'll Need to Decide
Who will be on the guest list? Is this a party for only family members? Will classmates be invited? Are you inviting the entire neighborhood?
When will you hold the party? You could host the party directly after the graduation ceremony or you could plan it for a different day. If you are hosting a party for an older child, your party will probably compete with other classmates' parties. Friends will be traveling from party to party, not staying long at any one place. Therefore you should plan for more of an open house type of event. Before finalizing plans, do a little research by talking to other parents. That way you'll know if you're hosting the only party in town or one stop among many.
Where will the party be held? Since graduations are usually held in the spring, it's tempting to plan an outdoor party. But if that's your plan, you should be prepared with a tent or alternative backup plan in case of bad weather. If you have chosen a location other than your home for the party, then one of the first things you should do is reserve the location for the event and book the caterer.
You need to decide, and make clear to your older graduating child, your policy regarding alcohol and underage drinkers. Whether teens help themselves to alcohol you're serving to older party attendees, or bring along their own, you need to decide how you will handle this in advance. You are responsible for any underage drinkers at your party, and you can be legally prosecuted for permitting it to occur.
Step 2 - Pick Your Style and Theme
The style and theme you select will help as you plan the other elements of your party. Here are some possible directions you could go:
A formal dress-up party. Ask the kids and adults to come in formal attire and create formal place settings with linens, china, and elegant floral arrangements.
A casual, flip-flop shoes only type of party. Let everyone be themselves in their most casual attire. Use paper goods, plastic serving ware and invite everyone to hang out for as long as they wish. Good-byes take a long time, and leaving a school requires a long good-bye party.
Host an open-house luncheon with the theme "Hitch Your Wagon to a Star" to celebrate your graduating star.
Hawaiian Luau party themes are very popular for graduation parties. Invite your guests to come dressed in fun, tropical clothing.
Build a theme around the graduate's future plans. For example, if your child will be attending college in New England, you could serve a New England Clam Bake to your guests. Or if your child is planning to be a veterinarian in the future (and this could work as well for a grade school graduation party as for a high school or college party), you could incorporate an animal theme into your party.