Grade-A Graduation Party

Get the Grad's Input. Ask the graduate if he or she would like a big bash with lots of relatives and friends or a more intimate gathering with immediate family.

Pick a Date. With last-minute school events, work schedules and other graduation parties to attend, choosing a date may be your biggest challenge. Consider hosting the party later in the summer when you're less harried and when most other parties have already taken place.

Choose a Setting. Backyards and parks are great places to host a casual graduation party. Make sure to offer enough seating and some shelter from bad weather. (Consider renting tables, chairs and even a tent.) If you'll be going to a restaurant, call for reservations well in advance.

Pick a Theme. Although school colors are a natural choice when decorating for a graduation party, the sky's the limit so get as creative as you desire! Spotlight the grad with a table filled with memorabilia…awards and honors, prom photos, senior pictures, diploma, mortarboard, pompons, yearbooks, pennants, etc.

Address and Mail Invitations. Most schools offer graduation announcements and invitations, which gives you one less thing to think about. (But again, feel free to be creative!) Send out the invitations about 4 weeks before the party. Include directions or small maps if you're expecting out-of-town guests.

Plan the Menu. When hosting a party for a large group, buffets are the way to go. There's no serving involved, which allows you to mingle while keeping an eye on the table for refills. Look for recipes that can be prepared ahead. Save foods with lots of last-minute preparation for smaller, intimate gatherings.