The curse of graduation party season

A couple of new panels of the fence that separates my and my neighbor’s house appeared a few weeks ago. This weekend, the blacktop driveway sealer people did their thing on his driveway (psst: that stuff doesn’t do anything). The poor guy has been out mowing every few days. New flower beds are being put in and the place looks great. It must be costing him a fortune to spruce the joint up.

Is he about to sell the place? No. His youngest is graduating from high school and he’s gotten sucked into the high-school graduation party syndrome. It’s not enough to throw a small get-together with some brats on the grill in the backyard. You’ve got to pretty much redecorate the home first.

A high school graduation, of course, is a big deal and needs to be celebrated.But, like the issue of the prom dress, how far is too far?

Willmar’s West Central Tribune gave us an idea of what makes a “great” graduation party in an article last week:


These days, however, many families are choosing to go beyond the basics and add those extra details. Grand Rental Station in Willmar, which has rented out tables, chairs and tents for area graduations since 1998, has recently added some miscellaneous items to its inventory that are popular at graduation parties, including a popcorn maker, sno-cone maker and cotton candy machine.

“A lot of people want to do concession items,” said Kevin Wall, customer service specialist at Grand Rental. “More and more, we see people wanting to be more extravagant. They’re splurging for those extra items.”

Don’t forget the DJ for the music.

And, the article says, if you’re a parent of a junior in high school, you best start planning the grad party now.

Let’s face it: Many of these parties are a cash grab. Perhaps you’ve even got a stack of invitations on the table from people whose kid you only nominally know. Maybe they’re all scheduled for the same day so you’re scheduling a day of running to parties, dropping off cash, asking where they’re going to go to college, and then trying to figure out a graceful way to get out and on to the next party.

Miss Manners has an odd solution. Skip all of the other parties and then throw one of your own for the entire senior class.


That would be such a show of goodwill that your declining others’ invitations will not be held against you. Besides, your friends will be too busy worrying whether presents for everyone are expected (and if asked, you can reassure them that no, this party is just for fun).

Mindful of your plea of limited means, Miss Manners excuses you from inviting the parents, on the grounds of not subjecting them to a teenage party, which is the nice way of saying that the teenagers will have more fun without them. That means that you won’t be serving liquor and sophisticated food. It should be a lot cheaper than those checks you might have written.

In her article, “How to Plan A High School Graduation,” Paige Carlotti offers some alternatives to knocking yourself out to rebuilding your home to impress a lot of people that, let’s face it, are going to be a distant memory soon.


There are plenty of ways to go about celebrating the end of an era, and now more than ever is the time to get creative with it. Who knows when will be the next time you have the free time to hiking in the mountains or have a lazy weekend on the beach? Jeannie Shen, a senior at Walter Johnson High School, decided this alternative better suited their desires.

“I’m planning a hiking trip with my friends. We’ll hike up a trail and then have a picnic afterwards while we exchange gifts for each other,” said Jeannie.

Another alternative to the standard backyard grad party is to go out to dinner to your favorite restaurant with your family and a few close friends. This is low stress and low maintenance but will still provide you with the lasting memories and sense of accomplishment that any graduation party is expected to deliver.

A nice dinner with friends? Cheaper than painting the driveway.

  • davidz

    I think this is something of a local or regional concept. I moved to MN from St. Louis in the middle of high school, and in Missouri I hadn’t ever heard of this graduation party / open house idea at all. There might have been the usual party hot spots, but nothing even close to what I see here in the Twin Cities. And it’s gotten so much bigger since the mid 80′s when I graduated (no open house for me, thank you).

    By all means, do whatever you’re comfortable with. But going all out for an open house just because everyone else does? Spend the money on college. Or a trip to wherever. Or bank it as a reserve for the new grad as they go out into the big world.

    Then again, my wife and I figured we spent about $600 for our wedding, total. So we’re clearly not people into “the big event”.

  • Pat

    The majority of my family still lives in the St. Louis area. Open Houses are not a “thing” there. More typical is the close family gathering to celebrate the milestone.

  • Jeff

    I grew up in a Boston suburb and graduated in the late 80s. My parents had a open house for my graduation. So it isn’t just a MN thing.

    My wife and I host parties and use them to, er, “motivate” us to get some house projects done. Maybe that is what your neighbor is doing, Bob.

  • Jessie

    For my sister’s graduation party the most extravagant thing we did was rent an inflatable bouncy castle for the day. It is certainly the only one I remember. I’m not even sure what we did for mine…

  • Susan in MN

    My husband is a teacher in our district, so we get a few invites each year. This year only 6 so far. We’re never sure how much to give as a gift. We do take notes for our son’s graduation, which will be in a few years. I like the “less is more” approach such as an ice cream sundae or taco bar. I did like the bounce house at one a few years ago. I haven’t seen any concessions stands so far. Fortunately, we live in an area where people do some serious cleaning, but no major remodels. I guess it comes down to what’s meaningful for the graduate, rather than the parents.

  • Chuck

    I haven’t viewed the graduation parties my wife and I have attended as “cash grabs.” Still, we have received invitations to parties for kids we know only peripherally. Because these are generally open houses, we feel entirely free not to attend such gatherings, thereby side-stepping the feeling that we need to bring cash with us. The hosts also won’t miss us. For those kids we do know well, we also don’t mind giving a small cash gift. (“Small” is the key word. We figure the kids will pool all the small gifts they receive and will end up with a “large” gift.)

    We served ice cream sundaes at our son’s graduation 5 years ago. Very easy. We cleaned the house and mowed the lawn. A good time was had by all.

  • jon

    Grew up in chicago, had a party for my sisters graduation… so it’s a thing elsewhere, though ours was mostly family.

    However, I don’t have any kids at all, me and my wife have put in a new flower garden, I have cut the grass, I should do something with the drive way (Bob if the blacktop sealer doesn’t do anything, what do you recommend for driveway maintenance?). I just thought it was because it was spring, not so much because of graduation seasons…

    That and keeping up with the neighbors… their yard is beautiful… all the time… we’ve been fighting hard to keep up.

  • Kelly

    I second the comments regarding open houses. I grew up in the Milwaukee area and never heard of them until I moved to the Twin Cities. I also don’t remember any of my friends having grad parties. I know I didn’t.

    The other odd thing about parties in this region is that they occur in people’s GARAGES. That always strikes me as being rather inhospitable. .

  • Bob Collins

    Susan, I kind of think you and your husband already gave a gift.

  • Michele

    I graduated in 1979. As soon as the ceremony was over we all went home and did the family thing as quickly as possible, then ditched the old folks for the real party; an illicit kegger at a quarry on the outskirts of town.

    I suppose this is still where the real party happens, where kids get drunk and laugh at their eternally disconnected parents behind their backs.