Graduation is a day that represents years of hard work and preparation, so it’s a must to celebrate graduates’ accomplishments. Make graduation an event that they’ll remember by throwing them a well-deserved graduation party. Whether you are an attendee or a host, these graduation party etiquette tips will ensure a successful and positive experience.

Hosting a Graduation Party

A lot of pressure comes with hosting a graduation party. Below you will find tips that will help you plan the perfect graduation party for each individual grad, and make sure that everything at the party runs smoothly.

Who should you invite?

Who you invite depends on the size and type of party you wish to have. It is really up to the graduate whether they want a small family gathering or a huge party with friends and extended family.

Be sure to keep in mind the dynamic between family and friends. If you’re concerned about the grad spending quality time with family before they celebrate with their friends, try inviting family earlier and friends later in the evening.

Don’t forget to include a request for an RSVP with your invitation The RSVP should include the date guests need to reply by and a preferred RSVP method, whether that’s by phone or email. This will help you prepare the right amount of food, drinks and seating for the party.

What is the difference between a graduation announcement and an invitation?

A graduation announcement and a graduation invitation are often confused.

Graduation invitations should be sent to the people that you are asking to attend a graduation ceremony, party or dinner. Graduation invitations should include the date, time and location of the event, as well as RSVP information.

If your graduation party immediately follows the ceremony, combine ceremony and party invitations into one invite for those invited to both.

Graduation announcements are sent to family and friends to let them know about the momentous occasion. They often include the graduate’s name, photo, university and graduation year, but not the time or location of the graduation because that could be misinterpreted as an invite. You can also include information about their degree and/or any honors they received.  

Should you have a graduation open house?

A graduation open house is a party that you host during a block of time. During the open house guests can come and go as they please.

This type of party helps ensure that people who have other commitments or graduation parties can still attend. This is also a good way to throw a more informal party, and even though there might be higher guest turnover, you may see more people come through than a more formal party.   

What does the host typically provide?

What you provide as a host is dependent on the type of party you throw. Every party should at least have some type of light appetizer and drinks. If you’re serving a meal, buffet style is popular because it allows guests to serve themselves. Whether you choose light appetizers or more filling options, make sure that your guests know what to expect.

If you want guests to eat before they come, include “drinks and light refreshments” on the invite so that they know not to depend on you for a whole meal.

If you want to provide dinner try writing something like “Cocktail hour 6pm, Dinner 7pm” in your invitations.

You aren’t obligated to prepare any entertainment, such as games for your guests, but they could really enhance the party. Providing music in the background or music to dance creates a fun and welcoming environment.

Party favors are not obligatory, but they are a nice touch. You can also make the party memorable by creating a slideshow of the graduate or setting out keepsakes for the grad that guests can sign with advice and wishes.

Are thank you notes necessary?

It is polite to send thank you cards to people who supported you on your big day (and anyone who sent you a gift or card). Keep track of who came and make sure to mention their gift if they gave one to you.

Nothing says I really appreciate you and your support more than a handwritten card delivered by good old fashioned snail mail. If you need a few tips, check out this guide on how to write a thank you note.

Attending a Graduation Party

Whether you are attending one or a dozen parties this year, be the guest who doesn’t cause stress. Proper etiquette on your end will make things a lot easier for the host and will reflect well on you.

Do you have to RSVP?

If the host or grad took their time to send you an invitation, you should take the time to RSVP whether you can attend or not. A regretful decline is better than silence. An RSVP should include the way they’d prefer you to respond. A call is efficient and personal, but if they include an email address, stick to what they prefer. When RSVPing make sure to show your excitement if you can attend or your disappointment if you cannot.

If you are declining, you could say something like, “Thank you for including us in your celebration—we are so excited for you! Unfortunately, we won’t be able to attend but we will be thinking of you on your big day, Congratulations!” Make sure to congratulate the grad upon declining.

Accepting is always easier. Reiterate your excitement and ask any questions that you may have. That phone call could go something like this, “We are so excited to be a part of your day. We will see you on (date of celebration)! Also, how early should we arrive to get the best seats at the ceremony?”

Is bringing a gift required?

Though bringing a gift isn’t required, it’s a meaningful gesture. The size and type of gift depend on your relation to the graduate—even a small token will be appreciated.

If you are closer to the graduate then try gifting something unique and tailored to them. If you can’t attend and you were invited to either the ceremony or the party, sending a gift, check or money is still appropriate. If you were sent a graduation announcement, a gift is not expected, but a card or congratulatory phone call is appreciated.

Money, although it can feel impersonal, will be appreciated by a graduate. If you’re giving money, include a personal handwritten graduation wish or message along with money or a gift card to make it feel more special.

Another detail to keep in mind is the type of graduation. Is it high school or law school? This will give you a better idea of the type of gift that will be useful to the grad. Are they moving into a dorm or moving across the country for a job? Ask yourself these questions and you’ll make a better selection.

Graduation gift giving comes down to three things, relation, stage of life (high school, undergraduate, graduate), and type of invitation.  

After all of this is said and done, don’t forget to congratulate the graduate whether in person or over the phone, it is their day after all. Celebrate life’s milestones the right way. Whether you are a host or attendee, with these graduation etiquette tips you are sure to make a good impression.