For a send-off that's as sweet as your graduate, skip dinner and get straight to dessert with this sugary feast.
Serve the Classics
Go for all-time crowd-pleasers -- cupcakes, brownies and Rice Krispies Treats -- and plan about four to five different pieces per person. Make them bite-size if folks will be mainly standing, says Diana Sproveri, a pastry chef and bakery owner in Tarzana, California. Fill bowls with snack-size candy bars, licorice and rock candy, and pile platters with unwrapped Hostess Twinkies and Ho Hos -- treats even grown-ups have sweet memories of.
Decorate with Dessert
The host gets a break since such delicious-looking food can double as decor. "People eat with their eyes," Sproveri says. Play with shapes and heights by placing small chocolate chip cookies atop glasses filled with milk, she suggests, and by stacking baked goods on tiered platters. Fill apothecary jars with candy in your grad's school colors -- look to his favorite sweets for inspiration -- and use those hues elsewhere, too, like in cupcake frosting.
Make it Sweet-Tart
Round things out with other flavors: Scatter salty snacks like popcorn, chips and pretzels among the desserts, and opt for tarter beverages, like club soda with cranberry juice and lime. Sproveri also suggests giving gelatin the pucker treatment by swapping in pomegranate juice or lemonade for water.
This all-day affair is a great way to celebrate your grad with friends of all ages. We've got you covered from first guest to last.
Get Everyone's Game On
Grandpa probably wouldn't join a backyard volleyball game, so plan activities that all guests will enjoy, like croquet, suggests Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and co-author of Emily Post's Great Get-Togethers. Better yet, pit grads against parents or -- if there's a common alma mater among the crowd -- alums against non-alums, Post says. Or make a "pin the tassel on the grad" game with poster board, a photo of the grad and a pushpin affixed to a tassel.
Feed the Masses
Serve items that don't need to be kept too hot or too cold, and that can appeal to the hungry and not-so-hungry. Mix small bites -- such as a grilled vegetable platter, pita crisps, ricotta-spinach dip and mozzarella-and tomato skewers -- with heartier fare, like large, sliced sub sandwiches and chili kept warm on a heating pad, Post says.
How to Build a Memory Box
Ask each of your guests to dig up a memento of time spent with the grad, and place them all inside a shoebox or other similarly sized container, Post says. "A coach might bring a game photo or program, and an aunt might bring a ticket stub from a play or concert they attended together." (Anyone without a memento can write a letter of encouragement.) Decorate the box with fabric or paper that suits your graduate's style -- be it chic and modern, bubbly or sentimental -- and give it to your grad after the party. "It's a great thing to pull out if they're ever feeling low or missing home," Post says.
Gift your grad a night to cut loose with friends by throwing a party they can call their own.
Pick a Cool Concept
"Beach" parties are huge with teens, and you'll wow people with just some inflatable beach balls, says Tony Conway of Atlanta's A Legendary Event. Or outfit the party room with black lights, he says. Kids will love the glow-in-the-dark effect, and bulbs are less than $5 each at big-box home stores.
Amp Up the Fun
High schoolers love dancing, so put yours in charge of creating a playlist to run the length of the party. (Start with lower-key tracks, since people probably won't start dancing right away.) Off the dance floor, kids can make their contribution to the class's time capsule. Just let everyone know in advance to bring an item (like a graduation ceremony program, yearbook, candid photo or jersey) to put inside, Conway says.
If the party starts at 9 p.m., kids will likely have eaten dinner but will still want to snack. Serve teenfriendly fare: sliders, french fries and onion rings. Make mouths water by stacking the sliders on sheets of brown paper or in muffin cups, serving the condiments out of diner-style squirt bottles, and filling snow-cone cups with fries, Conway says.
How To Make an Entrance
Conway suggests a Hollywood-premiere style "step-and-repeat" board (those backdrops that are peppered with a movie's title or poster). Glue some text and photos -- your grad's name, a school emblem -- to an 8' x 8' signboard and prop it by the door. "Paparazzi" (aka parents) can take photos.