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Preparing for Graduation – Tips for Parents on Planning for your Child’s High School Graduation

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If you’re the parent of a high school student, you probably already have plenty of things to occupy your thoughts.  Curfews, sporting events, grades…all of this and more probably provide you with plenty to think about regarding your child!  However, if your son or daughter is in their second half of their high school days (Junior year), there is one more thing you really should start thinking about—graduation!  It’s never too early to start planning everything that must take place before your child graduates and what will come after.  Read on for some tips, ideas and issues you need to plan for!

Junior Year

As soon as your child enters his or her Junior year, you should have a checklist of things that need to be taken care of over the next few months.  Some of them should happen while your child is still in school and some usually take place the summer before their Senior year.

Visit Colleges

During his or her Junior year, your child should be thinking about what colleges they are interested in and scheduling some tours.  Encourage your child to not just look at four-year colleges, but to also consider some community colleges as well.  Southeast Community College, for example, has transfer programs so your child can attend the smaller, less overwhelming environment for the first year or two and then make the transition to a University after getting some prerequisite classes out of the way.  The first year of college is usually the most difficult for students (and parents!) as they struggle to transition from high school and living at home to college and possibly living away from home.  Major universities are also easy to get lost in and help may not be as readily available as it is in a community college. A community college offers more of a high school type atmosphere where the teachers keep track of the students and how they’re doing, if they are struggling, if they are showing up to class, etc.  The staff is also helpful in providing advice and guidance so students get the most out of their experience and can get a good start in the right direction on their future careers.  Many students who attend a local community college can also continue to live at home to make the transition easier or at least live nearby so visits home can be frequent.

Senior Pictures

Most high school students get their senior portraits done the summer before their Senior year, so it’s a good idea to start thinking about which photographer you want to use before your child finishes his or her Junior year.  “Yearbook deadlines are usually in October,” says Sunny Dwyer from Shane & Sunny Photography, “and once fall rolls around, people are always so busy.  We recommend that they come in the summer so they have more flexibility and because the weather is usually good in those months.”

If you or your child are not sure what to expect or are nervous about the photo session, make sure you choose a photographer who will help you with the process.  Sunny says, “As soon as you book, we send out guidelines.  We recommend wearing a color that looks good on you, not the trend as there’s always a ‘color of the year’.  We also say that if you don’t normally wear it, don’t wear it here.  Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and stick with solid colors so we can focus on you.  We also have about five locations picked out which saves time driving and so we can give you more pictures.  We know what we can do with each location and when the lighting is best.  We do take suggestions, but just make sure that we talk about that in advance.”

When you are looking for a photographer, don’t just check for price. Check for quality of work. Make sure you love their work and that they do what they say they’re going to do. Ask all the questions up front because your child only graduates once.

The Party

If you’ve properly planned when your child is a Junior, by the time the actual graduation day rolls around you’ll have a college picked out (and hopefully a great scholarship to go with it) and a great set of senior pictures that your grad has been giving out all year.  Hopefully by graduation day, you’ve also planned a wonderful party, but let’s back up a bit as this takes some pre-planning!  Here are the issues you’ll need to take care of.

Invitations

Invitations, or graduation cards, usually include one of the grad’s wallet-sized senior pictures as well as information on their graduation and an invite to the party.  Sunny suggests ordering graduation cards at least eight months before the party as many parents like to send them out four months prior to the date of the graduation.

Location

Many people decide to have their child’s graduation party at their home.  If this is what you have decided, you’re probably stressing about a couple of issues, the first being how you’re going to get your house in tip-top shape so those family and friends you haven’t seen in years will be impressed when they walk in the door!  The best way to make sure of this is to hire a professional cleaning company to do the work for you.  “Thorough cleanings take time and if you are planning an event such as a graduation party, it can take up a substantial amount of your time,” says Brenda Schwery of Maid to Please.  “Cleaning is usually left until last and you find yourself rushing to get it done.  Hire a cleaning company well in advance since graduation season is a popular time for them and they may be booked early.”

Not sure which company to call?  “Make sure the company is bonded, insured and pays workman’s compensation insurance,” advises Brenda.  “Ask for proof of insurance so you know they are covered in the case of breakage, etc.  It also helps to find out what their screening policy is for hiring employees.  Do they do background checks?  Do they drug screen?  Your home is your number one investment and you want to make sure you take all precautions in protecting it and having the most trustworthy individuals you can working in it.”

The second thing you’re probably worried about is having enough room for all the guests.  Even if the weather is warm and you can put guests outside, you’re probably concerned about the possibility of rain or even too much sun.  If these are issues you’re worried about, you should consider renting a tent for your event.  “A lot of people would rather not have 50 teenagers in their home, so they set a tent and put them all outside,” says Lori Miller of Lincoln Tent.  “We do a lot of tents over the driveway so they can use the garage and the tent for extra space. This gets your guests out of the sun, but keeps them all together at the same time.”  Depending on your needs, you can also get a tent that includes lighting and flooring so your event can go into the evening hours.

If you decide not to hold the party at your home, there are a number of great options in town.  “Parkway Lanes and Hollywood Bowl offer an exciting atmosphere for family and friends to bowl, eat and socialize,” comments Jennifer from 48 Bowl.  “While bowling is a great activity that anyone can do, groups do not have to include that in their party package.  Many groups just use our meeting rooms or lounge areas to celebrate.”  She goes on to say, “Parties of all sizes can enjoy our food and beverage catering, which is always built to suit the parents and honored guests’ budget and tastes.  Our staff will reserve party areas, set up lanes and serve any ordered catering and beverages.  Once the party gets going, we are always available for other needs that may arise.”

“Our advice for parents planning the party is to stick with the party elements that will honor the graduating student and also give party-goers a chance to socialize with the graduate and each other.  Don’t worry too much about feeding your guests a whole meal or keeping them at the party for long periods of time.  Many of them will have multiple parties to attend and they are there for the graduate, not the amazing spread of food and beverages you put out.  If you do decide to make bowling part of your party, your guests will definitely remember the fun and laughter they had rolling the ball down the lanes in friendly competition with each other.”

Food

If you’re hosting the party at your home, one of the things that will definitely be on your ‘to do’ list is feeding all of your guests.  Even if your party is a relatively small one, it can still cause a lot of stress to be in the kitchen trying to cook when you have a hundred other things to plan and would really rather just be spending time with guests and your child.  Hiring a caterer or picking up food from a restaurant or gourmet food store will save you time, hassle and will ensure that everything you serve at your party is top notch!

Denise with Mama’s Dream Bakery and Deli suggests, “Choose simple foods that your child likes and ask them what some of their friends would like.  If you use simple foods and a buffet style, it will leave you time to spend with your child and guests.  A sample menu we would use would be pulled pork or beef on slider buns, a raw veggie plate, chips and dips, side salads and cake or cupcakes using the school’s colors and theme.”

“The most important thing is to determine what level of catering each family wants,” says Kevin of Greta’s Gourmet.  “Some want a full barbeque spread and some want to serve a nice meal.  Others serve heavy hors d’oeuvres or just cheese and crackers.  Once we determine what they’re looking for, we can quote prices and provide menu suggestions. I think the most important part of planning graduation parties is to make the party fun and not stress out. Let the professionals take care of what they are supposed to because it should be a fun day.”

“The first thing we look at when hired for a catering job is the budget,” says Marty Jarvis of Russ’s Catering. “Second is the age span of the guests and the likes and dislikes of the family. Then we look at what facilities they have to store the food. We provide anything from appetizer trays up to full buffet meals, so there are a wide range of options to choose from.  If you choose Russ’s Catering, we also have a full-service floral department and a great bakery for your cake, so you can take care of a few needs at one time.”

If you still want the ease and professionalism of a caterer but don’t have the budget to have the entire spread catered, consider having just a few items done professionally and then make the rest yourself.  You can pick up some excellent party trays with veggies, meats, cheeses and dips that are quick and easy and look great or you can get a wonderful appetizer and dessert from a store and then make some chili, sandwiches or another easy entrée for the main part of your food table.

Sometimes it’s fun to add some little ‘extras’ to your party that will be memorable to guests and set your grad’s party apart from the other parties guests will be attending that day.  One idea is to have personalized popcorn bags with pictures of your grad on them.  Colby Ridge can customize popcorn bags with pictures and other information so each guest can take home a little yummy keepsake of your son or daughter’s big day.

Another idea is to have a chips and salsa bar set up with different types of salsas your guests can try out.  This idea is very easy to execute, especially if you leave the work up to the professionals!  Consider running out to La Paz and getting an assortment of their wonderful homemade salsas to go.  All you need to do is pick up some chips and set it all out on a festively decorated table and you’ve got a unique offering that your guests will be sure to enjoy.

Décor

Whether you have your party at your home or another location, it’s always fun to display your grad’s photos for the celebration.  Of course, the first pictures that come to mind are the grad’s senior portraits.  Have a few of the larger portraits beautifully framed and displayed throughout the party area, perhaps on an easel by the front door or set up by the food or gift area.  You might always want to have a framed ‘timeline’ made with picture of the grad through the years or a commemorative shadow or achievement box made with special mementos of your son or daughter’s accomplishments in school.

“I always recommend putting out wallets so people can pick them up at the party,” says Sunny from Shane and Sunny Photography. “We also offer sign-in image folios that are nice to have. I like when people put up snapshots. They put them on boards and display them at the party. They show pictures from throughout the graduate’s life and make their own scrapbook.”

Another great idea is picture slideshows.  According to Cali Hlavac at A Sound Impression, “Picture slideshows are the coolest new way to display all your grad’s photos for their party, and putting a professional one together to run on repeat at the graduation party will keep your guests’ attention longer than an old album!  Besides photos, the slideshows come with music and can even have home movies from their childhood mixed in as well!  It is great entertainment for your guests and a priceless keepsake for your grad.”

Taking Care of Guests

It’s likely that you will have some out of town guests come to your child’s graduation party.  Depending on your relationship to them and how far away they live, they might even need to spend the night or come for the weekend (or more).  Even if you do not have guests spending the night, you might still want to make some arrangements to ensure all of your guests are happy and feel comfortable in your home.

One of the first things to consider is pets.  You and your family may love your big, slobbery Saint Bernard, but Granny Smith might not have such fond feelings, especially when he jumps on her lap and steals her piece of cake.  On the flip side, perhaps you have one of those shy or easily frightened pets who will not enjoy the many people coming and going.  In either situation, a kennel might be the best solutions.  “Graduation parties are exciting and active,” says Dian from Kenl Inn. “If your pet is not the “party animal” that your child and friends are, your pet might feel more comfortable and safe being away from the house for the evening. Kenl Inn can accommodate overnight guests as well as day time guests.”

If you’re worried you’ll be sending your precious family pet to ‘doggie jail’, you shouldn’t be!  It’s likely they will have more fun at the kennel than they would at your house!  “We offer group play with other dogs, nature hike trails, gym in swim time, individual playtimes and more,” says Dian.  “We have a quality assurance committee and everyone participates in making sure every experience is above and beyond.  Our staff truly cares about your pet and we always ask you about special things your pet likes so we can tailor our services to them.”

If you have a number of guests coming in from out of town, you might also be concerned with where they will all sleep.  If you don’t have a large house, accommodating more than one or two guests could get crowded very quickly.  Even if you are only hosting one or two guests and have the room for them, you may be worried about keeping them entertained and fed while you’re trying to do the many other tasks that go along with planning the party.  In any case, providing your guests the option of a nearby hotel might be the best way to go.  They will have their own space, can go to bed and wake up on their own schedule and can even enjoy amenities like continental breakfast, swimming pools or movie channels they wouldn’t get at your house.

Graduation is a huge milestone in your child’s life.  Whether the approaching date fills you with anticipation or sadness (or both), it’s important to take note how much of a turning point this is for your son or daughter and to plan accordingly.  By helping them take care of what needs to be done before graduation and planning the perfect graduation party, you can send your child off in style and know that you have helped prepare them as best as you can for the ‘real world’!

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