Smart Solutions: An education on graduation parties

By Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Looking back to last summer, it seems like a blur. When it comes to the activities that go along with having a high school senior, for me, the grad party takes the cake. I only remember bits and pieces of that day, but I can still recall a neighbor telling me to make a list of what went well and what could go better the next time.

Even though I wouldn’t be planning another gathering of that magnitude anytime soon, I took her advice to keep for future reference. So, when a friend came over recently to borrow some items for her daughter’s big day, I returned to my notes in case I could share some suggestions with her.

One big lesson I learned came from a catering friend who told me there is no magic formula for grad parties when it comes to food. You either have to be comfortable having leftovers like we did or be prepared to get pizza if you underestimate the head count.

Colorful decorations can make your home feel special on the big day.

Planning for the weather was a big bonus for me. Even though we had light rain that day, I was grateful there were no storms and it was cool enough to open all the doors and windows. It even cleared up enough for the kids to play volleyball and badminton.

The helpers that we hired were a big hit because they set the tone with their friendly dispositions, but we could not have done the setup and cleanup without them.

Having a signature cocktail for the adults was a last-minute thought, but the mimosas that coincided with the time of day and with my daughter’s college colors were a popular pick. An array of desserts that included cake pops, mini cupcakes and custom cookies also got rave reviews.

Popcorn from a local theater and other snacks like goldfish crackers doubled as centerpieces. In hindsight, I ordered way too much food, but takeout containers let guests help themselves to leftovers.

Bottled water and other beverages filled plastic containers throughout the house, making it easy for people to quench their thirst. Many also seemed to like the signage we made for the food and drink menus.

Some people thought our college-themed paper goods and decor were custom orders, but we found them online, which was a great way to shop when there were so many shortages.  

Grad party décor sets the tone for a festive celebration.

Even though we did not need tents because our garage could accommodate multiple tables, I learned that rental companies often have minimums. In this case, I was able to meet them with colorful linens, a chill table and commercial trash cans.  

With any event, you can always expect the unexpected and the fact that the chill table was missing the stopper meant the water from the melting ice would land on our garage floor. One of the servers suggested a wine cork, which seemed to do the trick. We added a bucket as a backup just in case.

Perhaps the biggest lesson for me is that the people make the party. Many mentioned how much fun they had, and our friends and neighbors got along so well. With the right guest list, I already feel more prepared for any future entertaining.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at