High School Graduation Party Etiquette

family celebrating graduation outside on deck
Hero Images / Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

High school graduation is a major milestone in the life of a teen. Celebrating that milestone with a party is a great way to honor your teen's accomplishment and mark the day as an important event in your teen's life.

But many parents are hesitant to host a celebration because they aren't sure about the appropriate graduation party protocol. Graduation etiquette can be a bit confusing in itself, and the party often brings more questions to the forefront. While there are no hard and fast rules, understanding some etiquette can help you feel equipped to throw your teen a party that will mark this major life transition.

Hosting a Friends and Family Party

It can be difficult to know who to put on the invitation list. Should you include family only or should you let your teen invite friends, too? Ask yourself, do we really want Grandma to attend the same party as the high school football team? To avoid potentially awkward gatherings, you might choose to host two separate graduation parties—one for friends only and one for the family.

But there’s really no need to go through the extra work of hosting two separate parties unless you really want to. If there is a chance things could get a little rowdy, consider inviting family over a little early and friends a little later in the day.

It's still considered the best etiquette to send invitations in the mail as opposed to electronically. But your teen may feel that's too formal. Ask your grad to chime in on what they prefer. Don't lose sight that it's their party, after all. Again, you can compromise and use paper invitations for the older crowd and let your teen invite friends via social media.

Talk to your teen about how you can help everyone feel comfortable at the party. Problem-solve any issues you might encounter together.

It’s important to make everyone who attends feel welcome at the party. Have a conversation with your teen prior to the event about the importance of visiting with everyone in attendance, not just a select group of friends.

Hosting an Open House

If you choose to schedule the graduation party during a time that is likely too busy for many families—like the day before the graduation ceremony—consider an open house. Make it clear that people are invited to stop by at any point during the open house hours. Then, there is no obligation to stay for the entire gathering.

The benefit of throwing an open house is that your teen’s friends and their parents may be more willing to attend because there's no pressure to stay for the entire party. Even if they can only stop by to offer well wishes, at least they'll be able to attend.

On the invitation, make it clear that you don’t expect any gifts and that you don’t mind if people can’t stay long. You’ll be happy if they can drop by even for just a few minutes.

Hosting a Graduation Party

If you decide to throw a graduation party, as opposed to an open house, you can make the party as formal or casual as you like. Just make it clear to the guests ahead of time what to expect.

Meal Planning

There’s no need to serve an expensive meal if you’re planning on a large number of people in attendance. Instead, serve simple finger foods and snacks. Request that party attendees RSVP so you can prepare an appropriate amount of food.

Activity Planning

Some hosts create opportunities for guests to play games or offer advice to a graduate. But, you can keep the party as laid-back as you’d like and you're certainly not obligated to offer any form of entertainment.

Keep in mind that this day is all about your child, so be open to doing what your teen wants. If your teen is interested in getting involved in the party planning, it can be a great way for the two of you to bond

Gift Etiquette

Your teen doesn’t have to open gifts at the party. In fact, doing so may cause the people who didn’t bring a gift to feel bad. If any guests express regret for not bringing a gift, reassure them that no gift was necessary and that you are just glad they could attend.

If you host a large party, it’s especially important to save the gift opening for later. But do thank everyone who brought a gift. Have your teen write thank-you notes for each gift that was received.

Buying Gifts for Other Graduates 

Your teen may decide to give gifts or tokens of appreciation to friends who are graduating. You may want to honor some of your teen’s close friends as well.

However, there’s no need to give expensive gifts or give a gift simply because your child received one from someone else’s parents. A motivational book or small surprise will often be greatly appreciated. A card with heartfelt words of encouragement may be the best graduation gift you could offer.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.