When I graduated from high school many years ago, I celebrated in fashion. We scrubbed the house from top to bottom, making certain every nook and cranny was presentable for the public. High school teachers, aunts and uncles, and friends from near and far came to eat cake, cold cuts, and Aunt Sally’s homemade mints. They signed my guest book, talked to me about my flimsy future plans, and oohed and ahhed over my displays of awards and photos. Of course they also brought me cards, gifts, and money! By the end of the day, I was armed with laundry baskets, towels, and enough cash to feel like I was ready to conquer the world. Or at least a few months of college away from home for the first time.
When my oldest son started his senior year last fall, I was sure he would want to celebrate in the same way I did. You know what? I was wrong.
My Kid Doesn’t Want a High School Graduation Party
Early in the year, I asked my son, “Where should we have your graduation party?”
“What graduation party?” he responded. “I don’t want one.”
And I thought, that can’t be right. So initially, I begged and pleaded, trying to tempt him with the lures of cash and cake. Every month I bring up the subject of a graduation party again, but his answer always remains the same: He doesn’t want one.
His reasons for avoiding the graduation party are valid. Suffice it to say, I have listened to him, understood (the best I could), and relented. There will be no graduation party.
Part of me is relieved. Graduation parties require extensive planning and budgeting, two things I’m not great at. They require a lot of social energy, something I used to have but, thanks to the pandemic, I struggle with more now.
Of course part of me is also disappointed. I enjoy having the people I love together in one place at one time. I’m also a traditionalist to a fault. In the back of my mind, a nagging voice asks: “What will everyone think when you don’t have a party?”
But then I remember that my son’s graduation isn’t about me. It’s about my son.
This is his accomplishment. Rather than push for a traditional graduation party, I want to honor how he wants to mark the occasion and celebrate.
My wise mom friends tell me that my family isn’t the only one not planning to have a graduation party. Many seniors, including theirs, are opting out of traditional graduation bashes and opting for something more closely aligned with their interests and wishes instead. These wise moms have raised some pretty amazing young adults who know exactly what they want when it comes to celebrating graduation. Here are some of their ideas on how to celebrate graduation their way.
Alternative Graduation Celebration Ideas
1. Celebrate Your Child’s High School Graduation With a Family Trip
When the pandemic shifted traditional parties off-course in 2020 and 2021, many families pivoted to acknowledge this important milestone in other ways, and trips are at the top of that list.
Tricia Netland Wencel’s family opted to celebrate her son’s high school graduation with a big family trip near where her son will be going to college out of state. “In honor of his graduation and plans for college,” she says, “we’re taking a family trip to explore the Pacific Northwest. We’ll pick a few things to do that help him get to know the area beyond just his campus.”
Whether it’s a road trip with friends or a family vacation to a dream destination, a graduation trip is a great option for celebrating your teen.
2. Scale Down the Graduation Party
Other families are opting for small family celebrations or dinner. Rather than securing a larger venue and ordering food for a crowd, these families are scaling everything back.
This is probably what our family will do. Both my brother and sister also have graduates this year, so we will gather on my parents’ farm with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. There will be barn loft basketball, ping pong, laughter, and more food than we will ever eat.
A small family celebration could also take place at your graduate’s favorite restaurant or park. You don’t need to worry about fancy invitations or an extensive guest list. Just gather your graduate’s closest family members and, if your child wants to, let them bring along a small group of friends for an intimate gathering designed just for them!
3. Give Your Graduate a Yes Day
Emily Summer Leabch offers another solution: “Take the money you would have spent on a party and make a day all for them.” This is like the ultimate “Yes Day,” a concept made popular by the Netflix movie with Jennifer Garner.
From breakfast to dinner, let your teen plan their perfect day. This could include things like ordering their favorite meals at their favorite restaurants, taking a trip to the amusement park with their closest friends, or giving them money to spend shopping at the mall. If you live somewhere with fun local options, perfect. Otherwise, make a day trip out of their desires.
The main thing to remember is that this is a day just for your graduate; so, your opinions don’t matter. Do they want to go to that burger joint at the mall that you avoid because they have terrible fries? You’re going! Do they want you to spend your hard-earned money on concert tickets for an artist you can’t stand? Enter that credit card number! If you opt to celebrate this way, I’m sure the honoree will be feeling the love as their head hits the pillow at the end of the night.
4. Buy Your Kid the Graduation Gift They’ve Been Dreaming About
Your child might want to forgo the party in favor of you putting money toward a graduation gift they would love instead.
Sarah Rudolf says, “My bias is that grad parties are not for the graduate. Get your kid a new iPhone or those fancy sneakers or a laptop for college or a down payment on a car.”
Your gift might be something they will need for college or other life-after-high school plans, or it could also be something completely frivolous that your teen has been dreaming of for a long time. This list of things your kid wants could be endless, but you know your kid best.
5. Celebrate With Other Parents
If the thought of not having a party bums you out, then you can plan a party for the parents. After all, you have much to rejoice over, too. You made it! Your kids are graduating! Jenifer Prust says, “How often do we as parents get to pat ourselves on the back for this and have an open space to talk about our kids?” Invite some parent friends, gather up your favorite snacks and drinks, and toast to your kids’ accomplishments! (And yours!)
High school graduation is a tremendous milestone, and it deserves recognition. With a few adjustments, we can honor our teens in ways that honor their unique personalities and wishes.
For more ways to celebrate, check out these party ideas:
25 Epic Birthday Party Ideas Your Teens Will Love
Planning any grad trips with your teen? Read how these parents traveled with their kids:
A Once In A Lifetime Opportunity with My Daughter Before She Leaves for College
Travel with Teenagers Abroad? Six Vacation Ideas With Teens
Is your child taking a gap year?
What Is A Gap Year: What To Know Before They Go