18 graduation party ideas to celebrate commencement in style

outdoor graduation party ideas

Are you planning a special get-together for the almost-alumnus or alumna in your life? Whether you’re celebrating indoors at a banquet hall or outdoors in your backyard with a barbecue, graduation parties are essential to send off your post-grad into the real world. Simply put, they deserve a party. We’ve got plenty of ideas no matter what type of shindig you’re planning. 

How to host an outdoor graduation party

If you need the space of an outdoor setting or the flexibility to spread out, an outdoor graduation party can be an excellent option. Hosting your party outdoors can also help you accommodate a big crowd without renting a venue. 

As you learn how to plan a graduation party that takes place outside, remember that outdoor graduation parties don’t have to be massive to be exciting.  These kinds of parties can have a theme or not—a big, backyard blowout can be just as memorable as a picnic at the park. As long as you do your best to tailor the celebration to what you know your grad will enjoy, it’s bound to be a great time (just be sure to set up rain plans, too).

These outdoor graduation party ideas are sure to be enjoyed by everyone on your list.

Outdoor graduation party ideas

An outdoor grad party can be as simple as setting out a dessert table and some balloons in your grad’s school colors in your backyard. It can also be as elaborate as you’d like. These outdoor graduation party ideas are a celebratory way for your recent grad to cap off the end of their school year and finish with a bang.

1. Graduation garden party

Especially if your child is graduating from high school or college, a fancier affair may be in order. For a graduation garden party that feels elevated, invite parents over for hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Hire a professional photographer to take pictures with their graduating sons or daughters with their graduation cap in hand. Make it more memorable with personalized graduation cap toppers with nods to each grad’s hobbies, college insignia, or career ambitions. 

Graduation garden party invitation wording:

You’re invited to Sarah’s Graduation Garden Party! Please join us for hors d’oeuvres, champagne, and pictures with your children. Saturday, May 15, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm | Attire – Garden dress | Please RSVP


Outdoor graduation party ideasDouble Digits by Paperless Post

2. Luau graduation party

For a fun and relaxed graduation celebration, invite guests to a Hawaiian luau grad pool party. Instead of a single host, spread the fun (and work) between a group of college, business school, law school, or med school graduates. Don’t forget to name each host on the invitation. Remind guests to bring their bathing suits (and Hawaiian shirts!). If you will be serving alcohol, be sure to encourage guests to skip driving and instead Uber or Lyft to and from the luau.

Outdoor graduation party ideas

3. Group outdoor graduation party

During graduation season, social calendars can quickly fill up with lots of parties—so it’s a good idea to think of graduation party ideas that celebrate not just your graduate’s commencement, but their best friend’s too. With a group party, you don’t have to fight over a date, or risk people feeling split between parties. An outdoor party also allows you to host a bigger group, families and friends included. Keep it casual with a photo booth and dessert table in your backyard.

Graduation garden party invitation wording:

CLASS of 2021 SARAH, CLAIRE, ALEXA, MANDY & CHRISTINE  GRADUATION PARTY! Please join us for an outdoor celebration! Sunday, May 16 from 1:00 – 4:00 pm, 681 South Rd. Phoenix, AZ 12345


Outdoor graduation party ideasGrand Year group graduation party invitation by Paperless Post

4. Graduation crawfish boil

When you’re trying to think of especially festive graduation party ideas, there’s nothing quite like a summer crawfish boil, especially (but not only) if you’re in the south. Serve up jambalaya and crawfish—or your favorite cookout food of choice—along with wine and beer for the 21+ crowd. Ask guests to bring blankets and folding chairs so they can get comfy, and coordinate a musical guest, like a local singer or band, to liven things up.

Outdoor graduation party ideas

5. Graduate school graduation dinner at a vineyard

For a medical school, law school, business school, or other grad program graduation, a bit more pomp and circumstance may be in order. Take your party to the field and host a dinner at a local winery or vineyard. You’ll not only be able to sample delicious wines, but you’ll also be helping a local business.

Graduation dinner at a vineyard invitation wording:

Join the Smith family in celebrating Charlie’s graduation from Stanford Medical School. Saturday, May 29th at Hamel Family Wines. The party begins at 5:30 pm and dinner will be served outdoors at 7:00 pm. Please RSVP.

Outdoor graduation party ideasChampagne Bubbles graduation invitation by Paperless Post

6. Block party graduation party

The best graduation party ideas help you connect with your community. That’s especially true for elementary graduates, who may not have been able to be as social this past year as normal. For young kids or graduates of any age, a block party grad party could be a great way to reconnect with neighbors. 

If multiple families want to co-host, cater it to keep it simple, or save money and ask neighbors to bring their dinners. Hosts can still provide the libations and desserts, as well as some tableware and places to sit. Check with your city or town about closing off your block.


Outdoor graduation party ideasIce cream truck graduation invitation by Cheree Berry


7. Outdoor graduation luncheon

Whether hosted on the terrace of your local country club or on the porch of the graduate’s aunt’s house, a graduation luncheon can be a nice way to celebrate your grad. For food, draw inspiration from where your graduate is headed off to college. Louisiana or Mississippi? Host a crawfish boil. To the Northeast? Have a clambake. New York City? Order plenty of pizzas. The Sun Belt? Enjoy tacos and Topo Chico. You get the picture. 

Graduation luncheon invitation wording:

Join us for a luncheon in celebration of Emily Jane’s graduation! Lunch and dessert will be served at noon. | Saturday, June 25 at Riverside Park | Please RSVP!

Outdoor graduation party ideas

8. Graduation picnic at the park

Want to host a fun-filled graduation party for your elementary or middle school kid, but can’t fit your guests in your own backyard? Invite guests to pack their own picnic baskets and blankets, and head to a local park. 

To keep the party atmosphere, you can bring Bluetooth speakers to play the grad’s favorite music. After the picnic, have grads participate in yard games or set up a grad scavenger hunt to keep the fun going.

9. Evening outdoor graduation gala

For teens or college grads, an evening graduation party can feel even more special. But how do you host an evening party outdoors? Easy—make your lighting part of your decor. Deck out the party area with lanterns and fairy lights. Alternately, fill it with glow-in-the-dark balloons and hand out glow sticks to party guests. If it’s an after-dinner party, provide guests with a table of snacks and delicious punch to sip on.

Evening outdoor graduation gala invitation wording:

Aaron’s graduating, and we’re having a gala! Please wear your finest and join us for an evening of celebration. | 8 p.m. at the Andersons’ home | Friday, May 20

10. Outdoor graduation ice cream party

An ice cream bar is a party idea that can please just about any grad—especially if your party takes place in the warmer days of June and July. Set up a station where guests can pile up scoops of ice cream, and provide a topping bar where they can go wild. We love this list from The Kitchn for some toppings to consider. 

Prefer to have a hands-off ice cream party? Hire an ice cream truck to swing by instead.

How to host an indoor graduation party

If the situation calls for an indoor graduation party, your grad is in for a treat. Indoor parties can make way for a more intimate setting. They also allow for some especially unique options, such as the ability to go all-out with your party decor.

Still, there are some things to keep in mind with an indoor party. For example, you’ll need to determine whether you’ll host at home or rent a venue. Likewise, you’ll want to consider how many people the venue can accommodate.

Much like an outdoor party, a superb way to organize your indoor party planning is to choose a theme. Your theme might be based around anything your grad enjoys—such as a favorite travel destination, a type of food, a hobby or activity, or even their favorite colors.

Whatever indoor theme you choose, we know your grad will appreciate the opportunity to revel in all their hard work and achievements.

Indoor graduation party ideas

Ready to plan an indoor graduation party to remember? Your grad has worked hard, and an indoor party offers plenty of opportunities to honor them. From laid-back to lavish, try these party ideas for a gathering to remember.

11. Elegant indoor graduation dinner

Some graduations call for extra special treatment—like those grads finally earning their Ph.D. or medical degree. To show the significance of this occasion, plan a sophisticated indoor celebration with a sit-down dinner. If you’re only hosting a few close friends and family, you may want to self-cater—but if not, consider hiring a caterer and offering a buffet. Set the scene with candles and flowers, and play some background music for added atmosphere.

12. College graduation fiesta

When the guests are mostly of age, you have a bit more leeway with grad party ideas, so you can host a margarita night. Keep the theme and decor festive and bright, and order catering from your favorite local Mexican restaurant. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also serve individual plates of chips and guac.

College graduation fiesta invitation wording:

It’s time for a fiesta & fun, Sarah Marie is finally done! Fajitas, margaritas, and BYOB. Please say si & RSVP!

Outdoor graduation party ideas

13. Graduation afternoon high tea (a par-tea, if you will)

For a more intimate outdoor graduation party, host an afternoon tea. Collect tea settings at second-hand shops and use them both as decorations and for tea service. Set up tables where families can sit together in pods to drink their tea and enjoy some desserts. This is a great option for a high school or even middle school graduation.

Graduation tea party invitation wording:

Please join us for an afternoon part-tea! Celebrating Sarah Claire Smith | Saturday, May 1st at 2 pm | Hosted with love by her godparents.

Outdoor graduation party ideasTea party graduation invitation by Rifle Paper Co.

14. Graduation open house party

If you want to limit the number of guests you may have in your home at any point, then an open house-style party is your best option. Establish a set amount of time when people can circle in and out. Instead of having any set itinerary, you can set out individually portioned refreshments, like cupcakes, for people to grab.

Graduation open house party invitation wording:

Please join us for an Open House to celebrate the graduation of  Sarah Claire | CLASS OF 2021 – Raleigh Country Day | 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm, Friday, June 11th | 81 Shadow Lane, Raleigh, NC

Outdoor graduation party ideasConfetti Caps graduation open house party

15. Raise a toast at an indoor graduation happy hour

Chances are, your grad wants to celebrate their big occasion with their best friends—and not necessarily at a big family gathering. You can spare her the extended gathering by inviting guests over for a short and simple happy hour. This afternoon gathering allows guests to greet the grad and toast with libations and light refreshments.

Graduation toast invitation wording:

Please join us to raise a toast to celebrate the graduation of Shelby Jane | Class of 2024 | Mercer Island High School | 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm | Our home | Please reply

Outdoor graduation party invitation featuring golden tasselsTassled graduation invitation by Paperless Post

16. Graduation cap decorating party

For artsy and craft-loving grads, an indoor gathering to decorate their caps ahead of graduation can provide loads of fun. If your party takes place before the graduation ceremony, they’ll also be able to wear their decked-out cap for the big day. Have your grad invite their school friends and provide plenty of tables and materials like beads, glue, fabric markers, and stickers for grads to glam out their caps. They’re sure to have fun reminiscing about their school days as they personalize their graduation gear.

17. Indoor graduation dance party

A dance is always a fun option for a high school graduation party. To make it even more festive, pick a graduation party theme, like ’80s, ’90s, or disco and encourage costumes. Whatever the theme, decorate with lots of bright lights and glitter.

Graduation dance party invitation wording:

TIME TO PARTY! Help us celebrate Sarah’s graduation with good food, good friends, and good (or not so good) moves. SATURDAY, JUNE 5TH 7:00 PM | CHURCH & STATE ROOFTOP, OHIO CITY

Outdoor graduation party ideasTriple Disco Flyer by Paperless Post


18. Host a graduation party game night

Planning a graduation party for kids or teens? A graduation game night is a fantastic way to let them celebrate together without being bored. You can invite guests to bring their own favorite board games or plan a few party games for engaging entertainment. Provide plenty of snacks and drinks and play some music as your guests celebrate their last hurrah.


Outdoor Graduation Party IdeasTassel Script graduation announcement by Paperless Post

How do I decorate my graduation party?

Whether you plan to throw an indoor graduation party or celebrate outdoors, you certainly don’t have to overthink the decorations. Here are some ideas to get the inspiration flowing:

— Show some school spirit: A simple banner, bunting flag, some streamers, or decor in your grad’s school colors can easily liven up a living room or backyard. You can also decorate with graduation hat paraphernalia and balloons that display the graduation year. 

— Use activities as decor: If you’re having a backyard party, yard games like cornhole and bocce can double as graduation party decor and enjoyable activities.

— Go floral for sophistication: If you want to make things a bit more elaborate and fancy-feeling for any celebration, you can set out some floral arrangements as a centerpiece for each table.

Outdoor graduation party ideas

— Light it up: Adding some special lighting can be an excellent way to amp up the atmosphere—especially if your party is outdoors. Be sure to add some decorative outdoor lighting if your party will extend into the evening.

— Keep it thematic: You can also go all-out with a graduation theme: western, fiesta, collegiate sports (keg stands are optional), garden picnic, etc.

— Relive the moment: Have guests arrive wearing a graduation cap and gown and prepare to take pictures in a photo booth with a graduation banner. Later, you can email everyone the photos.

At the end of the day, the best graduation party ideas should feel suited to what the grad in your life loves, so feel free to make things as personal as possible.

What do you serve at a graduation party?

Outdoor Graduation party ideas

As far as the menu, there are countless directions you can go in for your graduation celebration. It’s best to figure out your food situation once you’ve settled on a theme, as that can make it easier to coordinate the food.

In general, you can’t go wrong with a casual buffet with all kinds of snacks. If you want your refreshments to feel cohesive, think thematically. Set up a popcorn bar or dessert bar—depending on whether your grad prefers salty or sweet—or you can create a summer camp vibe with backyard s’mores. If you want to serve a more substantial meal, burgers and brats are a great cookout option, and if you want the graduation celebration to feel a bit more refined, opt for hors d’oeuvres and bubbly. For dessert, set up a cupcake stand or serve up some ice cream.

Let’s not forget about drinks. The easiest way to serve them for a large party is to set up a drink station. For a high school graduation, provide seltzer and soda for the underage crowd. You can get a little more playful for a college graduation. Consider serving a signature drink that you can serve in mason jars—or, if you want a more casual vibe, get a keg of beer (once again, keg stands are optional). 

If you’re planning a more elaborate grad party with family and you need to ask for a per head dollar amount to cover food, be specific on the amount and note what kind of payment you prefer (Venmo, PayPal, cash, etc). 

Graduation party invitations

Once you’ve decided which graduation party ideas you want to go with to celebrate your recent grad, it’s time to narrow down your guest list and send out your invites. There are plenty of graduation party invitations you can choose from. Here are a few theme ideas to kickstart your party planning.

Luau graduation party: Get the summer off to a fun start with a tropical-themed celebration and get your guests excited with this graduation party invitation.


Outdoor graduation party ideasTiki Tiki luau graduation invitation by Hello!Lucky


Western theme graduation party: This playful theme is fun for a high school graduation party or even a middle school ceremony.

Assorted theme party invitations: Don’t see your perfect fit here? Never fear—Paperless Post has tons of invitation options for all kinds of theme parties no matter which graduation party theme you pick.

Plan your graduation party with Paperless Post

Whether you’re able to toast to your grad’s success with an elegant graduation dinner or plan a socially distanced luncheon or grad picnic, we know they’ll appreciate the special treatment. As you’re busy making plans, however, don’t forget to find the perfect invitations to match. 

At Paperless Post, we have the invitations to make your party a hit—no matter how you decide to gather. If you skip the party, celebrate the grad with an online announcement. Whatever you do, make your graduate the center of attention.


Browse Graduation Party Invites