From virtual party games to tips for planning your very own at-home ceremony, we rounded up some easy graduation party ideas for making the most of the celebratory moment while staying safer at home.

By Maressa Brown
Updated May 01, 2020
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Illustration by Emma Darvick

As graduation season nears, families all over the world are practicing social distancing. For parents and kids alike, it's easy to be frustrated that you might not be able to commemorate such a huge milestone in a traditional way. But just because the world has gone virtual these days doesn't mean you can't still plan a graduation celebration everyone will love.

"One of the cruelest impacts of COVID-19 is that it has deprived us of what is so precious to us as humans: gathering in person and celebrating moments like birthdays and graduations," acknowledges Mariam Naficy, founder and CEO of Minted, and mom of a high school senior. "It is so important that we celebrate our resilient grads, our brightest hopes for the future. Their ceremony might be canceled, but their achievement is still worth celebrating with a joyous virtual party."

Now more than ever, though, there's no need to worry too much about minor party details when it's really the big picture that matters the most.

"While virtual parties may seem intimidating at first, celebrating life events and maintaining normalcy is so important for all of us right now," says Zaria Zinn, Evite's resident celebration expert. "Ultimately, you just want to make sure your guest of honor takes away great memories of the celebration. If you're just able to bring the most important people together for the grad on their special day, then your virtual party will be a success."

While jumping on Zoom with family and friends seems like a given, there are plenty of other ways to take your class of 2020 graduation party to the next level, even while adhering to safer at-home measures. Get inspired to start planning with these social distancing-friendly graduation party ideas straight from the experts.

Design a virtual graduation party invitation.

Just because you'll be celebrating your grad virtually doesn't mean you can't send out a cool invitation. For instance, Evite now has a feature where you can turn any invitation into a virtual event. Customers have the option to add their own Skype or Zoom links, or use their recently launched, built-in video chat.

And party or not, you might consider sending an announcement. "You can still celebrate the grad’s big accomplishment with a mailed announcement to friends and family," says Naficy. "There is no need for a professional photo; a casual snapshot will do just fine. Use the back to share a personal message, academic stats, or updates on a new chapter."

Go with a mix of virtual and IRL color-coordinated party decor.

If you're meeting up with party attendees on Zoom or another video conferencing software, you'll want to ensure your IRL backdrop—or virtual one—is on-point. Minted is currently offering free virtual background designs from independent artists.

Dallas-based designer Courtney Warren recommends featuring school colors and the grad theme wherever you can. You can easily find solid-colored decor on Amazon or online party supply stores.

Honor your grad with their own memorabilia.

Warren suggests using frames, shadowboxes, or big posters to set up a celebratory display featuring jerseys, ribbons, medals and certificates, photos of friends and memorable events. "Turn your home into a showpiece for this special accomplishment," she recommends.

Choose a special virtual commencement speaker.

From TED Talks to celebrity commencement addresses from years past, there's no end in sight to the number of inspirational graduation speeches you can find online. Let your grad choose one from someone they're inspired by, advises Warren.

Play trivia or online board games.

"Try creating a trivia game about the graduate to see who knows them the best, or opt for classic board or card games like Monopoly or Uno, which you can find online and play together," suggests Zinn.

Sing, dance, and plan more virtual activities with your grad in mind.

Families are loving TikTok dances more than ever right now, so weave that into your celebration. You might also try karaoke. "One person screen shares the lyrics, while another participant sings along," she notes. A few more ideas: if your grad is a budding artist, you might do a virtual art challenge. If they're aspiring to work as a chef, maybe you all create a dessert that you eat together virtually, suggests Zinn.

Tips for Planning an At-Home Graduation Ceremony

The main event of your party? The ceremony of course! Naficy advises dressing as you normally would for an in-person ceremony, encouraging your graduate to don a mortarboard. (You can DIY it if your child's school hasn't provided one.)

"Depending on the size of the graduation class and taking into account the number of family, friends, and school administrators who will want to join the virtual ceremony in real-time, you’ll want to choose a video conferencing software that can successfully accommodate that number with as few technical difficulties as possible," suggests Katie Mussachio, principal of International Connections Academy, a fully accredited K-12 online private school.

Whether you're meeting up with loved ones over video conferencing software or simply gathering with members of your own household, you can take this moment to encourage all attendees to think of a special memory with the graduate and share one by one, notes Naficy. "You can also incorporate a slideshow with pictures of the graduate over the years," she advises. "Or compile a video with congratulations messages from teachers, friends, and other important people in the grad's life."

Drive-By Graduation Party Ideas

Here's another way to celebrate your child's achievement: Host a drive-by graduation party! The graduate and her parents can camp out in the driveway, either standing or sitting on lawn chairs. Guests can roll up curbside and celebrate from their vehicles (while staying six feet away, of course). Here are some unique, creative drive-by graduation party ideas your child will love.

  • Create a drive-by graduation invitation. Some websites also have options; check out these cute ones from Etsy.
  • Decorate your yard with signs, flags, balloons, or photo displays honoring the graduate. Some banners can encourage passersby to "honk and wave!"
  • Encourage your teen to dress in a cap and gown. Alternately, she can wear a button, necklace, or T-shirt touting her school and class.
  • Hand out favors or treats with personalized packaging. To maintain social distancing, consider "tossing" them to guests, or leave a bucket near the road at car window height. Some favor options include cookies, goodie bags of candy, soda bottles with personalized labels, and donuts.
  • In lieu of a guestbook, have attendees write out words of wisdom on notecards. You can send these out with the invitations, and guests can drop off the filled-out cards in a designated box. Make sure the box is easily accessible from a car window!

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