You've spent the last year accumulating college brochures and taking tours of those that had possibility.
You've completed your taxes and acquired the necessary figures to tackle the infamous FAFSA.
Caps, gowns and announcement orders have arrived.
And now, if you're a parent of one of the 500-plus seniors at Brainerd High School or other area schools, you're starting to think about that other important event. The one that truly marks the culmination of 12 years of homework and lunch money, choir practices and sporting events:
The graduation party.
There's only six weeks left before they play "Pomp and Circumstance."
It's crunch time.
The biggest decisions will be when to host the party and where. Graduates like to plan around their friends so everyone doesn't schedule their special day at the same time. Then, when you figure in family weddings, other graduations and any reunions scheduled this summer, locking in a date may just be the hardest part.
Will you entertain your guests inside your home or throw caution to the wind and hope for a beautiful Minnesota day? Renting a tent can go a long way to adding space for the party and any protection that might be needed from raindrops or heat from the sun and for Plan B in case meteorologists are off their mark.
Sometimes graduates have their own ideas of how they'd like to celebrate.
"One thing we're doing for my party," said BHS senior Kim Groen, "is having all of my favorite foods growing up." That includes her father, Tom's, famous stromboli, spicy buffalo wings, rainbow noodle salad and Special K bars. She's also getting a jump on the party season and hosting her party the week before graduation.
Tips for a successful graduation party
Set a budget for the event before you start. It's one of those emotional occasions that's easy to splurge on in areas you don't have to.
Plan to have backyard games on hand to entertain younger children.
Don't forget about uninvited guests. Mosquitoes, ants and bees might think the party looks fun, too.
Remember decorations can be other things besides streamers and balloons. Use candid photos of the graduate, awards, trophies and mementos as fun centerpieces.
This might be a good time to set out an address book for guests to fill out. This way the graduate owns an updated list of phone numbers and addresses for family and friends. They'll also have all the right information for those thank yous.
Check out sites like www.party411.com/graduation.html or www.graduationparty.com. You'll find ideas on party themes, decorations and lots of nifty things to purchase.
BHS senior Amy Kubas said her guests will be treated to submarine sandwiches. That way they can pick and choose what ingredients they'd like. She also has other plans.
"I wanted to do something fun and funky and non-traditional," she said. So she decided to host an art show for her celebration. "We're having a big, huge tent in our backyard," said Kubas, "and tables and wall boards will be set up under them with all of my artwork."
Pieces on display will include paintings, graphic design projects and sculptures.
"My favorite colors are purple, orange and green, too, so we're using those colors for a lot of things," she said. "Our plates and tableware will be purple, orange and green."
Amy is a twin and will co-host the party with her brother, Andrew.
"He's been really very gracious to let me design the party how I want. He's in debate and speech and I want his awards and honors on display out there, too."
"Oh, one other thing I did request," she adds, "is purple, orange and green cookies."
Erica Bybee, Nisswa, will host a casino-style party. "We're going to play dice, blackjack and Texas Hold Em with the winners all getting prizes," she said. She's planning a dance later in the evening for friends and maybe karaoke. She also said they just moved into a new house and with a yard to put in yet landscaping is something high on their to-do list. "We have lots of things to do yet," she said, adding she is planning her party for July.
Hosting a graduation party can be a good reason to hop on some of those home improvement projects. All of a sudden the thought of relatives, church acquaintances, coaches and family friends pulling up in the driveway seems like a good reason to kick things into high gear.
Now that the weather is finally cooperating it's a perfect time to take a long walk around the yard and take stock of what needs to be replaced or repaired before any well-wishers arrive.
Don't bite off a big project there might not be time to complete. The next six weeks might not be enough to rebuild an entire lawn or add an addition.
Shelly Boser, retail sales manager at Landsburg Landscape Nursery in Baxter, said the firm receives calls every year from parents of seniors with projects they'd like to do before the big event.
Sometimes doing small jobs can have big results, too.
"Just putting down some fresh mulch can really make things look nice," she said, "and help add a little fresh color."
She anticipates calls from the parents of seniors to pick up in the coming weeks. She also said they see requests every year for flowers and planters decorated in a school's specific color.
Kelli Mankowski, owner of Party World, said this year she foresees a grad season with parties decorated in bright, bold colors. "We're already selling a lot of lime greens and bright yellows," she said. "It seems like a lot of parties this year will have luaus or Caribbean themes." She also rents tables, chairs and tents and said reservations are already coming in for those.
To cater or not to cater? Beth Perttula, who owns Northwest Bread and Bagel with her husband, Tom, said they do a lot of graduation open houses. "The simpler the better," she advises for the host. Hiring a caterer for the event means keeping the house clear of the clutter of food preparation. With shopping, chopping and dicing off your plate you'll have time to be a guest at your own party. "It's nice because we can pull up in the driveway and just deliver the whole thing all prepared," said Perttula. Meat and cheese trays, sandwiches and big jugs of their raspberry lemonade are popular requests.
Randy Bye and his wife, Pam, own Timbermist and the Chap, in Merrifield. Bye said they've already booked several graduation parties for June.
"We've done pig roasts, brunches, Mexican fiestas, BBQ ribs,and build your-own salads with taco and Caesar salads," he said of things they've served in the past. "Pastas have always been popular, and of course sandwiches are too." One request has already been made this year for a chocolate fountain. He said he's noticed that kids have a lot of say in the event these days.
"Parents pretty much let the kids design their parties, now," said Bye.
Daniel Oehrlein, who's been catering for four years and owns Dan's Catering Co., said it's important to consider the length of the party when deciding on a menu.
"The time for the party is really a big deal. How long you're going to have the food out. You have to make sure to keep the cold food cold and the hot food hot."
Things like potato salad, he said, can be served in one bowl with a bowl of ice underneath. Also, keep cold foods in small batches and periodically change them out if the event will lasts a few hours.
Remember, it really is OK if everything isn't perfect. A random weed in a flower bed or a stray patch of paint that didn't get repaired won't ruin the day. With your appetizing food, beautiful decorations and a high school graduate to congratulate, nobody's going to notice but you.
SHEILA HELMBERGER, a Dispatch staff writer, may be reached at 855-5886 or email@example.com .
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