Twelve years later, I still remember exactly how I felt about my high school graduation. First, I was ecstatic about being absolutely done — with SAT prep courses, college applications, and a very early wakeup time. There was also a sense of sadness. I would miss my wonderful friends, our favorite lunch table, and our predictable daily schedule. And of course, I felt so much anticipation. I was leaving my home and heading to a big college, where, for the first time, I’d be on my own.

Graduating from high school is a major milestone event — for the graduating senior, friends, family, and the rest of the village that helped raise your kid. Here are my tips for creating the perfect high school graduation party that is fun and memorable for both you and your high school grad.

Make a guest list that everyone loves
graduation guest list

During the last 18 years, it’s likely that a few dozen people helped you raise your kid — and you may want to invite all of them to the graduation party. Just remember that the party is first and foremost for your child, who may want to invite all of his friends. Come up with a maximum number of people to invite, and allocate at least half of those spaces to your grad. My parents actually hosted two small graduation parties for me — one for family and one for my close friends.

Send an invitation that captures hearts

Now that you have your guest list squared away, choose a graduation party invitation that’s fun, memorable and includes lots of photos from your kid’s high school career. Feeling sentimental? Throw in a few photos from nursery school and elementary school, too. Just double check that your senior is okay with that! When I received the graduation party invitation of a girl I babysat for years ago — and saw a photo of her at three, I couldn’t help but feel both weepy and proud! And I RSVP-ed right away.

Deck out your party space with thematic decorations

If you’re throwing a party in your home or backyard, make sure to jazz up the setting with graduation-themed decorations. My mom got creative by stringing wire along our backyard and attaching light bulbs with notes that said, “Wishing Rachel a bright future!” At a friend’s party, the hosts offered guests diploma-like napkins — white and rolled up with a bow.

Serve graduation-themed food and drinks
graduation cake

At my graduation party, my parents served a few of my favorite foods — macaroni and cheese, lox and bagels, and several types of salads. But they also got creative, adding flat boards and tassles to mini soda bottle caps, and baking a cake in my high school colors. Though it felt a bit odd to eat a blue and yellow cake, I was pleasantly surprised by its delicious taste. The power of food coloring!

Minimize the speeches

As a parent of a high school grad, you may want to share dozens of memories and anecdotes, beginning from the day your kid was born. But, in my opinion, it’s best to minimize the speeches. Your kid may not want you to take a half hour to go down memory lane with all of his friends there. Keep your speech short and sweet, making it clear how proud you are of your grad, without, publically, letting out all of your tears.

Send your guests home with goodies

Gift your guests with fun graduation mementos that leave everyone feeling excited about the future. Oh the Place You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss is one amazing book that everyone can enjoy — regardless of their age. At my party, we handed out graduation-cap shaped peanut butter cookies — my favorite! They were lovely to admire, but hard to resist eating.