However, when it comes time to celebrate the graduation, tradition merges with geography and local culture. Graduates and their families host everything from town-wide blowouts to intimate family gatherings, and in our experience, the choice of party is largely controlled by geography. Think about it: Didn't all of your high school friends throw the same kind of graduation party that you did?
I graduated from a rural high school in Michigan -- there were about 180 in my graduating class, and every year near graduation, a huge paper calendar was hung in the hall so the seniors could write down the date and time of their open house. Everyone was invited (hence the open part of the open house); mine was held in the backyard of my parents' house and was enormous. I don't know that I even knew the names of everyone there. I figured that was the norm.
However, when I moved to Gainesville, Florida, I attended the graduation parties of my friends' younger siblings and was shocked to see that I was among just a handful of friends and family in attendance. In some cases, the graduate didn't even make an appearance -- it was just a chance for close friends and family to celebrate and eat a little bit of cake.
So what are the regional traditions for graduation celebrations? We spoke to folks from all across the nation about graduation parties in their area. Do any of these sound familiar to you?
Park Tudor High School
Michael Knapp graduated last year in a class of approximately 115 students -- but don't think that a small class size meant a small party. "My family, along with the families of my four closest friends, hosted an open house throughout the afternoon at a country club. There were easily over 200 guests throughout the day -- friends, parents' friends, and relatives," he recalls. "Other students in my class held similar events to celebrate their graduation."
Knapp's party was catered, as were most of the open houses he attended, with most having a cash or open bar. A few families opted to cook out in the backyard.
While the main objective in holding an open house is, of course, to celebrate the graduate, there is often another incentive, at least for the guest of honor: The gifts. "I received a lot of money (which, of course, was part of the plan) as well as other nice items or even college supplies like a laundry basket and directions on how to do the laundry!"
Roscoe Central High School
Roscoe, New York
Katelyn Aileen Horton graduated from a rural New York high school last June, and her mother, Mary Jo, threw a party similar to others in the area. She and her daughter decorated a room at a local restaurant with inexpensive party store decorations and lots of balloons. They had about 40 guests -- not a bad turnout, as Katelyn's graduating class had just over 20 students.
Mary Jo Horton and her mother did most of the prep work themselves, including the food. "Are you kidding? We are an Irish family, of course there was food! We had finger foods, cheese and crackers, veggie and chips with dip and much more."
Although Katelyn's party was small, her guests came with gifts. "I definitely would not go to [a graduation party] without bringing a gift," said Mary Jo. "My own personal opinion is to give cash unless you know of a specific item a college bound teenager needs. But any kid going off to college definitely can use cash or dorm related items." Some things don't vary much by region after all!
West Valley High School
Jeff Roach describes the graduation party experience in his area a little differently. While there are small, individual parties held the weekend after the Thursday night graduation (his daughters had sleepovers with five or six friends and his son had a video game all-nighter with 10 friends), the big party in Fairbanks is held the night of graduation.
"There is a large, parent-sponsored graduation party held annually," Roach tells us, saying that most of the 240 students in the class attend, and it's an all night party ending at 9:00 am the morning after the graduation. Typical activities include dancing and karaoke, sumo suit wrestling and other games.
This party isn't about the gifts, though -- instead, there are the prizes. "Prizes of all types are donated by businesses and purchased with funds raised by parent volunteer group," he adds. "The community and businesses are very generous with prizes. Some years cars are donated as a grand prize. Every grad attending leaves with something."
One thing is for certain -- there will be a lot of graduation parties this year. Why? Because there are so many graduates, of course!