How to Plan a Grad Night Party for Graduating High School Seniors

A Fun and Alcohol-Free Party for Teens to Celebrate Graduation

Graduates tossing caps into the air
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Grad Night is a popular high school event. It is a fun night that brings the school's graduating seniors together for a safe party filled with games and activities. The party is often hosted by parents and is one final celebration for classmates.

How Did Grad Night Start?

The Grad Night trend was originally spurred by concerns about teens drinking and driving on graduation night. Some high schools began putting seniors on a bus and sending them to Disneyland or another amusement park to play all night in a safe, alcohol-free environment.

In the 1980's, parents in Orange County, California and other areas began hosting their own Grad Night celebrations on campus. The tradition has not lost its appeal and it continues to be a highlight for many students and parents during the senior year.

Why is Grad Night Important?

This is a very popular graduation celebration and participation can run as high as 98% at some schools. It is a chance for teens to have one last night with their childhood friends before everyone heads off to college.

It is expensive and time-consuming to mount one of these events, but many parents see it as a final gift to the graduating class. More than a few parents say spending all those senior year weekends painting pirate ships with friends helps them deal with the emotions of watching their child grow up, graduate and leave for college.

Planning the Grad Night Party

These extremely popular parties can be as elaborate and creative as the parent volunteers who host them desire. At some schools, Grad Night preparation begins the day after the previous year's celebration is taken down.

The Basics of Grad Night 

Grad Night parties often last all night, starting late in the evening and running through the early morning hours.

Parents will often lock down the school, so once students arrive they cannot leave until the party is over. This prevents the happy teens from going out and partying in less healthy ways.

Tickets are often sold in advance. Low-income students are usually offered free or reduced price tickets to ensure that every student has the opportunity to participate.

Different Approaches to Grad Night

Parents take over the entire school for the party. Various activities are planned to fill the school's gym, auditorium, and commons area that will keep the teens busy all night.

Grad Night parties can also have themes that follow the recent trends like a re-creation of Pirates of the Caribbean ships or a fully realized Hogwarts and Hogsmeade for Harry Potter fans. 

  • Most of the planning work is done by a team of parents.
  • Additional volunteers are needed to staff the event to make sure everything goes smoothly.
  • Some schools will bring in professional companies to mount an elaborate interactive event for the kids.
  • Smaller schools may team up with other schools in the area to pool resources and creativity.

Music is a big part of a fun Grad Night, and DJs, lights and dance floors are all popular additions to a great evening.

Grad Night Food, Fun & Games

A typical Grad Night includes night-long buffets and a light breakfast. The night could include regular pizza deliveries or 6-foot long sub sandwiches. Punch and soda are readily available to drink and, of course, there is candy and sweet treats!

At some schools, elaborate barbecues, make your own sundae stations and other indulgent delicacies are underwritten by large sponsors, including booster clubs, law enforcement and other groups or businesses.

Games and Activities

Casino games are one of the most popular activities for Grad Night. It is easy to set up and gives the teens a chance to play 'adult' games. Blackjack is always popular, and "money" won can be traded for raffle tickets. Raffle tickets are issued at admission at some schools, and students can drop their tickets into boxes to try to win prizes, which are often donated by community businesses. Popular prizes include gift cards, iPads, laptops, and even plane tickets.

Other fun activities include dancing and easy games where the kids can win tickets to 'buy' prizes like they would at an arcade like Chuck E. Cheese.

Some grad night parties include a craft room where students can create themed or dorm crafts like DIY laundry bags that are both fun and helpful for their future. There may be hair salons and a "tattoo" parlor, climbing walls and big inflatable games and bouncy houses. 

Live entertainment may include fortune tellers, hypnotists, hip-hop dance lessons or a live band.