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Cap, Gown, Diploma. Party!

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Whether you’re hosting a kindergarten bash for a bunch of boisterous 5-year-olds or a sophisticated college soirée, with the proper preparation and planning, your graduation party is sure to get an A+.

All across the state, another school year winds down for the summer. Diplomas are being awarded. Graduation caps tossed high in the air. And 2016 graduates everywhere are marching to the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance.” Now, for many families, there’s still one thing left to do—celebrate! These tips from our readers and from the pros will help get your party started.

Party for three
Since fourth grade, college student Colleen Ohler has been friends with Katie Post and Katie Grinnell. These fellow Girl Scouts celebrated one another’s accomplishments through the years. In 2012, they celebrated another achievement together: their high school graduation from the local area homeschool group called FAITH, an acronym for Families Acquiring Instruction Through Homeschooling.

Instead of three separate graduation parties, the young women decided to combine efforts and throw one big bash. They opted for an outdoor event complete with volleyball, Frisbee, and an evening bonfire.

When planning a graduation party, Colleen’s mom, Tamara Ohler, suggests involving the graduates. “Find out what they truly want,” she says, “and then do it, if it’s possible.”

Tamara also says sharing tasks among several families, like choosing a menu and decorating, makes planning a group party easier. And of course, splitting costs doesn’t break the grad party budget.

But perhaps what the Ohlers most appreciated about the group party was the event’s slower pace. “The girls actually got to spend a whole day just enjoying themselves, because they didn’t have to rush off to another party and another party,” Tamara says.

Colleen, who was a 2012 Nolin RECC scholarship recipient, is graduating magna cum laude this month from Murray State University. To celebrate, she’s planning another group party with the three roommates she met her freshman year as a Racer.

This party’s going places
When Deana Cowles planned her daughter’s 2013 Bowling Green High School graduation party, she kept Haley’s future plans in mind. “We knew that her major was political science, and she was interested in political affairs,” says Deana. “So we did a travel theme.”

The Cowleses began by renting a pavilion at nearby Covington Park. Deana decorated with many repurposed items from home. Books, globes, and maps already on hand were turned into centerpieces. She wrapped the tables in brown paper and zigzagged maps across them to create table runners. “It was real low-budget. It didn’t look like it, but it was,” Deana says.

One clever idea involved creating a “table” by pairing a common travel item with another from the kitchen. “I put vintage suitcases positioned on four souvenir coffee mugs,” says Deana. The mugs, from different tourist destinations, became the “feet” of the luggage table.

Perched in the center were citronella candles in champagne glasses topped with glass ceiling fan globes. They cast a warm glow at dusk as the kids watched movies on the inflatable theater and snacked on goodies from nacho and popcorn bars, with mix-ins like pretzels, peanuts, and M&M’s.

The homemade photo booth was a popular party hangout. An old window frame with a curtain served as the backdrop, and cutouts attached to skewers were used as props. “I left out a camera, and let the kids go at it,” says Deana. “They had a ball.”

Picture this party
South Kentucky RECC member Marisa Dungan decorated her in-laws’ Pulaski County business, Crown Party Rental & Sales, in purple and gold for daughter Lauren’s 2013 graduation from Somerset High School.

“We also did the cake and cupcakes to match her school colors,” says Marisa, who encourages involving others with party planning, particularly when it comes to the menu. For Lauren’s party, instead of a heavy meal, family and friends brought a variety of appetizers like pigs in a blanket and meatballs on skewers—what Marisa calls “fun food.”

Many of Marisa’s other grad party tips are photography-related. She suggests an uncluttered background for taking photos. Drapes served as Lauren’s backdrop, but, Marisa says, “Even if you have a solid-color sheet, you can hang that up. It will look good in a picture.”

Each guest had a picture taken with Lauren. Obviously, they were special keepsakes from the day, but Marisa also had something else in mind. “We printed a 4 by 6 photo of each guest posing with the graduate to put in their thank you card,” she explains.

Because capturing the moment through photos is such an important job, Marisa says someone should be the designated photographer. “You’ve either got to be prepared to do it yourself, or get a volunteer.”
Finally, she advises dressing comfortably and remembering to just have fun: “That’s the most important part.”

Personalized party
Last May, busy Belton homeschooling mom and Pennyrile Electric member Diana Jenkins took on a new role: party planner for her son Christopher’s high school graduation, held at the Jenkinses’ church, Browder Missionary Baptist Church. Diana involved the whole family and many friends in celebrating his accomplishment.

Christopher marched down the aisle in his cap and gown as his sister Emily played Pomp and Circumstance on the piano. An uncle said the opening prayer; Christopher’s dad, Nathan, gave an inspirational speech; and close family friend Dr. Mary Carver gave the commencement address. Before Nathan and Diana awarded Christopher his diploma, Emily returned to the piano for a duet with youngest sister, Amber.

The girls’ surprise performance of Rascal Flatts’ hit My Wish moved the audience and Christopher to tears. “This was actually their idea,” says Diana. “They wanted it to be their gift to him.”

Once Christopher’s tassel was turned, the party moved to the fellowship hall, where a memorabilia table displayed his childhood treasures, like school scrapbooks, basketball and fishing items, and a handmade quilt from his grandmother. While sipping lemonade and enjoying appetizers and cake, guests signed an autograph book, leaving messages for Christopher. Friends from their homeschool co-op handled the reception duties.

Looking back, Diana says she minimized graduation celebration stress levels by preparing early and working together as a family. She also recommends talking to others who have experience, and borrowing decorations to keep costs down.

Diana also offers this party-planning advice: “Keep it personal, and remember that it is about your child.”

Party like a pro
Do you want to throw the ultimate graduation party? Keep these ideas from the professionals in mind as you plan, and your bash will rise straight to the top of the class.

To secure your party’s venue date, Southern Springs Events Manager Melanie Noffsinger recommends booking as far in advance as possible. “Usually most schools have graduation ceremonies around the same time, which means many people will be looking for places to host a party on or around the graduation date,” Noffsinger says.

If it turns out your top venue choice is already booked, don’t stress. Mike Thompson, manager of Thompson Catering & Special Events in Winchester, says, “It’s hard to beat your own back yard, especially if you have room for a tent and/or inflatable. You’ll save money and look like a professional party planner.”

Thompson also suggests determining a budget and ensuring guests are well-fed. Lisa Haley-Miller, owner of The LOFT-Downtown Russellville, agrees. “You don’t want your guests to leave hungry,” she says. “If you have family members that want to bring in a couple of appetizers, that really helps with
the costs.”

When it comes to selecting a cake, Cakes by Camille owner Shanon Camille O’Banion says a school colors theme makes a great choice. Another idea is a sculpted cake, such as one in the shape of a school mascot.

Cupcakes or cake pops are easy options for younger graduates. “There’s no cutting and serving, and no need for plates or forks,” says O’Banion, adding, “Kids love cupcakes.”

For any graduation celebration, staying calm is important, according to Summer Graves, manager of The Peppermint Owl in Bandana. “There’s always a hitch in the giddy-up. Nothing’s ever going to be perfect,” she says. “Just have fun, and get your party on!”

Plan your grad party like a pro
A graduation is a milestone celebration. But it can also be overwhelming. To avoid grad-party planning overload and to keep your bash on track, check out this checklist:
• Circle the date on your calendar. The sooner, the better.
• Jot down a guest invitation list.
• Set a budget, and then stick to it.
• Select a venue, whether at home or a by-reservation location.
• Choose a party theme, keeping the grad’s interests in mind.
• Decide on entertainment options: music, games, movies, etc.
• Plan the menu, while remembering your budget. Finger foods or pizza keeps it simple. A catered event means less stress.
• Order the cake. Cupcakes and cake pops are a hit with the younger crowd.
• Assemble photos and other memorabilia to add a personalized party touch.
• Enlist a few family members and friends to help with decorations.
• Designate a photographer (if you haven’t hired one), leaving you free to mingle with guests.
It’s party day! Now relax. Seriously. And enjoy celebrating your graduate’s success.

Picture-perfect photo booths

If your graduation celebration has stretched your budget, don’t stress about renting a professional photo booth. Instead, make your own! These ideas will get you started.

Set the scene
For photos that pop, turn an old door, window, or privacy screen into a backdrop.
Don’t have any of these things? Hang a curtain or large swath of fabric to create a classy look, or keep things fun with colorful streamers or balloons. A chair, stool, or bench adds flair, plus extra seating, to any photo booth.

The right props are tops
Whether your grad is into band, art, or sports, personalize your booth by adding props that represent those unique interests. Use cardstock for printing letters to spell your grad’s name or school initials, and numbers for the grad year.

For a funky vibe, recycle old picture frames in a variety of sizes and colors. Chalkboards and dry-erase boards let partygoers write their own special messages to the graduate.
There’s no going wrong with wearable props, like hats, jewelry, or silly glasses.

Say “Cheese”
To make sure all of your guests get in on the photo booth action, be sure to add a sign, pointing them in the right direction. Don’t forget to take a photo of guests with the graduate to include in thank-you notes later.
A photo booth can be as elaborate or as simple as you can imagine. The main thing is, have fun. And smile!

Supply Side

Looking for the perfect venue, caterer, or baker for your special graduate? Here are just a few from across the Commonwealth.

Venues and tent rentals:
1. Celebrations Events and Tents
1900 N 12th St., Ste. D
Murray, KY 42071
(270) 761-2933
Facebook: Celebrations Events and Tents
Event planning, featuring full-service floral design, plus rentals: tables, chairs, tents, linens, decorations, props, inflatables. Fun snacks—snow cone, cotton candy, and popcorn machines.

2. Eagle Lake Convention & Expo Center
1008 Eagle Lake Drive
Lawrenceburg, KY 40342
(502) 859-0999
Facebook: Eagle Lake Convention & Expo Center
Offers all-day, no-time-limit rentals for The Ballroom, seating up to 350 guests, and The Grand Ballroom, seating up to 650, both with a dance floor. Four package options and event coordinator available. No catering restrictions.

3. Jordan Hill Farm
722 Walker Parke Road
Richmond, KY 40475
(859) 623-0807
Facebook: Jordan Hill Farm
Located on 85 scenic acres. Outdoors, guests can enjoy a picnic-style party, complete with a fire pit, corn hole, and volleyball. Indoors, tables and chairs accommodate up to 45 guests. Also features a commercial mobile kitchen and on-site hair salon. Lodging is available for a minimum three-day rental and can sleep up to 12 guests.
Graduates and guests alike will enjoy the inviting atmosphere of Jordan Hill Farm showcased in this virtual tour.

4. M & H Tent Rentals
25 Twin Eagles Lane
Lebanon, KY 40033
(270) 402-7962
Facebook: M & H Tent Rentals
Offers tents, tables, chairs, lights, dance floor, and new for 2016—a six-station restroom trailer. Family owned and operated since 1999.
M & H Tent Rentals’ inventory includes a variety of tents, some as small as 10-by-10 feet or as large as the 60-by-120 tent featured in this YouTube video.

5. Rivers Edge Event & Venue Resource
416 S. Buckman St.
Shepherdsville, KY 40165
(502) 921-9681
Facebook: Rivers Edge Event & Venue Resource
Offers four-hour party rental and eight-hour wedding rental that includes setup and takedown of tables and chairs. Also rents linens, chair covers and sashes, and table centerpieces.

6. Southern Springs Events
835 Long Ford Bridge Road
Cadiz, KY 42211
(270) 522-4295
Facebook: Southern Springs Events
Located on a secluded 10-acre farm with three landscaped ponds for photo opportunities. The Event Barn accommodates 200 guests for banquet-style seating, allowing room for a dance floor and food service area. The Drake Room accommodates up to 75 guests. Packages include use and setup/breakdown of tables and chairs. Table linens and decorations available for an additional fee. Outside caterers, DJs, bands, photographers, and decorations allowed.

7. The Josephina Event Venue
100 Hogans Mill
Dry Ridge, KY 41035
(859) 823-0066
Facebook: The Josephina Event Venue
Provides all tables, chairs, and linens. The Josephina seats up to 220, while the newly opened Jean La Beth is suited for more intimate gatherings of up to 80 guests. Reserve early—some 2018 dates are already booked.

8. The LOFT-Downtown Russellville
280 E. 4th St.
Russellville, KY 42276
(270) 348-5105
Facebook: The LOFT Downtown Russellville
Two story, all-inclusive, rustic venue that seats up to 80 guests. Besides tables and chairs, antique china, stemware, silverware, linens, and a large selection of floral arrangements are available. Small catering kitchen on-site or outside catering welcomed. Free Wi-Fi and free Pandora with surround sound.

9. The Peppermint Owl
6201 Woodville Road
Bandana, KY 42022
(270) 816-6318
Facebook: The Peppermint Owl
120-year-old hardware store turned custom event facility, featuring original cabinetry, hardwood floors, and tin ceiling. Besides main building, 18 holes of indoor glow-in-the-dark miniature golf with huge party room and DJ booth, plus 1950s replica diner. Concessions available, or outside catering welcome.

10. The Summer House Venue
101 Millersburg-Cynthiana Road
Paris, KY 40361
(859) 312-9282
Facebook: The Summer House Venue
A relaxed atmosphere offers indoor (up to 50 guests) or outdoor party options for up to 100 guests. Tables, chairs, and decorative props—like antique trunks, vintage windows, and vintage doors for photo backdrops—are available, as well as an outdoor lighting package. Offers catering by Smokee DT’s Catering and Concessions, featuring menu choices such as barbecue and fried chicken, or welcomes outside caterer of your choice.

11. With locations all across Kentucky, state parks offer a variety of venue options, from picnic tables beneath covered pavilions to indoor conference rooms to accommodate any group size. Learn more at

Cakes and catering:
1. Cakes by Camille
108 S Court St.
Campbellsville, KY 42718
(270) 469-5769
Facebook: Cakes by Camille
Serving custom cakes, cupcakes, and cake pops since 2010, with a newly opened retail location in 2016. Check Web site and Facebook for cake decorating classes offered throughout the year.

2. Dunn’s BBQ & Catering
726 Cane Run St.
Harrodsburg, KY 40330
(859) 734-3675
Facebook: Dunn’s BBQ & Catering
Family owned and operated, serving award-winning barbecue since 1979. Dine-in restaurant, take-out, and free local delivery. Caters groups of 15-2,500. Offers ribs, chicken, wings, pulled pork, beef brisket, and a large variety of side dishes, all homemade, including barbecue sauce. Dunn’s also does pig roasts.

3. LaDonna’s Catering
(606) 309-3187
Facebook: LaDonna’s Catering
In business for 15 years, offers full-service catering both on- and off-site. Specializing in corporate events and weddings. Extensive menu serving unlimited combinations of fresh salads, vegetables, and entrees. Free tastings and consultations available. Also manages catering for London Country Club, where two banquet halls are available for rental by members and nonmembers. Located at 835 West Laurel Road, London, KY 40741.

4. Sherrie Gammie’s Cakes LLC
Florence, KY 41042
(859) 630-7505
Facebook: Sherrie Gammie’s Cakes, LLC
Creates custom-made cakes with the graduate’s school colors, mascot, or special cake topper. Also offers cupcakes, cake pops, cookies, candies, and pie.

5. Sweet Temptations Bakery & Café
600 31 W Bypass, Suite 3A
Bowling Green, KY 42101
(270) 904-4210
Facebook: Sweet Temptations Bakery Café and Catering
Bakery and catering service offers appetizers and full-course meals, setup and delivery, serves guests if needed. Also has wedding cakes and flowers, plus decorative tablecloths, floral arrangements, and balloons.

6. The Miller House
301 E 5th St.
Owensboro, KY 42303
(270) 685-5878
Facebook: The Miller House
Dine-in restaurant, plus catering available. Rooms by reservation, with seating for 10-60 guests depending on room reserved.

7. Thompson Catering & Special Events
121 Hud Road
Winchester, KY 40391
(859) 745-2019
Facebook: Thompson Catering & Special Events
Catering, tents of all sizes, tables and chairs, 30 inflatables to choose from, concessions, carnival games, DJs, photo booths, and more.
Check out some of Thompson Catering & Special Events’ concessions, carnival games, and inflatables here.

The voice of experience: If your graduate’s bash was one to remember, share your family-friendly party planning tips or ideas at

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