How to Throw an (Almost) Perfect Graduation Party

by The Hairpin Sponsors

Note from Jeanie: Oh, hello there. It’s me, Jeanie. I’m here to show you how to stress less and party more. I tried the whole perfection thing and frankly, I’m over it. Over the past few months, I’ve been introducing some of my favorite bloggers from around the web to provide you with quick, easy ways to entertain for every occasion. Next up in our amazing Guides to Entertaining for Various Occasions series, Mallika Rao gives you some real talk (and real recipes) for creating a graduation party to remember. Okay, start reading and get yourself some knowledge!

Graduation parties are the purest kinds of parties there are, in that many of the guests are often fresh graduates too. There’s no star of the show, no birthday girl wearing a special birthday dress. These bashes are about celebrating together!

They also happen to fall at the start of summer, when there’s still a breeze in the air. If you’ve got a workable backyard, this is the time to string up globe lights and put out the citronella candles. Outdoor speakers of some sort are a plus too (that one Green Day song must be played). And to keep the mood fun and collaborative, I recommend serving consumables that can be made-to-order.


Drink-wise, think cool. You can’t go wrong with a spicy, ice-filled michelada. I also recommend setting up a non-alcoholic option, so guests can pace themselves into the evening. To balance out the heat of the michelada, try a chai spritzer — sweet, tart, and hangover proof.


This beer-based drink can really be as simple or complex as you like, so long as you layer in the spice. No one seems able to agree what an authentic recipe is, so my advice is to have fun with it. To complement the chai base of the spritzer, I like Bon Appetit’s recommendation of adding Maggi seasoning, which you can easily find at an Indian grocery store.


24 ounces of chilled Clamato (about 3 cups)
32 ounces chilled Mexican beer
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot sauce
1 tsp. Maggi Seasoning
Kosher or sea salt
Chili powder
Lime wedges


Mix the Clamato, beer, lime juice, Maggi seasoning, Worcestershire and hot sauce in the largest pot or pitcher you have. Taste your concoction and improvise. If there’s not quite enough savory flavor for your taste, a dash of Worcestershire should do the trick. If the tomato flavor is too dense, cut that baby with some more beer.

If you’re serving in open glasses, you could either pre-rub the rims with salt and chili, or leave a plate out so guests can do it themselves. Make sure each glass is filled with ice before adding the Michelada mixture, and top off the whole thing with another lime wedge. Aladdin’s mason jar tumblers make excellent Michelada containers. Just add a dash of salt on the rim and you’re good to go.

Next up, a non-alcoholic beverage for high schoolers and younger guests.

Chai spritzer

Like the michelada, these work as variations on a base, not to mention you can prepare your bases (syrups) in advance and store in the fridge until party time. A vanilla syrup is easy enough to make. Just dissolve two cups of sugar into one cup of water, and bring it all to a boil. Let cool for five minutes, then stir in a tablespoon of vanilla extract. Voila! Sizzurp, rated PG. You can modify this to yield other syrups, adding fresh squeezed oranges and zest for an orange syrup, lime for lime, and so on.


2 chai tea bags
¼ cup sugar
½ cup fresh lime juice
Club soda
Whole star anise pods
Lemon twists


Let tea steep for 10 minutes in a cup of boiling water. Any brand of chai will do. Stir in the sugar. Remove the bags and let your sweetened tea cool. In a pitcher, combine it with the lime juice. Let your guests pour as much or as little club soda as they’d like into a glass of ice and tea, as this is the kind of drink that’s better when customized. Offer the anise pods and lemon twists as garnish.


In terms of food, self-assembly is once again a good thing. It literally gets your guest’s hands dirty, a relaxed touch at a party that’s for everyone. Tacos are a great option: they’re filling, and easy to produce in mass. They can also be converted into vegetarian versions in a jiffy — just make sure you prepare a veggie that works just as well with the meat as it does on its own

Pork tacos with Indian-style green peppers


2 pounds pork shoulder
4 dried pasilla chiles, stems and seeds removed
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup pineapple juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

For the peppers:
2 large green peppers, chopped into thin strips
¼ large yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
¾ tablespoon vegetable oil
cumin seeds
poppy seeds
½ lemon

For the tacos:
6 jalapeño chiles
tortillas, corn or flour
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ medium yellow onion, diced
1 lime, cut into wedges
sour cream


A modification of a recipe from the trove that is the Homesick Texan cookbook, this is one of those dishes that needs to be prepared the day before. Instead of sweating over the stove the day of, you can make yourself a michelada while you wait for your guests to arrive.

To start, toast the pasilla chiles in a dry skillet until they start to puff. Add water and bring it to a boil — then turn off the heat and leave the chiles to soften. After half an hour soaking, add the chiles to the blender along with the chipotle chili, garlic, oregano, cumin, OJ, pineapple juice, vinegar and olive oil. Throw in a pinch of ground cloves. Blend until you’ve got a puree fit for a baby.

Now’s your time to tackle the pork. Rinse it well, then trim the fat. Cut the flesh into half-inch-size pieces. Add salt to taste, then toss the pork in it. Store the whole thing covered in the fridge overnight, or for 8 hours. On party day, make sure to let the marinated meat sit for a half hour before cooking. Heat the veg oil in a large pan on medium heat, and fry the pork for 15 minutes, giving it the occasional stir.

The peppers, meanwhile, can be made in advance. Simply heat in a pan with vegetable oil, cumin, poppy seeds, garlic and onion — a pinch of each should do.

Since this is a build-your-own kind of shindig, feel free to set out all the taco fixings — the jalapeños, cilantro, lime wedges and sour cream — for your guests to heap on themselves.


Graduation parties don’t require much in the way of entertainment, since there’s a built-in conversation topic: i.e., “What’s next?” Still, there are plenty of ways to incorporate that theme into activities. You could ask all the adults at the party to write a piece of advice on a scrap of paper and toss it into a hat. Towards the end of the evening, have the graduates read them aloud.

At a high school graduation party, it can be fun to have everyone come dressed in an item of clothing advertising the college they’re headed to. Maybe have novelty graduation caps on hand for all the graduates to wear, or for photo props. These blue felt ones go for about $2 a dozen.

If the above activities aren’t your style, bocce ball is a classic choice. A cheap set will set you back less than $50.

But don’t overplan! The light at the end of the tunnel has arrived, and your grads will want to relax. Eat a taco, drink some spiced beer, and don’t sweat the small stuff. You — or someone you know at least — you’re going places.