Class of 2021 graduation

Covid-Friendly Graduation Party Guide for 2021

May 3, 2021

Wondering how to celebrate your high school or college graduate this year? Thinking about throwing a COVID-friendly graduation party? We asked Julie Stallman, Founder of Triangle Senior Year, to share her ideas for celebrating your graduation. 

Class of 2021 Graduation
Courtesy of Unsplash, Steven Abraham

High school graduation is right around the corner and many of us find ourselves caught between our ideas of a pre-pandemic graduation party and our current reality that’s not entirely back to normal quite yet. 

Time to party like it’s 2021.  With careful planning, realistic expectations, and clear communication with everyone involved, you can absolutely have a safe, successful, and meaningful event to celebrate your Class of 2021 graduate!

If you’re planning to host a graduation party this year. The first big decisions you’ll need to tackle are how big your grad party will be and where you’ll hold it. Things to consider include both you and your guests’ comfort level with gatherings, and any potential restrictions in your area. Once you’ve got those decisions made, the rest will start to fall into place!

If you’re interested in finding out exactly what is and isn’t allowed where you live, the CDC has a page that links to the health department websites for each state and U.S. territory. Once you get to your state’s health department site you may have to look around a little bit to find the current limits on gatherings, if there are any. In North Carolina for example, through April 30, 2021, there was still a 100 person limit on outdoor gatherings and a 50 person limit on indoor gatherings.

Small Indoor Party or Graduation Dinner

Graduation Party
Courtesy of

You can still celebrate the graduation in big ways at a small gathering with only your closest family and friends. You may want to hold a graduation dinner at a favorite local restaurant or at your home – either way, this option doesn’t require many adjustments to be Covid-friendly.

For an indoor event, clear communication with your guests about the location and size of the party or dinner should be a high priority. We are not 100% out of the woods yet with the Covid-19 pandemic, and transparency will convey care and respect. You could consider including an insert or some extra verbiage on the invitation about how many people will be in attendance and what precautions you’ll take to ensure everyone’s comfort with the setting and level of interaction among the guests.

A couple of ideas you might incorporate into a small gathering are:

covid-friendly graduation parties
Courtesy of
  • Custom face masks with a design celebrating the graduate (most restaurants still require that you use a mask when you’re not seated at the table). has a number of customizable designs perfect to celebrate your grad.
  • Graduation party “goody bags” that you hand out as guests arrive include hand sanitizer, masks, drinking straws, and an individually wrapped party favor.
  • A scheduled 15-minute Zoom call with friends and family who couldn’t attend. You can ask guests to all share advice for the graduate or a special memory.

Outdoor Graduation Party

Graduation Party
Courtesy of

A great solution for a relatively safe graduation celebration is to throw an outdoor party. Backyard parties are wonderful, or you can rent a shelter at a local park or another venue. While graduation parties honoring multiple graduates at one event are popular and fun, if needed, it will be easier to keep your numbers reasonable if you just celebrate a single graduate at the party. And if your guest list is still too big for comfort, or to comply with local gathering restrictions, you can consider staggered start times for your guests.

The food is always the main attraction at any kind of party and with a larger group, you have a couple of different options. If your goal is the minimal effort on your part so you can enjoy the guests, consider either hiring a caterer or a local food truck to roll up and feed your hungry crowd. Both options are fairly hands-off for the hostess and food trucks especially are a big hit at parties.

If you plan to cook and serve the food yourself, offer individually packaged snacks and treats whenever possible (think individual, snack-sized packages of guacamole, hummus, ranch dressing, and more). Or take the time to create your own single-serving snacks, appetizers and side dishes. Popular ideas include veggie sticks in a cup with ranch dip or hummus or individual cups of seven-layer dip. A favorite idea I recently came across is the adorable “jarcuterie” appetizers by Raleigh Cheesy. 

Graduation Ideas
Courtesy of

If you’re serving a full meal, try to avoid a true buffet set-up if possible. Rather, take the time to pre-plate single servings of the main dish for your guests. Or, if you do decide to go with a potluck-style buffet table, then consider having dedicated servers or offer your guests single-use plastic tongs to use to serve themselves. 

Outdoor games like cornhole and bocce ball are a fun way to keep guests engaged and entertained and it’s reasonably easy to stay socially distanced. To encourage guests to take photos with the guest of honor, set up a photo opp with a custom backdrop or balloon arch. You might even want to consider hiring a local photographer to capture the celebration!

Graduation Car Parade

Last year when the class of 2020 graduated, graduation car parades became a popular way to celebrate the graduate while maintaining social distance and complying with stay-at-home orders. As it turns out, they’re also super fun! If you want to play it really safe but can’t imagine graduation without a celebration, a graduation car parade In lieu of a traditional graduation party could be a great fit. Plus, who doesn’t like a parade?

Graduation Parade
Courtesy of

To throw a graduation party car parade, invite neighbors, friends, and family to parade past the graduate’s home during a specified window of time. Guests can decorate their cars, make posters and honk, wave and call attention to the graduate and their accomplishments! We did this last year for my daughter and it was a lot of fun. I recommend a fairly short window of time – like 60 minutes – so that you don’t have big gaps of time without any parade guests.

There are several vendors that offer invitations just for car parade parties. And they’ve become popular enough that you’ll even find decorative and directional signs specifically for car parade parties.

Just because the guests won’t be hanging around, that doesn’t mean you can’t go all out with the decorations. You can order flags, signs, and banners for the yard and house honoring the graduate’s big day and future plans!

Class of 2021
Courtesy of

For additional details on how to throw a Graduation Car Parade for your class of 2021 graduate, plus tips and advice on graduation announcements, gifts, and etiquette in our Graduation Guide, visit and click on “Graduation and Next Steps” in the main menu.

Congratulations to all of the graduating seniors and their families! You’re in the home stretch and it’s almost time to celebrate and party like it’s 2021!

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Julie Stallman, Author

The senior year of high school is exciting, but can quickly become overwhelming! offers students and their families information and resources to help navigate senior year so it’s less stressful and easier to appreciate and enjoy.

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