Chalkboard Theme Graduation Party

Chalkboard Grad Party - An Oregon Cottage

We had a special, once-in-a-lifetime event last weekend – a double graduation party! Our daughter graduated from high school and our son graduated with his bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon. We hosted 60 family and friends for a backyard bbq to celebrate their accomplishments and I had some fun using ideas from Pinterest (check out the Party Ideas board I created here) to decorate using a chalkboard theme. It’s so easy to decorate with a theme now using free printable downloads and inspirational pictures to get your creative juices flowing! In fact, I started the chalkboard theme for this party with the invitations, creating our own version of this example with PicMonkey.

Once I decided on the theme, it was just a matter of printing out the items I wanted to use (most of the printables I used came from this free set), cutting them out, doing a bit of gluing and then accenting them with the school colors. Our daughter’s school colors are blue and yellow and the UO’s colors are green and yellow, so I used blue, yellow and green. I kept the food simple, buying vegetable trays, pre-washed salad, bread, sausages and boneless chicken to grill at Costco so I could spend my time where I enjoy it the most – creating the decorations and making the desserts!

Chalkboard sandwich board

The first thing guests saw was a chalkboard welcome sign (we had two – one for the front door and one for the side yard for those people who would bypass the front door). I really wanted people to not only know where to go, but also to direct them to the table set up for any cards or gifts and where they could write a little something for the graduates.

Now, here’s my confession: I debated whether or not to include the above photo because this board is hardly Pinterest-worthy. I used an old sign we had and painted it black the night before the party and I didn’t have time to make the writing “nice” or anything. It can’t compare to the chalkboards I see all over Pinterest with lovely fonts and writing.

But remember my tagline? We’re okay with imperfection around here, and in fact I never once thought about the writing while I was getting ready for the party – and I heard from many people that they were grateful for the information the signs provided. It’s only as I was prepping the photos for this post that I thought about it. So I’ve decided to be real and take a page from the Nester’s book – it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful (or in this case, useful!).

Chalkboard Graduation Memories and Cards Table - An Oregon Cottage

I set up our dining table as a memory-card station inside where the wind couldn’t blow everything away. This area accomplished three things: it gave guests a chance to see some fun photos, a place to put their cards and gifts, and a place for them to write a note or something for each of the graduates.

I interspersed the kids photos on the boards with printed off Dr. Seuss quotes which followed the chalkboard theme (I found them here). I just love how creative bloggers have made it so easy to add special touches like this! Not everything was printed off, though, I actually bought the notched chalkboard banner from Target – 18 pieces for $4.99, which I thought was a pretty good deal (they’re reusable) until I found this deal on Amazon for 24 banner pieces for $4.99 (affiliate link). Oh, well, I’m not sure those are reusable, but either of these are pretty inexpensive for a customizable banner.

Chalkboard Grad Party Card Basket - An Oregon Cottage

Both the basket for cards and gifts and the “write a few words of wisdom” ideas can be found on the Pinterest Party Ideas board – I just adapted them to use what I had (vintage locker baskets and wooden chalkboard tags that I made way back when) or created something similar on PicMonkey. I was happy to see that lots of guests did write something and both kids enjoyed reading them after the party.

Chalkboard Grad Party Tables and Scrap Fabric School Color Bunting - An Oregon Cottage

Since we were serving food that needed forks and knives to eat, we rented a few tables and chairs to go with the seating we already had and I sewed a couple of quick flag buntings using scrap fabric that coordinated with the colors. And by easy, I mean it – I left the edges raw and sewed one straight line to catch the triangles in a piece of double-sided bias tape I had. But they do add a nice fun touch, don’t you think?

Chalkboard Grad Party Pennants and Centerpieces - An Oregon Cottage

I love these little pennants I made using PicMonkey’s chalkboard background and ‘Freshman’ font. It was a way to include both kid’s names and I just hot-glued them to dollar store bamboo skewers so they were easy to stick around the yard. The centerpieces were inspired by this pin, but I again used dollar store items and they were my favorite thing at the party, I think. I plan on using them again for other parties and even seasonal decorations – that’s one of the benefits of chalkboards, just erase and create something new! Stay tuned for a post on how to make your own, plus some different ways to use the pots.

Chalkboard Graduation Drink and Dessert Bar2 - An Oregon Cottage

Running a close second in the favorites race is the dessert bar. I drug a dresser from the garage that’s waiting for our garage sale later this summer, filled the top with sweet things and used the first two drawers for plates and napkins. The banner, mini candy bar wrappers and chalkboard cupcake toppers were all downloaded from this free printable set. I created some cupcake toppers with the kid’s names using templates from Avery and a sheet of circle stickers.

Grad Party Drinks Station - An Oregon Cottage

This metal cart usually holds photo props in my workroom, but I think it made a perfect drink station. The basket held cups and sharpie markers to label the cups. We served water, iced tea and lemonade and we also had a cooler full of sparkling juices on ice.

Chalkboard Graduation Party - An Oregon Cottage

We turned the gazebo into the food serving area and moved the gazebo furniture under a tree. It worked out great, corralling the food near the grills and making it easy for guests to move through and get their food. Luckily, I had wonderful family helpers that came the day of the party to help set up, move things around and take down – and they rocked it!

The weather was perfect – not too hot and no rain (a big deal here in the northwest and in fact it rained the day before and the day after, so we were blessed!) – and more importantly, we all had a GREAT time celebrating two big accomplishments. People loved the festive decorations, the food and getting to talk and mingle.

It did one more thing as well – I realized how fun it is to have people over and create a party atmosphere! I think we’ll do this more often now, though maybe not as big, a-hem.

Do you have party tips you can share that you’ve learned? My #1 problem was estimating food for 60 people – how do you do that? We overbought on most things, and underestimated how popular sausages would be!


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  1. says

    So fun!!!! I love the theme. Every year we say we’re gonna throw a big summer bash and then it doesn’t happen. I use the excuse that it’s harder to pull off with little kids running around everywhere. But the one year we did do it, it was so much fun. We did potluck, so at least the food wasn’t too much work. And really, once everyone is together and mingling, no one notices all the little details you fretted over anyway. By the way, I didn’t know you had an Emma, too. That’s The Girl’s name. :0)

    • says

      Awesome – Emma is a good name, isn’t it? 😉 And your dinners that you pull off (often with your sister) are amazing! And you always make them seem like you just threw things together, ha! I was thinking about some of your posts when I was prepping the party – thanks for your inspirations. :)

  2. says

    What a memorable event! In May we had my second son’s graduation and hosted a outdoor party for family and friends and the very next day hosted a baby shower for my oldest son and his wife. They live 7 hours away and were down for the graduation – so we made it work. I have a set menu that I use for large parties, so this back to back partying messed me up a little. But with the help of some really good friends, who gently informed me that just because I always serve chicken fajitas, I don’t have to for every party. So, for the shower we had hamburgers and grilled chicken. We had over 100 people in our home that weekend. We felt very blessed by the end of the weekend. I agree that estimating how much food you need is hard, I’m always afraid there won’t be enough so I always way over buy.

    Congrats to your graduates!

    • says

      Wow, that’s a lot of people, Angi! I too, found I had to let go of some ‘ideals’ to just get it done and you’re right, it turned out fine. :)

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