School-Themed Sendoff: A Thrifty Graduation Party

I am so proud of my oldest son, Cole, and his girlfriend, Julia, who graduated from high school last week! Since the two have been dating for most of their high school years, Julia feels like one of my own. Our families have gotten to know and like each other very well also. Plus, Cole and Julia are going to the same college in the fall. For all of these reasons, I wanted to throw a joint party after their graduation ceremony.

I hate going to Party City and spending tons of money on the same old decorations every other kid has. I decided to go with a school theme instead. It was extraordinarily easy to find everything I needed at Goodwill. I simply grabbed anything school-related I could find and sorted it all out later. I augmented those items with a few things we had around the house and some random school supplies.  I only spent around $10, if that, on decorations.

I want to give special photo credit to my niece, Leah, of Leah Catherine Photography ( for most of the images you see here. I was running around like a crazy person, and I wouldn’t have any pictures if it weren’t for her!

For our “wreath” on the door, I found this dry-erase marker board for .99 at Goodwill. I used my best teacher handwriting! My mom was helping me decorate and did a great job hanging this from my sewing measuring tape. Love it!

I used some old yearbooks and textbooks on the coffee table. I stuck a few pencils in some flowers I had left over from Mother’s Day (thanks, Julia!)

This is our pantry door, which I chalkboard painted a while ago. I usually use it for our weekly menu, but I figured this would be more appropriate for the theme!

We used my kitchen island cart as a dessert table. I found the little chalkboard, globe, and apple at Goodwill for a dollar each. I used pencils in a vase as a kind of flower arrangement. I made the cake myself. It’s hardly professional, but it definitely turned out better than most of my homemade cake efforts. I used a marshmallow fondant recipe I found online  over the frosting. It is super-cheap and easy to make. Much better than buying a $15 tub of the stuff somewhere!

The piece of ” notebook paper” on top is edible sugar paper that you can find at Wal-Mart or Joann Fabrics. I used some edible markers to draw lines on it, then punched holes in the sides with a hole punch. Cole and Julia’s school colors are purple and white, so I cut some shapes out of another piece of purple sugar paper for the sides of the cake.

I used another edible ink marker to write my message in black. I was beyond thrilled to find this little ceramic graduation cap at Goodwill for only .55! Even better, it had a tiny diploma inside! Just perfect for topping this cake. The Goodwill gods were smiling on me last Tuesday!

I used lunchboxes lined with legal paper to hold the napkins and silverware. One I bought, but the other was one that Cole owned. The little sketchbook and map underneath the display were .99 each at Goodwill.

I was so excited to find the divided styrofoam trays to use as our plates! A little school cafeteria touch, and practical too.

I made all of Cole’s favorite foods for the party, I just gave them some new names to fit my theme a little better…

I made the menu cards from notecards. When I folded them in half, the red line at the top was at the back of the card. Annoying! I just drew another one in with a colored pencil and added a hole to make the cards resemble notebook paper more closely.

This is one of my favorite parts. I was about to make a “congratulations” pennant banner, but I came up with this instead.  It was so easy! They are just paper airplanes with half notecards glued inside. I used some scrapbook letters to spell out “Congrats.”  I put letters on both sides of the cards because they kept turning around and were impossible to read otherwise. This hung above the dessert table.

This party was so much fun to put together. Most importantly, Cole and Julia had a well-deserved great time!


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