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Table of Contents
Why Have A Grad Night Celebration?
Everyone Benefits From Grad Night!
Getting Started
The Most Important Element: The Parents
Grad Night Organization
Sponsorship and Endorsement
School Support
Themes and Activities
After the Celebration
Insurance and Licensing
Grad Night Liability Insurance is a Must!
Grad Night Directors and Officers (D&O) Insurance
Vendor Liability Insurance is Mandatory!
Reduce Your Liability Exposure: Think Safety
Grad Night Organization
Executive Committee
Checking Accounts and Tax Donations
Grad Night Income Taxes
Applying For Status As A Nonprofit Corporation
Grad Night Facility
Alternative Facilities
PTA/Grad Night Committee Relationship
PTA Questions and Answers:
Grad Night Policies & Procedures
Working With Vendors
Before The Event
The Big Night
Grad Night Is Over But The Work Isn’t
Entertainment & Games
Goals & Considerations
Successful Grad Night Activities
Interactive Games
Athletic Activities
Beauty Related Activities
Special Memories Activities
Special Ideas For Entertainment
Personalized Activities
Home Built Games
Getting Started
Security for the Outside Areas
Getting Help From Law Enforcement Officials
Helpful Hints
Training For Security Staff
Check-In Procedures For the Graduates
Check-In For the Volunteers
Control Center
Getting Started
Site Specific Planning
Fire Department Guidelines For Grad Nights
The Budget
Sample Budget
Setting the Ticket Price
Writing Donation Request and Thank You Letters
Incentive Prizes, Before Grad Night
Game and Contest Prizes
Door Prizes and Grand Prizes
Random Prizes
Grad Night Favors
Obtaining Prizes
Establish Prize Rules
Thoughts and Considerations
Suggestions For Publicity
Promoting Your Event Through The Media
Tips For Dealing With the Press
How To Answer A Favorite Question Repeatedly Asked By the Press:
Press Releases
Promoting to Parents
Entrance Tickets
Tickets Add Value to the Event
Graduate Identification Verification
Theme Related Ticket and Passport Ideas
Layout and Design
Construction Basics
Break Down, Clean Up, and Storage
Working With An Event Planner

GradNight.com extends a very special “Thank You” to:
GRADS formerly known as the Grad Nite Foundation, has its founder Lori Warmington, and all of its past board members and volunteers.
The Thousands of Grad Night people who have shared their ideas in the GRADS workshops.
The Virginia Department of Education, Northern Virginia Project Graduation, Virginia Operation Prom/Graduation.
The Hundreds of Thousands of graduates who attended and enjoyed Grad Night celebrations.
All who took the time to provide constructive criticism.
This guide has been revised with your comments in mind. Please keep your ideas coming. Let us know what has worked at your Grad Night.
IMPORTANT–GradNight.org does not guarantee the accuracy nor assume liability for any information contained in this web guide. This web guide may contain incorrect information or typographical errors. No representation is made regarding the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the enclosed material.
Each user of this web guide must determine the applicability and accuracy of the information contained in this web guide. Each user is solely responsible for the implementation of any of the information contained in this web guide. Use this web guide at your own risk.

Why Have A Grad Night Celebration?
The spirit of Grad Night has spread throughout the United States. Grad Nights are provided by a committed group of parents joining together with other community members to give their high school graduates a safe, sober, and spectacular graduation celebration.
The two highest-risk nights for High school students are Prom and Graduation nights. Peer pressure is highest on these two nights.
The philosophy and ideals behind the Grad Night movement are interlinked with providing an event that is safe, sober, and spectacularly fun. More than “just a party,” Grad Night is a commitment by parents, schools and the community to conduct a great, “once in a lifetime” celebration. Grad Night is a unique and spectacular celebration that is alcohol and drug-free. It builds a spirit of togetherness among the graduates as they celebrate with old friends for one last time. A sense of community is developed as everyone works to keep the graduates entertained and safe on potentially the most dangerous night of their lives.
Grad Night celebrations are succeeding because of the commitment of the parents, the backing of school and local governments, and the generous support of the communities. The graduates like celebrating all night with their friends and, at many schools; this has become the way to celebrate this special occasion.
Everyone Benefits From Grad Night!
The cost is affordable.
Graduates will look back on this party as a very special night to remember.
Graduates experience a great time celebrating without the use of alcohol or drugs.
A new tradition has been established.
Every graduate has a party to attend on graduation night.
All graduates are together to celebrate as a class–perhaps for the last time ever.
Increased parent awareness and participation in school-sponsored activities such as athletic events, prom, and booster programs.
A closer bond between the graduating seniors and the school.
Stronger Alumni support.
Establishment of a new tradition at the school that enhances the entire school community.
Parents know that their children are in a safe environment on potentially the most dangerous night of their lives.
Parents have the opportunity to make new friends with other parents who work at the party.
The community can take pride in providing a positive experience and knowing the community could prevent a tragedy.
You Can Do It!
These celebrations succeed best when planned and implemented by the parents. First and foremost: use as many parents and volunteers as possible. Use your school as a support group only. Start early, make it a large group effort, plan every detail, keep your enthusiasm, and be flexible.
== Plan A Grad Night For Your Seniors… They’re Worth It! ==
== Good Luck ==
Please remember that GradNight.org does not guarantee accuracy nor assume liability for any of the information contained in this guidebook. You, the user, are responsible for determining the applicability and accuracy of the information for your Grad Night event.

Getting Started
This section contains introductory ideas and suggestions. This information is great for beginners and also as a guide for returning volunteers. The first year may be the most challenging for the graduates and parents to “buy into” this new idea called Grad Night. Be positive and confident that your goal of creating a successful Grad Night will be reached.
The Most Important Element: The Parents
Parents play the most important role in organizing the celebration. Parents of the graduates are more willing to volunteer their time and talents to benefit their children.
Many parents are a great resource of talents, skills, and community contacts that will be invaluable in planning a celebration of this kind.
Build an Army!
Developing an active core group of motivated parent volunteers is a crucial first step in planning and conducting a successful Grad Night. The following are some steps that have worked at other Grad Night schools:
1. Schedule an Introductory Meeting
Invite a cross-section of moms and dads to an introductory meeting. Be sure to invite parents representing different interests such as athletics, music, drama, pep squad, drill team, graduate leadership, academic high achievers, and various graduate clubs. You may also want to invite parents who are currently leaders of school parent organizations such as the PTA, and athletic booster clubs. You may also want to include parents of underclassmen and other supporters of youth activities in the community such as AYSO volunteers, scout leaders, and church and service club advisors.
The purpose of the introductory meeting is to (1) introduce the concept of Grad Night, (2) get parents and community members excited about doing a Grad Night, and (3) recruit volunteers.
2. Send Out Meeting Invitations
A sample meeting invitation is shown in this document.
Word to the Wise: At all schools, parents typically report having as much fun doing the Grad Night as the graduates who attend it. This is not “one more carpool” or “coaching job” for already burdened parents. This is a chance to be creative, work together, make new friends, and participate in a “gift of love” to their graduates.
3. Prepare for the Introductory Meeting
Arrange to use a meeting room (school, church, library, community meeting room).
If required, arrange the use of a VCR, TV, and/or overhead projector (contact the school Audio/Visual Department).
Arrange to have coffee, tea, and soft drinks…
Provide sign-up sheets for people to work on Grad Night committees. The sheets should include name, address, home/work phone numbers, and whether they are a senior parent, an underclassman parent, or a community member.
Word to the Wise: One of the most successful ways to recruit Grad Night team members is through personal contact. Some people may be reluctant to read or respond to a questionnaire but everyone typically responds to a “face-to-face” (or telephone) inquiry.
Fall gatherings such as Back-To-School Night, football games, booster club meetings, etc., offer great opportunities to spread the word about Grad Night. Take every opportunity to invite interested parents to join the team and always have a notepad handy to record their name and phone number.
4. At the Meeting
Welcome the Attendees.
Introduce yourself and other committee members.
Explain the purpose and schedule of the meeting.
State the purpose and objectives of a Grad Night see Section 2, above.
Identify if other High schools in your area already have a Grad Night.
If available, provide information from past Grad Nights.
Discuss the marketability of a Grad Night versus a private party or theme park (such as Disneyland).
If available, show a Grad Night video (one from a past Grad Night at your school, or nearby high school, or contact Gradnight.org).
Discuss party theme ideas (see this document) but make no decision at this time (people might vote for a particular theme and then end up not volunteering to help).
Tell everyone how much fun it is for parents to work on a Grad Night Celebration.
5. Recruit the Team:
Obtain commitments from parent volunteers to serve on the Grad Night Executive Board, Committee Chairs, Co-chairs, or other committee assignments.
Grad Night Organization
See also: the main section on Organization
The Executive Committee (Chairperson, Secretary, and Treasurer)
Choose or elect one or more persons to be the Grad Night Chairperson (or chairpersons), Treasurer, and Secretary. These chairpersons make up the “Executive Committee” (see Section on Executive Committee).
Other Committees
Obtain volunteers to serve as chairpersons for other Grad Night committees such as Food, Entertainment, Cleanup, Security, Decorations, Volunteers, Fundraising, Publicity, Prizes, and Ticket Sales. Some Grad Nights may want to make each of these committees the responsibility of a separate committee chair while other schools may combine them. More information on these committees is found in the following sections.
Make it easy on everyone — Give as many people as possible a piece of the action.
It is important to keep records of what you did and how you did it. Committee chairpersons should be advised at the beginning to record their experiences to pass on to future Grad Nights (Click here for a sample committee report). A deadline should be set for turning in the reports.
Sponsorship and Endorsement
Word to the Wise: PTA and PTOs have an established identity and rapport with the school administration and the school board. They may also have contacts with city officials, which can smooth the way for special items such as the use of a party night facility. They may also be willing to donate money, volunteers, and food.
But be aware that PTA sponsorship requires compliance with PTA rules. If your Grad Night is unwilling or unable to follow these rules, do not accept PTA sponsorship (see the section on PTA-Grad Night Relationship).
The purpose of obtaining sponsorship/endorsement is to obtain free (or reduced-rate) items such as decorations, equipment, supplies, and facilities. Try to have as many sponsors as possible. Endorsements from other organizations lend credibility to the Grad Night party and encourage parents and community volunteers to take an active part.
Organizations That May Wish to Sponsor Grad Night
School Booster Clubs.
Community Associations (Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis).
Government Agencies (Highway Patrol, City Council).
School Support
The school administration, teachers, and faculty can help promote the party and may also be willing to work as volunteers at the party. In some cases, the schools can also provide supplies and services. The following is a partial list of what may be available:
List of Graduates (including parent names phone numbers and addresses).
Preprinted home address mailing labels for all the Graduates.
Places to hang posters in Schools.
Bulk-rate mailing permit.
Laminating materials.
Artist assistance.
Contacts with community groups.
Space in the school newsletter.
Facilities to hold committee meetings.
Use of copying machines, opaque projectors, overhead projectors, lettering guides, etc. Individual pictures of graduates.
Storage space for supplies and decorations.
Facility to hold the Grad Night event.
Themes and Activities
The most successful Grad Nights are designed so that the activities and decorations revolve around a single theme (See this document for some ideas).
Sample Grad Night Party Schedule

Time    Activity
8 to 11 PM    Check-in
10 PM to End    Music and Dancing
10 PM to End  Food
10 PM to End    Drawings for Small Prizes
3 to 4:30 AM    Major Entertainment
4:30 AM    Light Breakfast
5 to 6 AM    Big Prize Raffle–Finale
After the Celebration
After the last graduate walks out the door the celebration may be over, but there are things to be done:
Clean up (See the section on Break Down, Clean Up, and Storage).
Evaluation and Committee report (click here for a sample committee report).
Pay the bills.
Transition to next year.
Insurance and Licensing
Grad Night Liability Insurance is a Must!
Your Grad Night organization and party night event must be covered by general liability insurance.
Word to the Wise: General liability insurance typically provides coverage for “negligent” acts such as causing someone bodily injury, personal injury or property damage.
Word to the Wise: In some cases, a Grad Night is insured under a sponsoring organization (such as a PTA) insurance policy. There can be problems with this type of arrangement. Some insurance companies do not recommend that the sponsoring organization extend their liability to include other organizations. In any case, your Grad Night organization must ensure the sponsoring organization’s insurance policy will provide adequate coverage for all Grad Night volunteers and the event.
Do not make the mistake of assuming that no one will be hurt or that no one will sue. An accident, which is the result of unintentional negligence, is still negligence.
Do not make the mistake of assuming that your Grad Night is automatically protected by someone else (such as PTA, school, or vendor insurance policy…).
In most cases, the best type of policy is an independent policy for your specific Grad Night.
Ensure your liability policy includes coverage for all of your events. For example, some insurance policies require purchasing additional insurance coverage (amendments) to include all Grad Night events (such as additional coverage for “Athletic or Sports” events like volleyball, basketball, skating, swimming…). Identify and discuss all of your Grad Night games and events with your insurance company to ensure your Grad Night is fully covered.
There are insurance companies who provide General Liability Insurance for Grad Nights (and other school support groups). Contact GRADNIGHT.ORG for additional information regarding these insurance vendors.
Grad Night Directors and Officers (D&O) Insurance
Word to the Wise: Directors and Officers (D and O) insurance provides coverage for “intentional” acts taken by a Board of Directors that someone else thinks are wrong. These acts are intentional willful actions that result in some type of damage to a person other than bodily injury such as wrongful termination or alleged age discrimination of an employee.
In some cases, a Grad Night organization may wish to obtain “Directors and Officers” liability insurance. Additional information on D and O insurance is available from the Nonprofit Insurance Alliance of California (www.niac.org).
Vendor Liability Insurance is Mandatory!
If you hire vendors, ensure the vendors have liability insurance. Before the Grad Night event, obtain a copy of their insurance verification form. Typically the vendors will provide a verification form that confirms your Grad Night party event is covered and that your Grad Night organization is named as an “additional insured” on their policy. Ensure you file this copy in your permanent record file. If a vendor damages the facility or anyone is injured, you will have proof of vendor insurance and access to the vendor’s insurance company.
Reduce Your Liability Exposure: Think Safety
To reduce liability, think safety at all times. You must consider safety for all phases of Grad Night. Comply with all applicable safety rules and regulations provided by the Grad Night facility, your school, law enforcement officers, and the Fire Marshall.
If you are inspected by any of the above groups, request a copy of the inspection from the inspector for your records. Ensure you file this copy in your permanent record file.
Follow all applicable rules set by the Grad Night facility, school, law enforcement officers, and the Fire Marshall.
Review certification cards from personnel who are working in areas that require trained certified personnel (such as medical first aid areas). Ensure all certifications are current and are as required by law.
Prepare an emergency evacuation plan for the Grad Night facility. Ensure cognizant volunteers, particularly Security staff and the Executive committee, are familiar with the evacuation plan.
Minimize “high-risk” activities. One insurance company identified the following types of games/activities as “high risk:” Slam Dancing; dunk tanks; Moon bounce; castle bounce; and type of animal ride; fireworks; athletic/sports events (such as basketball, football, skating, swimming, volleyball), and darts or dart games. This list is not inclusive.
Ensure you have adequate supervision at all of your games.
Ensure you have adequate security to minimize and control problems such as gatecrashers, pushing and shoving, and general unsafe “horseplay.”
Ensure the volunteer security personnel are properly trained and know the location of the nearest fire alarm and emergency communications.
Think Safety!!
Video Licensing: Permission to Show Commercial Videos
ALL celebrations that plan to use commercial videos (i.e. major Hollywood movies) MUST have a license. It doesn’t matter how or where the video is obtained, a one-night license MUST be purchased from the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation.
The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC) is an independent copyright licensing service exclusively authorized by major Hollywood motion picture studios to grant Umbrella Licenses to corporate entities and any other organization or institution (both profit and non-profit), as well as federal, state, and local government, for the public performance of videos and DVDs. For information (or to discuss fees) call, write, or visit:
Motion Picture Licensing Corporation
5455 Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90066
(800) 462-8855         (800) 462-8855 (in CA:               310/822-8855         310/822-8855)
THE COPYRIGHT LAW The Federal Copyright Act (Public Law 94-553, Title 17 of the United States Code) contains simple, straightforward rules governing showings of video material. These rules are summarized in the following paragraphs: The rental or purchase of a videocassette or DVD does not carry with it the right to show it outside the home (Section 202).
“All other showings of DVDs and videocassettes are illegal unless they have been authorized by license. Even “performances in ‘semi-public’ places such as clubs, lodges, factories, summer camps, and schools are ‘public’ performances subject to copyright control” (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 60; House Report No. 94-1476, page 64).
Businesses, institutions, organizations, companies, or individuals wishing to engage in non-home showings of DVDs and videocassettes must secure licenses to do so–regardless of whether an admission or other fee is charged (Section 501). This legal requirement applies equally to profit-making organizations and nonprofit institutions (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 59; House Report No. 94-1476, page 62).
Showings of DVDs and videocassettes without a license, when one is required, are an infringement of copyright. If done “willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain,” they are a Federal crime (Section 506). In addition, even innocent or inadvertent infringers are subject to substantial civil damages (ranging from $500 to $20,000 for each illegal showing) and other penalties (Sections 501-505).
Grad Night Organization
Executive Committee
The “Executive Committee” should consist of at least a Chairperson, Treasurer, and Secretary, sometimes called “officers.”
This person is responsible for the overall planning and operation of the Grad Night event. Some schools use one or more Co-chairpersons. Important skills to look for in a chairperson are:
Organizational and leadership skills.
Ability to delegate responsibility.
Willingness to talk to everyone about Grad Night.
Ability to conduct meetings.
Ability to keep committees on task.
Ability to supervise and coordinate.
Ability to have a good relationship with the school administration.
Ability to remain calm under pressure.
You might find it helpful to have the Chairperson be a senior parent and the co-chairperson a junior parent. That way the junior parent co-chair becomes the chairperson the following year. This concept can also be used for the major committee chairpersons.
If you have a co-chair ensure each person knows his or her responsibilities. Clearly define whether “co-chair” means “assistant to the chairperson” or “equal” partners. The co-chairs must be compatible and share all information about the Grad Night event.
The chairperson and co-chair(s) should coordinate the work of all committees, understand what each committee’s duties are, and keep them on task. Often committee duties overlap, which is why coordinating the separate committees, is critical to the success of Grad Night.
The Chairperson and Co-Chairperson should:
Read the Gradnight.org guide.
Read reports from previous Grad Nights.
Introduce yourself to the school.
Review inventory of equipment and supplies and make notes if repairs are needed.
Fill committee positions.
Prepare an article for the first school newsletter mailed to parents and graduates.
Schedule the first Grad Night committee meeting (Sept.).
Be present at the “back-to-school” night with a display and recruiting table for volunteers.
Attend a Gradnight.org Training Workshop.
Word to the Wise: Two signatures should be required on all checks with no more than one signature from any one family (authorized signers should not be married to each other).
Word to the Wise: This statement needs to contain a record of all income (including cash, materials, and services) and all expenses (including donated items used as prizes or favors). See this document for additional information.
Word to the Wise: If the Grad Night is sponsored by another organization (such as a PTA), give the records to that organization’s treasurer, so they can include it in their records.
Duties should include but are limited to the following:
Open a checking account to handle income and expenses.
Prepare new check authorization signature cards and file them with the bank.
Prepare a budget and submit it for the Executive Committee’s approval.
Maintain the budget and report at each Executive Committee meeting.
Maintain accurate records of income and expenses.
Prepare a financial statement for income tax.
If required, file income tax forms (See Taxes, below).
Duties should include but not be limited to the following:
Prepare the minutes of each Executive Committee meeting and submit them for approval.
Handle all correspondence as requested by the Chairperson.
Notify the Executive Committee members of the dates of the next meetings.
Serve as historian – clip news stories and keep a photo album of the GRAD NIGHT event.
Prepare or approve press releases and promotional material content.
Other Members of the Executive Committee:
The Executive Committee could also include other major committee chairpersons who are needed to plan and execute a successful Grad Night. Some of their tasks will be to:
Choose a Grad Night theme.
Approve a budget.
Set board policies and procedures.
Select the entertainment, games, and activities.
Enlist the help of key people (school and district administrators community business leaders and/or off-site facility manager).
Obtain liability insurance coverage.
Secure sponsors and endorsers.
Decide on the location where the Grad Night event will be held.
Find people willing to serve as committee chairpersons and volunteers.
Successfully “sell” graduates on the Grad Night idea.
Meetings should be held at least once a month beginning in September or October. If you are a first-time Grad Night School, meetings may need to be scheduled more often especially as the night of the Grad Night event approaches.
Getting Information To The Parents
Obtain pre-addressed mailing labels from the school. Note: be very careful with these labels. Do not give them to any other organization. Most schools strictly forbid selling, giving, or using their mailing list for any purpose other than to disburse information directly related to a school-related activity.
Publicize the Grad Night and related fundraising activities in the local newspapers.
Checking Accounts and Tax Donations
This information is a guide only. If you are unsure about anything, consult an attorney or CPA.
Word to the Wise: Many accountants or attorneys will work with the Grad Night organizers on a “pro-bono” (free) basis as a donation to Grad Night. If possible, find an attorney who has a student in your school. Remember to keep the questions strictly related to Grad Night and give the attorney and law firm credit for their donation.
Checking Accounts
Your Grad Night will need a bank checking account. Before opening an account, the bank will require an identification number. The number provided to the bank should be the “Employer Identification Number” (EIN) issued by the Federal Internal Revenue Service. This number is also known as a “Taxpayer Identification Number” (TIN).
Word to the Wise: An individual’s Social Security Number (SSN) should not be used as the identification number on a Grad Night checking account.
To Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
PTA Sponsorship – If the PTA or another organization sponsors your Grad Night, the EIN should be provided by the sponsoring organization. The EIN should remain with the Grad Night account as long as the group is sponsored.
Independent Grad Night – If your Grad Night is not sponsored by another organization, an Employer Identification Number (EIN) should be obtained from the Internal Revenue Service as follows:
To Obtain an EIN by Phone:
Obtain Form SS-4 by calling               1-800-829-3676         1-800-829-3676.
1. Fill out Form SS-4 including:
2. Name of the organization (true legal name) and Address.
3. Reason for Applying Organization’s starting date and fiscal year.
4. Principal activity or service. Answer all questions–Some will be “N/A” (not applicable).
The IRS can issue an EIN over the phone and request that you write the number on the SS-4 form and then return the completed form to the IRS by mail or fax. You may begin using the number as soon as it is issued over the phone.
To Obtain an EIN by Mail:
1. Obtain Form SS-4 by calling               1-800-829-3676         1-800-829-3676.
2. Fill in Form SS-4 and mail it back to the Internal Revenue Service.
3. The IRS should respond within 6-weeks.
4. If a response does not arrive reapply or call the IRS.
The following information is a guide only. The rules change!
Check with the IRS or your Tax consultant before taking any action.
Your Grad Night Should be a “Nonprofit Charitable” organization
Non-profit – All Grad Nights are “non-profit” organizations (Grad Nights do not make a financial profit). Donations to strictly “nonprofit” organizations are typically not legal deductions on income tax forms.
Charitable – Some Grad Nights also qualify as “Charitable” organizations. Donations to “Charitable” organizations are typically legal income tax deductions.
Word to the Wise: A Grad Night may be a “charitable” organization if it meets one of the following criteria:
A local school PTA sponsors the Grad Night and the local PTA is designated as a charitable organization.
The Grad Night is an independent non-profit corporation and has obtained a charitable status designation (501(c)(3)) from the Internal Revenue Service (See this document for more information).
Grad Night Income Taxes
Independent Grad Nights
Word to the Wise: Money and donations from all sources must be combined to determine the total income.
Independent Grad Nights are typically “nonprofit” and do not have to pay State or Federal income tax. However, income tax forms probably will be required to be submitted regardless of the “non-profit” status:
If the total value of all donations, goods, and services is from $25,000 to $100,000, then Federal Tax Form 990EZ (short form) typically should be filed.
If the total value of all donations, goods, and services exceeds $100,000, then Federal Tax Form 990 (long form) typically should be filed.
Grad Nights Who Are Sponsored by Another Organization
If your Grad Night is sponsored by another organization (such as the PTA), you will typically be required to provide all your financial information to the sponsoring organization treasurer. The sponsoring organization will combine your Grad Night income with their income and file the proper income tax forms.
Applying For Status As A Nonprofit Corporation
The following information is a guide only. Contact an attorney or CPA for exact information
Word to the Wise: Many attorneys will work with the Grad Night organizers on a “pro-bono” (free) basis as a donation to Grad Night. If possible, find an attorney who has a student in your school. Remember to keep the questions strictly related to Grad Night and give the attorney and law firm credit for their donation.
Nolo Press publishes a complete guide to do-it-yourself non-profit creation, available at local bookstores or online.
There are at least three major benefits to applying for status as a nonprofit corporation:
Your Grad Night should be exempt from paying federal and state income tax.
Donors to your Grad Night should be eligible for tax deductions for their donations.
Your Grad Night should be eligible for liability insurance as a non-profit corporation.
To-Do List: Incorporate and Obtain Tax Exempt Status
Prepare written “By-laws” for your organization. The “By-laws” should be typed and signed by the current officers.
Call the office of the Secretary of State at               916-657-5448         916-657-5448 (automated telephone system). Follow the recorded instructions to obtain official forms and information on how to incorporate as a non-profit public benefit corporation.
Word to the Wise: An alternate method to obtain the forms is to contact the Secretary of State via the Internet. The address is: www.ss.ca.gov
Draft and approve your Grad Night “Articles of Incorporation.” Submit the “Articles of Incorporation” and the By-laws to the Secretary of State. There is a filing fee.
Apply for an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service (for more information see this document). Complete and file Internal Revenue Form SS4.
After approval of your Articles of Incorporation by the Secretary of State, apply for Federal tax exemption (under tax code Section 501(c)(3)).
Obtain an “Application for Recognition of Exemption,” package from the California Internal Revenue Service (package 1-023).
After approval of your Federal tax-exempt status, apply for a similar exemption from the California tax board (form 3500). There is a fee. Include a copy of the bylaws, Articles of Incorporation, budget, and a fact sheet.
Annually report your Grad Night income and expenses to the Federal IRS using Form 990 or 99OEZ.
When to Apply:
Most first-year Grad Night committees are too busy planning, building, and selling the Grad Night project to take the time to follow these procedures. Subsequent committees should take on this project as Grad Night becomes established.
Grad Night Facility
See this document for Sample Layouts
Many Grad Nights are held at a school campus. The following information, however, applies to both on and off-campus parties. Your facility should:
Be in a safe location with the ability to be secured against uninvited guests.
Have lighted parking areas for both students and volunteers.
Have sufficient space for simultaneous activities such as dancing, a casino, and a food court.
Have an adequate number of clean restrooms.
Have an adequate electrical supply for activities, vendor games, and temporary lighting.
Have telephones to be used for emergencies (cellular phones are great).
Have cooking, food-warming, and refrigeration facilities.
Allow decorations and temporary signs.
Alternative Facilities
The following is a list of possible facilities that could accommodate a Grad Night event. Be aware that some of these may not allow you to bring in your own food and beverages.
Community or Recreation Center
National Guard Armory
Shopping Mall
Empty building/store in a strip mall
Church or Synagogue
Theater or Theater complex
College Student Union building
Masonic, Odd Fellow Hall, Grange Hall
Elk, Moose, American Legion, VFW Hall
Sports Stadium, Arenas
Convention Center
Country Club, Racquet Club, Health Club
Fair Grounds
Amusement Park, Family Fun Center, Water Park
Bowling Alley
Private Park
PTA/Grad Night Committee Relationship
Agreeing to have a PTA sponsor your Grad Night party can have many benefits, but it can also involve restrictions and problems
Word to the Wise: Contracts automatically obligate the PTA through its insurance Policy – if a lawsuit is filed, it is the PTA policy that will be used to pay attorney fees, court costs, and settlement damages).
Advantages of PTA Sponsorship
Use of existing communications between the PTA and school board.
Use of existing “charitable” tax deduction status for donations (See this document for more information).
Immediate credibility and validity in the community.
Eliminate preparation of IRS tax forms.
PTO NOTE: Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) typically do not have the same capabilities as a PTA. For example, PTO organizations typically are not 501(c)(3) “charitable” tax-deductible organizations.
Word to the Wise: Grad Night should also keep a copy of the vendor verification form.
Word to the Wise: If the PTA has purchased a bond, the Grad Night treasurer (and anyone else authorized to sign checks) should also be named in the bond. This may require a Grad Night representative to serve on the PTA executive committee.
Word to the Wise: Non-profit organizations cannot solicit for one purpose (such as Grad Night) and then use the funds for another purpose. Unless otherwise stated in fundraising letters and publicity, all funds and items received for Grad Night must be used for that purpose. Funds cannot be reassigned to other uses such as funding a future class reunion or placed in the general PTA fund unless donors were made aware of this when the donation was solicited.
Word to the Wise: To file with the Internal Revenue Service, the PTA treasurer needs the following:
Beginning and ending Grad Night checking account balance.
Amount of each check plus receipts for purchased items.
A list of all donations (including prizes).
A complete record of fundraising efforts (including gross income, expenses incurred as well as profit made).
Ticket sales (including free tickets).
Copies of all contracts and vendor liability insurance verification forms.
Possible Disadvantages to PTA Sponsorship
Grad Night might be required to do the following:
Provide periodic reports to the PTA Board.
Assign a Grad Night representative to be a member of the PTA Board.
Obtain PTA approval before signing contracts.
Provide copies of vendor liability insurance verification forms to the PTA.
Use the PTA Employee Identification Number (EIN) on the Grad Night checking account. Typically, the PTA will agree to a separate checking account for Grad Night.
Obtain PTA approval before fundraising activities. The PTA must ensure the fund-raiser does not conflict with PTA rules or a fundraising effort for a school function.
Obtain an agreement with the PTA board about what will happen with unused/excess Grad Night items or cash.
Provide complete and accurate financial records to the PTA.
PTA Questions and Answers:
Can a PTA work with another group in a cooperative project such as a Grad Night party?
Yes, a PTA may work with another group; however, projects are required to be submitted for approval to the voting body of the local PTA unit. If funds are required for the project, the local PTA may bear its share of the expenses.
When a PTA participates in a joint endeavor, the PTA must make sure the rules of the PTA do not conflict with the by-laws of the organization with which they are cooperating. If there is a conflict, the PTA should withdraw from participation in the event.
Does a Grad Night party have to be approved by the general membership of a PTA?
What responsibility does a Grad Night chairperson have to the PTA?
The chairperson of the party should be a member of the Local Unit PTA Board. The chairperson should present a work plan to the PTA Board for approval. The chairperson should present a financial plan to be included in the local PTA budget and approved by the general PTA membership. The Grad Night chairperson should give a report at each PTA Board meeting on finances and an update on activities.
Can the Grad Night Chairperson enter into contracts without the knowledge of the local unit PTA president?
No. The PTA president is responsible for contracts. The PTA president should be the only officer negotiating the contract. One of the final approval signatures could be that of the Grad Night chairperson.
Does PTA bonding insurance cover the Grad Night chairperson or the committee?
Yes. PTA bonding insurance covers all volunteers who handle money.
Word to the Wise: Although the money is the apparent property of the PTA, donation laws prohibit the use of this money for any purpose other than that which it was designated. If the money was designated for Grad Night, the PTA cannot spend this money on anything except Grad Night. This item needs to be carefully resolved with the PTA.
Does the money raised by the Grad Night committee belong to the PTA or Grad Night?
According to the PTA, all money raised from local dues and through additional efforts and other assets, including checking accounts, savings accounts, and certificates of deposit, are the property of the local PTA unit.
There may seem to be a lot of restrictions, but keep in mind all of the financial record-keeping must be done whether or not a PTA sponsors your Grad Night.
Your Grad Night always has the option of finding other sponsorships. Be sure to check with the school principal before exercising this option, however, as you may find that he/she will insist upon Grad Night coming under an already organized and recognized group such as the PTA.

Grad Night Policies & Procedures
It is important to establish Grad Night policies and procedures well in advance of the event. It is difficult and embarrassing to deal with these issues at the night of the event. Each policy and procedure must be carefully evaluated and discussed to ensure the safety of all attendees. The final policies and procedures should then be publicized to the graduates, parents, school administration, and the community. This will let everyone know exactly what is expected.
Each year the Grad Night committee needs to re-evaluate the past decisions, rules, and policies. The yearly evaluation will ensure the current committee members agree and understand the reasons behind the rules. This should ensure all committee members will comply and enforce the rules.
The following are some typical issues a Grad Night should resolve:
No alcohol or other drugs should be allowed. How do you plan to enforce this policy?
Word to the Wise: Grad Nights typically have a no alcohol/drugs rule for all persons including volunteers and vendors. Make it clear in the volunteer letter and vendor contracts that alcohol and drugs are not permitted at this event.
What will happen if a graduate arrives under the influence? How do you determine if the graduate is under the influence? What should happen to the graduate?
What will happen if a volunteer or vendor arrives under the influence? Amazingly enough, this happens. What should happen to the volunteer or vendor?
Who is eligible to attend? Will it be only graduates from your school? Will former members of the class who moved away but are back to attend graduation be invited? What about the spouses of married graduates?
Word to the Wise: Grad Night committees typically limit attendance to graduates only with few exceptions such as spouses of graduates, foreign exchange graduates, and former class members who moved away the senior year but returned for graduation. Typically, underclass dates are not permitted.
Word to the Wise: Most Grad Nights allow late entry if it is arranged ahead of time. If a graduate provides a good reason for a late arrival (such as they have to work until 11 PM), then the Grad Night should make arrangements to allow the graduate to enter. Ensure security knows of the exceptions for late arrivals.
What time should the graduates be there to enter Grad Night? Ensure everyone knows what time the doors to the Grad Night open and what time they close. Will you allow late admittance if it has been arranged ahead of time? There should be a few exceptions.
What time should Grad Night end? This question requires careful planning. You must ensure adequate food, volunteers, and entertainment are available until completion.
What is planned to ensure the graduates arrive safely at home after Grad Night? This is a serious issue that requires careful planning. The graduates are typically tired in the morning after Grad Night. Some schools no longer allow graduates to drive to or from Grad Night. These schools are requiring that the graduates be dropped off and picked up again in the morning by school bus services, certified limousines, or parent cars. As a bonus, they offer coffee, juice, and donut holes at the pickup spot to the drivers.
Word to the Wise: Typically Grad Night parties allow the attendees to leave Grad Night early after telephone approval has been obtained from their parents. However, once they leave, they are not allowed to re-enter Grad Night. If you choose this policy, ensure you have a list of parent/guardian names and current phone numbers so that you are calling the correct responsible party.
Can an attendee leave the Grad Night party early and can they re-enter? Establish your policies regarding early checkout and re-entry. Should telephone approval be obtained from the parent (or guardian) before leaving the party? Should the graduate (even if they are 18) have to sign out (name and the time they left)? Should the graduates be allowed to re-enter the party after leaving?
Word to the Wise: Grad Nights typically allow siblings, and recent graduates to help before the Grad Night (such as decorating, preparing food, setting up, or addressing thank-you notes). Younger siblings and recent graduates are typically not allowed to help on the night of the event. Parents of graduating Seniors may be discouraged from working the event itself.
What adults will be allowed to help at Grad Night? Are relatives and siblings allowed to help? Are recent graduates allowed to help at Grad Night? Is there a minimum age for the vendors?
Should favorite teachers and administrators be allowed to help at Grad Night? Grad Nights typically allow teachers and administrators to help on the night of the event. The teachers and administrators are advised, however, that they are there to help with the party and not to socialize or interfere with the party.
Word to the Wise: Grad Nights typically require the winner to be present to claim the prize, especially the Grand Prize.
Who is eligible to win prizes? Can a graduate win more than one prize? Can they win a door prize and the Grand Prize? Do they have to be present at the time of the drawing to win the prize?
Word to the Wise: The laws governing non-profit corporation fundraising stipulate that no person shall permit the funds to be used for any purpose other than the solicited purpose. Here are some suggestions (currently in use by Grad Night committees), on what to do with excess money:
What should be done with the money left after the Grad Night bills are paid?
Use the money for the following year’s party. Early cash is always needed for deposits and supplies before next year’s donations or ticket money becomes available.
Purchase decorating or construction equipment for future committee use.
Give extra cash prizes at the end of the Grad Night party (always leaving a cushion in case of unexpected or unpaid bills).
The following ideas do not meet established guidelines governing nonprofit fundraising:
use the money to fund other alcohol/drug-free events during the school year.
put the excess money into PTA, Booster Club, or the school.
give money to a worthy community charity in honor of the school, class, or graduates.
give the money to the graduating class for their first class reunion.
Once your policies and procedures are established, follow them as closely as possible. But, remember, there will always be someone seeking an exception. Sometimes you must be flexible, so do what is reasonable and best for the graduates.
Volunteers are a very important part of the Grad Night process. A small group of volunteers can indeed do everything that is needed to make this event happen, but having lots of volunteers makes it easier, more fun, and more successful.
See Chapter 3, 5 Recruit the Team, and click here for a Sample Parent Recruiting Letter.
Proven Ways to Recruit Volunteers
Notice in the school newsletter.
Letter mailed directly to the parents of senior class members.
Local newspaper articles.
Phone calls by committee chairpersons to parents.
Phone calls by a volunteer coordinator.
Sign-up tables at back-to-school nights, football games, and other school or PTA functions.
Personal conversations at school athletic events.
Letters to community service clubs and organizations.
Letters or phone calls to ministers and rabbis in the community requesting information to be placed in their newsletter.
The volunteer chairperson needs to know the requirements of all of the Grad Night committees. When someone volunteers to “help wherever needed,” the coordinator needs to be able to tell him or her where they will be working.
The Golden Rule for Volunteers
“If someone volunteers, find something for them to do!!”
Nothing makes people more unhappy than to be begged to volunteer and then never hearing from anyone after they offer to help.
Remember: The more parents of senior graduates you have involved on your committees, the more graduates you will have at your celebration.
Problems Finding Volunteers?
Get “key” parents involved and have them get other parents involved.
Use existing school support groups such as the PTA and school booster groups.
Solicit help from community organizations such as civic groups, church groups, city council, city or county substance abuse groups (DARE, Just Say No, and MADD) Police, Sheriff, and Fire Departments, and the Chamber of Commerce.
Solicit help for community service clubs such as Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Elks, and Native Sons.
Solicit help from the School administration, faculty, and staff.
Use school alumni organizations.
Consider “Grad Bucks” to Incentivize Parents
Parents earn credit for each hour volunteered, payable in Grad Bucks only their graduating Senior can spend on the night of their event. Grad Bucks can be earned by parents beginning with the first year their student enrolls in High School, so as many as four years’ volunteer hours may be accrued–making for a very popular graduate during the party!
Food and refreshments are an important ingredient to a successful Grad Night. Coordinate the decorations in the food areas with the Grad Night theme to make it more fun. If possible, serve one or more items that relate to the theme but be sure to provide the Grad Night favorites – pizza, subs, and sodas.
Keep the food simple. Some graduates will try new and different things, but many will not. Recognize religious and cultural differences and try to provide something for everyone.
When looking for help in providing food and food-related items, include fast-food restaurants, pizza parlors, regular restaurants, hotels, caterers, airline caterers, gourmet shops, churches, and other community organizations. Many organizations are willing to donate items such as food, ice, paper products, plastic utensils, tablecloths, table skirts, and coffee makers.
Word to the Wise: Some Grad Nights report an overabundance of food at the end of the night. Don’t be afraid to ask for “less” than is being offered when getting donations. Businesses appreciate thriftiness and it saves handling the food another time. If you run out of a particular food item just offer something else that is still available.
Suggestions for the Food Chairperson
Organize a food committee. Working with the Volunteer Chairperson, recruit members to join the food committee. Maintain regular contact with volunteers to ensure budgets and schedules are met.
Prepare food menus and quantities based on anticipated attendance figures. Consider religious and dietary restrictions when selecting the menu (such as vegetarians, etc).
Submit a budget to the Treasurer.
Coordinate plans with the decorations committee.
Ensure arrangements have been made for safe transportation of the food (keep it hot or cold).
Arrange for leftover food to be donated after the party (local community food bank).
Assign a food volunteer to work with the Cleanup committee to help with the storage and disbursement of leftover food. Coordinate with the clean-up committee to have plastic bags, foil, plastic wrap, paper towels, etc., for packaging leftovers and clean up in food areas.
Be flexible and prepared to alter plans. As Grad Night approaches, the number of Grad Night attendees will change as well as the number and type of donations offered by businesses.
General Serving Suggestions
Keep it simple!!
The graduates eat through the entire evening so make food available all night rather than only at scheduled times.
Serve things the graduates like, not unusual or spectacular items. Pizza is reported to be the #1 favorite food! The graduates are preoccupied with fun at the Grad Night. They are not thinking about what they are eating.
Graduates like to be able to identify what they are eating. Put small signs next to the items so they will know what it is.
Limit the quantities of an item to avoid leftovers. When one item is gone, simply serve more of an item you still have.
Serve finger foods in small servings so they can sample everything.
Serve from a variety of locations to avoid congestion in one area.
Place copies of the menu in strategic spots around the Grad Night.
Have adult volunteers circulating throughout the Grad Night with trays of food and drink.
Make sure there are enough refreshments. Have an assortment of drinks like sodas, sparkling cider, tropical drinks, and flavored iced teas. Offer decaf and diet sodas.
Have lots of bottled water available.
Don’t serve drinks in an open punch bowl or set cups of drinks out unattended. This is an open invitation for an illegal substance to be introduced.
Special coffee drinks (such as Cappuccino) can be very popular. Try to get a local coffee house to donate their cappuccino.
Have plenty of regular and decaffeinated coffee and iced tea for the volunteers. Have an area away from the event designated for the volunteers, staff, and vendors only.
Ice cream sundaes and smoothies can be popular but freezer storage will limit how much you can have. Use small plastic glasses with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge or strawberries.
Send food and drink trays to volunteers who are unable to leave their assigned post.
Make sure to reserve refreshments and food for the clean-up crew.
Large breakfasts are usually not popular. A light breakfast such as coffee, juice, and donut holes or Danish is a good idea. Some schools report that graduates enjoy individual cartons of milk along with donuts or muffins for breakfast.
Food Quantity Examples (rough estimate only)

For 100 Graduates:
20 large pizzas    6- sub sandwiches
15 dozen cookies/brownies     5 large fruit trays
5 dozen donuts    400 cans of soda
5 gallons milk    5 gallons Orange juice
200 paper plates    2 large cans of nacho cheese
400 paper cups    5 lbs. Coffee
For 400 graduates:
30 large pizzas    100 egg rolls
30 dozen cookies/brownies    100 hot dogs/chili dogs
20 dozen donuts    120 mini tacos
15 gallons milk    15 large fruit trays
1,000 paper plates    200 2-liter soda bottles
2,500 paper cups    4 large cans of nacho cheese, and chips to match
8 gal. Ice cream    10 gallons of fruit juice
10 lbs Coffee

Working With Vendors
Most Grad Nights choose to hire vendors to provide services, games, and/or entertainment. Whether your Entertainment Committee decides to contract with one vendor or twenty vendors, the problems remain the same. Here are some suggestions that might make the determination, selection, and hiring of vendors easier.
Getting Started
Word to the Wise: Once you have laid the proper groundwork, call and secure your vendors for services and entertainers as soon as possible. Make sure they sign and return the contract to you.
What services/entertainment will the budget allow? If your committee does not have a large budget, then you must prioritize your “wish list.” Shop around for the best deals. If you survey your graduates, make sure you cover their wish list to the best of your ability.
What entertainment is the most popular with this year’s class? What entertainment do your community, school board and superintendent consider inappropriate?
Did last year’s committee already commit to any vendors, verbally or otherwise? Many Entertainment Committees run into a problem with vendors because they didn’t check with last year’s Entertainment Chairperson. Popular vendors may receive a verbal commitment at the end of last year’s event for the following year. A verbal commitment can be binding. Long-term working relationships may be destroyed when a vendor holds a date for your school and you do not use them.
Review the entertainment performance reviews from the past Grad Nights.
Contact the Gradnight.org website (www.gradNight.org) for vendor information.
Before The Event
Word to the Wise: The Grad Night liability insurance will typically NOT include any hired vendors. Each vendor must carry separate insurance. Carefully check your insurance policy.
Find out who is eligible to sign vendor contracts, e.g. PTA president, Grad Night chairperson, or both. Once you sign a contract recognize that it is legal and binding. Don’t try to get out of it because you found a better deal. Don’t try to get out of it by claiming that you’re “just a volunteer” and you made a mistake. Those excuses don’t work.
When shopping, have only one person call each vendor. It is confusing, time-consuming, and frustrating for the vendors to receive calls from several different persons all claiming to represent Grad Night and asking the same questions. If members of your committee feel they need to hear the explanation personally, write down the questions and ask for a written response from the vendor or assign one person the task of getting the information.
Read through all notes and contracts from the previous year before you begin calling vendors.
Take advantage of the vendor’s knowledge, experience, and expertise. If this is your first Grad Night party, use your vendors as a resource. They work with their equipment all the time. If they have done Grad Nights before, they typically know what the graduates will like and won’t like. Remember, most Grad Night volunteers are not professional special event planners.
Find out how much space and electrical power is required for each piece of rental equipment. This includes the equipment your vendors will bring. Check with the site superintendent to ensure there is sufficient space and electrical capacity.
Confirm your vendors carry liability insurance (See the section on Insurance). Obtain a copy of their insurance verification form for your specific event (at least 90 days before your event). Ensure the vendor verification form identifies your Grad Night and your site facility as “additionally insured” on their policy.
Some vendors “subcontract” games to other vendors. Ask your vendor if they intend to subcontract any games or entertainment. Ensure they understand that you require insurance verification forms for all games and entertainment, not just the games owned by the primary vendor.
Ensure your Grad Night committee has liability insurance coverage (see Section 4, Insurance).
Resolve the use of Grad Night volunteers assisting the vendor games and entertainment. Ensure it is clear that the Grad Night volunteer will only “assist” the vendor (such as crowd control). Do not allow Grad Night volunteers to become “responsible” for vendor games or entertainment.
Check to ensure vendor games and equipment will not damage the site facility. Wooden gym floors can easily be damaged. Does your facility require you to cover the floor area?
Stipulate in your contract how the vendor’s employees must be dressed. Clothing with obscene or substance-related logos or slogans should not be allowed.
Stipulate in your contract the conditions for vendor employee rest breaks. Most Grad Nights require the interactive games to be continuously operated without a shutdown. Ensure your contract is clear and that the vendor will provide sufficient people to allow employee breaks without equipment shutdown.
If a piece of equipment requires a graduate to be strapped or harnessed in, ensure a female vendor employee will be available to help the female graduates.
Ensure the vendors and their employees provide identification (such as photo identification) to confirm they are employees of the vendor.
Comply with all Fire Marshal rules and insist upon vendors doing the same. This includes the type and size of extension cords to the vendor games. All games and materials must meet Fire Marshal standards.
Before the contract is signed, schedule a time to meet (possibly at the site of your party) to discuss expectations from both sides. This will help eliminate misunderstandings about who agrees to provide what items, (how many of each, what sizes, how long, etc.).
Determine if there is a setup and breakdown time. Is the setup/breakdown time part of the contracted time or do you pay from the time they start performing? Determine is they are available to stay longer if they are popular with the attendees and at what rate.
Establish in the contract the amount of deposit, and how and when the final payment is to be made. Advance deposits are typically 25% of the total contract price.
Ensure your contract specifies the conditions for a refund if you need to cancel or if they do not provide the service as agreed in the contract.
Provide the vendors with an easy-to-follow map to the event site and directions for convenient unloading of their equipment. Where do they offload their equipment and park for the night?
Provide vendors with a floor plan of the facility where the party will be held. Let them know where they will be setting up. Ensure the vendors provide you with the exact requirements to set up and operate the games/entertainment including space, type of floor surface, and electrical power.
Provide the vendor with your home phone number as well as a back-up phone number of another committee member. Ensure they have the phone number you can be reached at the night of the party in case of an emergency or if they get lost on the way.
Ask to see a video of past performances (if available), to ensure their act is appropriate for a teen-age audience.
Contact Gradnight.org (www.gradNight.org or               1-800-60GRADS         1-800-60GRADS) if you have questions regarding vendors or if you need additional vendor names and numbers.
The goal is to get your vendors/services under contract early. Ensure your contract is written so you can minimize problems between yourself and your vendors.
The Big Night
Now that you have accomplished the bulk of the work, you can be more relaxed about coordinating a successful event. Now comes the night of your celebration. The following suggestions are specifically for your event night:
Mark the way for off-loading for vendors using large easy-to-read signs.
Be on hand to greet your vendors.
Provide the vendors with a list of your services that evening (food, telephone, restrooms…).
Check their identification.
Introduce your vendors to your “on-site” coordinator who will help them in case of an emergency.
Have large, fun; clear signs at each entertainment area to ensure the graduates can easily find each artist, game, or activity.
Provide stanchions for crowd control where appropriate or necessary.
Have your final payment check ready to give them after they complete their work and you verify everything was satisfactory.
If there are problems, tell the vendor immediately and put your comments in writing.
Grad Night Is Over But The Work Isn’t
Take a minute to complete the following details to help pave the way for your replacement next year. They will appreciate your follow-up work. Here is a list of some of your final responsibilities:
Double-check your accounts with the Treasurer to ensure all vendors have received final payment. Have copies of each account paid and pass them on in a committee folder for next year’s Committee Chairperson in case any vendor comes back with unpaid account complaints.
Send thank you notes to all vendors. Vendors appreciate this and use quotes from these notes in their advertising. They may also be more inclined to give the next year’s committee a price break.
Critique each vendor’s performance. Include how well the services were received by the students. Provide vendors with feedback about their services. A letter with constructive comments helps them improve their services for next year.
Give next year’s chairperson your home phone number so they can call you with questions.
Tell your replacement about any commitments you made for next year.
Entertainment & Games
Goals & Considerations
Great entertainment is truly the key to a successful and memorable Grad Night.
Your entertainment should include things that the graduates are unable to do regularly.
Grad Nights typically need at least three different activities (this is the minimum). The graduates must have many things to do during the evening. The more kinds of activities and entertainment, the less chance the graduates will get bored and decide to leave.
Activities need to be varied so there are both active and passive things to do.
Activities should run simultaneously so graduates can go from one to another. If there is a lag time between activities, some graduates will get bored and may want to leave.
Typically somewhere between 3 and 4 AM, the graduates will experience a slow period. You may want to introduce something new and different such as a contest or new activity that will spark their interest at this time. This is a good time to begin a stage show such as a hypnotist, illusionist, or magician.
The Grad Night volunteers should not be involved in playing the games. They should, however, look like they are having a good time while they persuade graduates to join in and try the activities. Lots of smiles go a long way.
It is OK to have the same successful activities year after year.
Movies, see Video Licensing, Insurance, and Licenses.
Word to the Wise: “Politicians” are not usually a good choice as a celebrity guest.
Hiring Celebrities:
Some communities will be able to engage a name entertainer, sports figure, or other celebrity that the graduates (not necessarily the parents) would enjoy. If the celebrity’s participation overshadows the purpose of the Grad Night celebration (too much press, security, etc.) limit their participation to pre-Grad Night activities.
Successful Grad Night Activities
At some Grad Night events, dancing is very popular while other schools report less success. To increase success, try the following:
Word to the Wise: Smoke or fog machines, used as part of a performance by many live bands and DJs, might not be allowed by the fire marshal and may adversely affect other entertainment and activities. Check with your local fire marshal before approving these items.
Construct a magic, exciting dance floor area with special lighting and decorations. The dance area should not look like a poorly decorated High School Gymnasium.
Carefully choose a Disk Jockey (DJ) or a live band. A live band can be great but a good DJ can also put on a great show using special effects, a wide variety of music, large-screen live video of the dancers, dance contests, games, etc. Fit the DJ to the event as a Grad Night is vastly different than a school dance. Watch out for bargain DJs. A top-of-the-line DJ is worth every nickel.
Before hiring a DJ or a live band, attend a performance and watch the interaction with young adults.
Live music can be a major “hit” or a “disaster”. If a live band is desired, attend a band performance with the senior advisors. Be aware that bands picked by the seniors sometimes turn out to be unpopular at the Grad Night.
Build a small dance floor, crowded is better than empty.
Invite a local dance studio to teach the graduates one or two unfamiliar dances (e.g., a swing dance). Beware of trying to teach too many steps at one time.
Consider broadcasting the music to other parts of the party. Nothing sets a party mood faster than music. Be sure this is OK with residents.
Songs glorifying drugs or alcohol should be avoided.
The band or DJ must wear appropriate clothing. No shirts with inappropriate language or artwork should be allowed.
Star In Your Music Video
This is a particularly popular offering at Grad Nights, which supplies Interactive Entertainment, Passive Entertainment, and a Keepsake DVD of each participant’s performance.
Stage Show Hypnotist
A fun light-hearted, memorable, comedic stage show usually performed towards the end of the event.
Word to the Wise: Ensure all vendors have liability insurance; this is mandatory. (See Sections on Insurance and Working with Vendors).
Often this is an additional service provided by the DJ.
Walk Around Artists
Close-up Magic, Illusion and Slight-of-Hand
Balloon Hats / Characters
Interactive Games
This is a short list. New games are available often.
Black Jack, Roulette, Bingo, Craps, and Slot Machines all with play money, tickets, or tokens.
Barrel / Toilet Racers
Motorized barrels/toilets that the graduates drive on a set course.
Bouncy Boxing
Inflated ring with oversized gloves.
Bungee Run
Horizontal bungee runs within an air-inflated mattress runway.
Climbing Wall
Tilt-up multisided simulated rock climbing wall delivered on a trailer or available at many locations.
Giant Slide
Large inflatable slide. Needs a tall ceiling or is installed outdoors.
High Striker
Old carnival strength tester. Graduates hit the target with a large hammer to see if they can make the bell ring.
Human Bowling
Graduates put on helmets and are strapped into a seat inside a large ball. The ball is then given a push down an “alley” into the “pins”.
Human Gyroscope (Orbitron)
Outer space movement simulator.
Laser Tag
Large room with obstacles, hiding places, and electronic laser tag equipment.
Money Machine
Blow real money, play money, discount coupons, etc., around inside a booth. Graduates keep whatever they can catch in a set amount of time (usually about 20 seconds).
Obstacle Course
Large horizontal inflatable obstacle course.
Pugil Sticks
Contestants battle to push each other off a padded rail using large padded staffs.
Robo Surfing
Multi-speed surfboard mounted in the center of the large air mattress.
Robotic Boxing
Hand-controlled robots in a boxing ring.
Sumo Wrestling
Two graduates are dressed in oversized, full-body, inflatable suits. Participants look like huge Sumo wrestling men. The audience probably enjoys this as much as the participants.
Video Surfing
Body-controlled, video interactive.
Virtual Reality
Participants wear headgear, which allows them to feel as if they are in the scene they are seeing. They use a “joy stick” to move around from room to room and interact with the scene they are watching.
A variety of contests can be created. Be imaginative. Some will fit certain themes better than others. Some may become traditions with graduates coming to the celebration prepared to enter particular contests. Past favorites include the following:
Dance Contest
Limbo Contest
Pie Eating Contest
Air Guitar Contest
Hula Contest
Hula Hoop Contest
Trivia Contest
Best Legs Contest (with guys)
Baby Bingo/Kiddie Kwiz Contest.
Photo contest using graduate’s childhood photos or photos of teachers and administrators. Use teen-age photos. Graduates try to match photos with teacher/administrator’s names. You could also use the “bingo” game as above.
Athletic Activities
Word to the Wise: Use Extreme Caution with water-related activities. These are considered “high-risk” events. Ensure you have currently certified and trained lifeguards and that you are in control of this area at all times. Also, ensure your Grad Night liability insurance coverage includes water-related activities.
Caution–Some athletic activities are considered to be “high risk” activities. Before approving an athletic activity, ensure trained, qualified people will properly supervise the event, and ensure your Grad Night has liability insurance that includes athletic events ((See the section on Insurance). Athletic games that have been reported to be popular include the following:
Ping Pong
Frisbee Throw
Beauty Related Activities
Face Painting. Airbrush designs.
Tattoo Parlor. Paint small designs on the graduate’s arm using body paints and henna available from specialty or theatrical supply shops or use commercially available washable decals. Vendors also provide this activity.
Beauty makeovers. Guys, as well as girls, like to try out different kinds of lotions, creams, make-up, and scents.
Hair Studio. Fancy, high fashion, or punk hairstyles using lots of glitter and spray-on hair color.
Toenail painting. Boys seem to love this as much or more than the girls.
Fingernail painting. Use nail technicians from local shops to airbrush or paint fancy designs on nails or do regular manicures.
Special Memories Activities
Graffiti wall. Cover large areas with paper. Have graduates write messages with magic markers and give it to the class for future class reunions. Some schools use this as part of their decorations such as for movies, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, New York Subway, etc. Use painters’ drop cloth, decorative novelty paper, etc.
Time capsule Have graduates bring small items to put into a box to be opened at a class reunion in 10-20 years. Have papers available for graduates to fill out their prediction of things they think will have happened to them by then (marriage, children, jobs, salary, etc.) Include some school memorabilia if graduates don’t bring it in. Find a safe storage place for the capsule (remember it needs to be stored for 10-20 years).
Video of Graduation / Memories Tape and show the complete graduation ceremony as graduates stand or sit in lines for other activities during the party or provide a special room for this.
Class Photos Collect slides of the graduates from early childhood through high school. Project them on a wall near the dance floor or food tables. Let them run continuously all night. Be sure to return photos to lenders.
Video Time Capsule Use a video camera to capture graduate’s comments for future use at a class reunion. You might want to have some set questions to be answered by the graduates or you may want to have them be spontaneous. Be sure each person is identified on the tape.
T-shirt, Boxer-Short, Hat Signing or Decorating Provide these items along with permanent markers for graduates to sign, write messages, or decorate. Stay away from paints (bottles or brush-on) because items must then be left to dry.
Special Ideas For Entertainment
Academy Awards Ceremony Use a “homemade” video studio, or as a movie-theme party wrap-up activity. Select a small number of characters from nominated classmates who would have best played that part. The week of the party, have graduates vote on the top three candidates in each category and keep the results secret until the party breakfast. Award a small statue, certificate, or other gift. Allow the winners to make an acceptance speech.
Womanless Beauty Pageant Stage is a “beauty” pageant where guys dress up in women’s wear. Announce it in time for graduates to make plans to enter the contest and come prepared with costumes, wigs, and make-up. Let the girls dress the guys. Award a prize to the guy and the girl who dressed him. The introduction of contestants may be part of pre-party publicity. Award prizes bouquet, a crown, etc. along with a small “real” prize.
Role Reversal Celebrity Couples Two graduates choose a celebrity couple they want to imitate. The guy becomes the female of the couple and the girl becomes the male of the couple, complete with costumes. They perform a 2-minute skit in front of their classmates. Give cash prizes.
Balloon Animals or Hats This is always a hit. Hire someone to do this unless you have a parent who is very talented and is willing to do it.
Personalized Activities
Caricatures A talented parent or community member may be willing to draw caricatures of graduates. Most caricaturists can do between 45 and 75 drawings in about 3 hours.
Fortune Teller A crystal ball, gypsy costume, tea leaves, cards, or palm reading done in a dimly lit room creates excitement. Be aware that some parents and/or community members may object on religious grounds.
Home Built Games
(See the Section on Insurance)
Home-built “Carnival” style games provide a fun way for graduates to earn prizes or awards. Provide a variety of games to give the graduates different chances. Arrange for plenty of Grad Night volunteers to ensure all games can be operated and be sure to have a few standby volunteers in case assigned people do not show up or need a break.
Ring Toss. Use theme-related bottles, sticks, or cups as the target. Provide the graduates with plastic or wood rings to toss over the targets. This game can be purchased or made.
Sticky Ball Toss. Provide a Velcro ball and theme-related target board made of fabric. The Velcro balls will stick to the fabric.
Toilet Paper Toss. Provide rolls of toilet paper to toss through the opening of a hanging toilet seat.
Suction Darts. Use only soft-tipped suction darts. Do not use real darts. Set up a theme-related target at a reasonable distance.
Tic/Tac/Toe. Build a full-size board and use real people as the “X” and “O’s.”
Can Smash. Use extreme caution with this game. Provide a rubber mallet and sturdy table to smash aluminum cans. The shorter the smashed can, the larger the prize (use a homemade can measuring device). Ensure Plexiglas walls to protect the spectators surround the smashed area. Ensure the Grad Night volunteer has a face shield. This game must be closely supervised.
Penny Toss. Participants toss a penny into theme-related cups, trays, bowls, or plates. Can be either moving or stationary.
Putting Game. Provide a theme related to golf putting green. Typically these greens can be home-built, rented, or purchased.
Jail. Graduates must convince a volunteer judge to issue a warrant for the arrest of another student who must spend time in jail or perform a challenge to get out.
School-related trivia games. Test graduates knowledge of activities, traditions, and school functions.
Team Challenge. Participants form teams and compete against other teams by solving trivia questions, playing games, and completing physical challenges for prizes.
Obstacle Course. Set up an obstacle course. Can be run individually or as a relay for a group. This would work best outside.
Crab Races. Any wind-up toy will do nicely. Participants cheer for theirs to reach the designated marker first to win. Do not use live animals.
Casino Area. Black Jack, Craps, Roulette, Poker, and Bingo. Tables can be made or rented, and volunteers should be familiarized with the table they are working.
Guess How Many. Beans in a jar, candy in a cup, or any other small but plentiful item works well.
Milk Bottle. A traditional game where three bottles are arranged in a pyramid shape. The goal is to knock all three down with one softball or beanbag. Easy to make, fun to play.
Basketball Toss. Basketball hoop with plastic sheet below the hoop to catch the ball. It can be made or purchased.
Stand Up Straight. A long long-necked bottle is placed on its side in the middle of the table. A 3-foot long wooden dowel with 3 3-foot long string attached to one end is used to “stand the bottle straight. Easy to make.
Common everyday games can be used as a starting point for ideas. Creating new games from existing games is fun and many kids already know the rules.
Test the games before the event to ensure they “play” as you envisioned.
Be willing to change or modify the games during the night. Graduates become very good at playing games and you may need to modify the rules to make the game more difficult.
Remember–the idea is for the players to have fun from the first time they play the game to the last time.
The safety and security of all attendees at the Grad Night, volunteers as well as attendees, is of paramount importance.
The primary objectives of the Security Committee are:
Maintain control over the Grad Night area. Prevent disruptive behavior from interfering with the event.
Keep unauthorized people (gate crashers) out and keep attendees in.
Provide communications and liaison with the city police, ambulance, and fire departments.
Grad Night security involves participation and cooperation from all attendees, volunteers, private security personnel, and local law, fire, and ambulance services.
Getting Started
Obtain a detailed layout of the Grad Night area including locations for the different entertainment activities. Identify potential problem areas such as bathrooms, check-in rooms, crash rooms, exit areas, entrance areas, all dark or poorly lit areas, walkways, fenced areas, and parking lots.
Discuss Grad Night Security with the Grad Night Executive Committee to ensure nothing has been left out and that everyone knows what security measures will be enforced, when, how, and by whom.
Plan locations for Lost and Found, First Aid, Check-in rooms, Security Office, and phone (for calling emergency services).
Coordinate the Check-in and ID system for the Grad Night volunteers and vendors.
Request a copy of the most current list of the graduate and parent/guardian names and phone numbers in case they must be contacted (such as an illness or if the graduate wants to leave early). Coordinate this list with the Ticket Sales Chairperson.
Coordinate the Grad Night check-in procedures including proper ID and checking personal property (such as backpacks, jackets, and purses). Coordinate this with the Ticket Sales Chairperson.
Conduct a security search of the Grad Night area (and surrounding areas) immediately before the Grad Night Party. Be extra thorough in the restrooms including under the toilet tanks and paper towel holders.
Security for the Outside Areas
This would include places such as parking lots, gates, fences, and check-in areas.
Notify your local police as well as the neighborhoods surrounding Grad Night of the time and date of Grad Night.
Determine the need for temporary security fencing to secure the Grad Night area.
Plan security for the parking areas to protect the vehicles, graduates, and volunteers.
Identify volunteer needs and coordinate with the Volunteer Coordinator.
Decide if you will need to hire private security personnel.
Decide how and when the Grad Night security volunteers will be trained.
Ensure that each area of the Grad Night party has emergency lights (flashlights with fresh batteries and illuminated exits.).
Ensure the event area security lights are operable and turned on when required.
Getting Help From Law Enforcement Officials
Letting your local law enforcement agencies know your plans can reduce security problems. Local law enforcement personnel can be your most helpful partners. They know the area better than you and are typically happy to assist in planning the event.
Invite them to your first Security meeting. This will introduce the Grad Night concept to the police if they are not already familiar with it as well as introduce your committee to the local law enforcement personnel.
Ask them for suggestions on keeping alcohol and other drugs away from Grad Night.
Ask them to set up safety patrols during the night of graduation and help spread the word about Grad Night.
Coordinate your Security plans with the police patrols outside Grad Night.
Ask if your police Department will donate their time to help patrol. Uniformed police officers outside the Grad Night can be a big deterrent to those who might wish to crash or disturb the Grad Night event.
Helpful Hints
It is important to remember that your goal is to ensure that the Graduates have a safe, sober, and spectacular evening. The following ideas have been successfully used by Grad Night Committees:
Letters to the Neighbors
Many communities have “noise” ordinances, which restrict outside noise into the community. To avoid problems and encourage the support and cooperation of the neighbors who live in the area, write and hand deliver a letter informing them of the date, time, and plans for Grad Night.
Invite the neighbors to your Grad Night Open House. Show your enthusiasm for this once-a-year event and ask for their support and patience on this one night. Deliver the letter a couple of weeks before Grad Night.
Staffing “Beats”
Based on the layout of your Grad Night, identify your staffing needs including these areas:
Graduate Ticket check-in area
Graduate coat/backpack check-in area
Entertainment Areas
Food Areas
Check-in area for Volunteers
Security Office/Communications
First Aid Area
Parking areas
Patrol/fixed stations around the Grad Night perimeter
In addition, you might also need to plan security for the following times:
Protecting the Grad Night area and decorations during Grad Night setup.
Grad Night Open House.
During school graduation and immediately before the Grad Night.
Training For Security Staff
When you receive the names of the people assigned to Security, contact them to let them know their specific jobs and responsibilities.
Furnish each Security Staff member a copy of the Grad Night Policies.
Communicate to each person the importance of arriving on time, staying at their assigned position, and leaving the Grad Night upon completion of their shift.
Let them know if they should bring a flashlight.
Tell them where they are to report to check in for their shift.
Request they bring personal identification.
Conduct on-site training one or two nights before the Grad Night.
Check-In Procedures For the Graduates
Word to the Wise: The Ticket Sales Committee must have a procedure to verify the graduates and provide them with identification to allow entry into the Grad Night. To assist with verification, the school should provide a list of graduates and a copy of the school yearbook with a photo ID. In addition, not all seniors graduate. Your Grad Night committee must establish a policy for those graduates who were seniors but did not graduate. All committee members, graduates, parents, and school administration need to know this policy to prevent problems at the Grad Night entrance.
Word to the Wise: The policy is enforced for the safety of all persons to prevent unauthorized substances or items from being carried into the Grad Night.
Word to the Wise: Late entrance is typically authorized only in unusual circumstances (unless arrangements were made in advance) and should be verified by telephone to the graduate’s parent/guardian.
Coordinate with the Ticket Sales Committee on how to identify those graduates who are authorized to enter the Grad Night.
The Ticket Sales Committee should provide each graduate with an ID tag, bracelet, or necklace. The graduates should be advised that the ID is to be worn at all times during the Grad Night and that anyone without their ID will be escorted to the Security Office.
Before entrance, all graduates should be required to check in unnecessary items such as purses, backpacks, bags, jackets, etc. Most Grad Nights emphasize that it is unnecessary to bring anything into Grad Night. This policy can also apply to volunteers and vendors.
At check-in, each graduate should be given a unique numbered check-in bag for their belongings. Unnecessary items should be placed in the bags and stored in the check-in area during the Grad Night. The bag number should match the graduate ID number or ticket number.
The Check Room attendants must be alert for objects or substances that could disrupt the Grad Night. The graduates should not be allowed to remove their checked bags until the close of the Grad Night. The graduates should be allowed to have access to the bags during Grad Night to use personal items such as combs, and lipstick or to store prizes.
To avoid a “crunch” at the start and end of the Grad Night, extra staff should be scheduled to help get the graduates quickly in and out of the party.
Establish a deadline (usually around midnight) when the parents of “no-shows” (those who purchased tickets but did not check in to the Grad Night) will be called to inform them that their graduate is not at the Grad Night.
After the doors close, the only valid entrance to the Grad Night should be through the Security Office.
Graduates who wish to check out early should be referred to the Security Office.
Check-In For the Volunteers
Believe it or not, adults do try to crash Grad Night parties! In addition, not all Grad Night staff will remember their job assignment and workstation.
The Volunteer Check-In should be located away from the GradNight check-in. The volunteer check-in station could also be the location of the Security Office.
Entrance to Grad Night should be restricted to the graduates, Grad Night staff and volunteers, entertainers, game and food vendors, and special guests invited by the Grad Night Committee. Only those with prior authorization should be admitted. All persons not properly identified should be referred to the Security office.
Names of volunteers and vendors should be posted at the volunteer and vendor check-in area. The volunteer workstation and shift should be listed at the check-in area. Many schools require identification at check-in. Ensure this is publicized so a volunteer does not show up without proper ID. Each Grad Night Committee needs to provide a list of the names and shift assignments to Security to expedite volunteer and vendor check-in.
Provide each volunteer and vendor with an ID Badge. Remind them that they are to report immediately to their workstation and to leave the Grad Night area at the end of their shift. Also, remind them that there is a volunteer/vendor rest area where coffee and food are available. Request they not use the graduates’ food and drink areas. Request they return their ID badge after their shift.
Your policy should indicate what would happen to any vendor or volunteer who arrives under the influence. Determine your procedure for dealing with this situation before the Grad Night party.
Control Center
Security Office
A central security office should be established. The security office could be combined with Volunteer Check-in. A telephone and central communications must be located at this station.
All questionable Grad Night participants (graduates or staff without ID tags) should be brought to the security office to determine their status. If the ID badge was lost and the attendee is legitimate, issue a new one. If the person is a Grad Night crasher, they should be escorted outside the Grad Night area. If necessary, the Police Department should be requested to assist.
If a graduate wishes to leave early, they should be directed to the security office. Many Grad Nights telephone their parent or guardian to obtain approval that their graduate is leaving the Grad Night party. Many Grad Nights also do not allow the graduate to return to the party and prizes will only be awarded to those present when the name is drawn. If the graduate insists on leaving, notify the parent/guardian, obtain their check-in bag, and wait for the parents to pick them up in the Security Office.
First Aid Station
A First Aid area staffed with trained medical people should be available at Grad Night. Most Grad Nights have a nurse or similar trained medical person on duty all night. If a graduate requires prescription medication, prior arrangements should be made between the parents of the graduate and the medical people.
Word to the Wise: The parking area is typically not within the controlled Grad Night party area. If a graduate indicates they need to obtain something from their parked automobile, a Grad Night volunteer or Security Officer should escort them to the automobile and back into the party.
Parking Area Patrol
Volunteers assigned to parking lot security should monitor pre-entry activities and should be very visible to deter disruptive behavior. Uniformed police officers are ideal in tandem with Grad Night volunteer security personnel.
Security of Grad Night Perimeter
It is typically necessary to assign both stationary and roving security volunteers to monitor the Grad Night perimeter areas. This is to ensure that no one exits or enters except through the check-in areas.
Those stationed at a fixed position should remain in that area until relieved by a roving patroller.
No one should be allowed to enter or leave the Grad Night party except via the authorized check-in areas. Persons who attempt to break into or out of the party should be referred to the Security Office.
The security personnel should be especially alert to doors, gates, and fences in dark areas. Extra temporary lighting should be installed in the dark and blind spots.
A Final Thought
Most Grad Nights are conducted without a single problem. The Graduates are so excited because of the spectacular fun of Grad Night that they are not usually interested in trying to escape or break any Grad Night policy.
You may not have to cope with any of the potential problems discussed here, but it is wise to be prepared. Discuss possible problems and have a plan. Be firm, but courteous.
See this document for Theme Ideas
First and foremost, decorations are not the most important part of Grad Night. Decorations are fun. Decorations add to the excitement but don’t lose sight of the reason for the party. Decorations will not keep the graduates at the party. Your Grad Night needs exciting activities, good food, and terrific entertainment to keep the graduates at the party.
Adult volunteers usually get more caught up in the decorations than the graduates. Ask a graduate what they liked best about the party and they’ll probably tell you about one of the fun activities, or a cool prize, or the terrific hypnotist or illusionist show.
The decoration theme should not begin and end at the front door. Begin brainstorming theme ideas with all committee chairpersons. Involve all committees including entertainment, decorations, food, and publicity. A theme will make some choices easier and lend an air of festivity to the party. The ticket design, passport design, publicity, entrance areas, check-in areas, game areas, and eating areas should all use the same theme in some way.
The decorations committee should consist of a decorations chairperson and a fairly large committee that will handle the decorations for each area. You might want to have a separate group design each with all decorations chairpersons under the supervision of a main decorations chairperson. This way the big picture is broken up into smaller, more manageable pieces that will eventually fit together. Determine what decorations will occupy each area, making sure the theme and colors are tied together. A few strategically place items will pull the entire party into the central theme (i.e. palm trees, cacti, portholes, etc., depending on the theme).
Assign one person to contact the facility manager to obtain the rules, and regulations as well as identify special event permits that might be required.
Assign one person to coordinate with other Grad Night committees to contact the Fire Marshall. The contact person must pass the information on to all who need it. This will help minimize incorrect decisions based on incorrect information. Remember, last year’s fire regulations might not be the same as this year’s. Each year the regulations should be reviewed and changed to keep up with current requirements.
Decorating for the Grad Night party should not be a competition between last year’s and this year’s committees or between your school and nearby schools. The purpose of Grad Night is to keep the graduates alive, not to “out-decorate” someone else.
Follow copyright laws! Licensed characters are not allowed to be reproduced without written permission from the owner of the copyright. Giving credit to a program or at the bottom of the artwork typically does not make it legal to use them. You may display items you purchased from a licensed store (such as the Disney Store, or Hard Rock Cafe).
Getting Started
Meet with the appropriate chairpersons (such as Entertainment, Publicity, Food, and Ticket Sales), and coordinate efforts to ensure the theme will be incorporated into all areas.
Ensure all committee members have a current copy of the rules issued by the facility and the fire marshal. These might include items such as the use of tape on walls, smoking areas, use of open flames (candles), plastic fire retardant materials, etc.
Submit an estimated budget to the Executive Committee. Remember, if it’s not approved in your budget, you can’t build it! Make sure everyone on your committee understands and complies with this rule. If someone finds something “fabulous and just had to purchase it” ensure they understand they might not be reimbursed.
Maintain updated expenditure and donation information. Ensure volunteers are promptly reimbursed for authorized expenditures.
Appoint a volunteer to work with the donations committee to coordinate the decoration of donated materials and discounts. Ensure the donations committee has an updated “wish list” for decorations. Pass along information concerning donations and discounts to committee members.
Supervise the set-up of the decorations. Assist the volunteers, answer questions, and deal with unforeseen needs. Set up a work schedule and stick to it.
Have supplies available for the construction of decorations when you begin work. Prepare construction plans, a list of materials and tools to start working on each project.
Inform the volunteer coordinator of specific and general volunteer needs such as carpentry skills, artists, painters, and electrical lighting people. Your “needs” list can be included in one of the parent letters.
Maintain contact with your volunteers to ensure they are on schedule and within budget.
Coordinate Decoration work with the Construction Chairperson.
Decoration Committee Worksite
Obtain the temporary use of an unoccupied warehouse, empty store, school area, large garage, or other secure location. The owner might ask you to prove that you have general liability insurance (See the section on Insurance).
Remember, “large” decorations need large access doorways at the construction site, entry into your Grad Night party, and next year storage space (if you plan to keep it)). Don’t build something that you cannot get out of the construction area!
Site Specific Planning
Meet with the Committee chairpersons to find out how the different activities fit into the theme. Develop a plan to pull the entire party together (such as palm trees, western fences, etc.).
Entry. Provide an entry that sets the mood for the entire evening. Sometimes an exciting, terrific, glitzy, dramatic entryway might be the one thing that draws a student into the party.
Activity Areas. Decorate each activity area using the common party theme. Use common elements to tie the party together.
Food. Work closely with the Food chairperson to coordinate the theme and layout.
Signs: Provide fun, informative, and directional signs.
Restrooms. Try new names for doors such as “Steers and Heifers”, “Mermaids and Starfish”, or “Tarzan and Jane.”
Decorations: Think Big
Large items that can be made ahead of time and put up quickly are usually noticed by the graduates. Smaller, more detailed, and more time-consuming decorations are often lost in the background and overlooked (however, sometimes the smaller decorations are the items that make the party special).
Draw a Site Plan to Scale
All decorations must fit into a defined area of space. Committee chairpersons must coordinate space requirements. Do not end up building items that you have no room for. Using graph paper, draw a scale layout of each area of the event and ensure there is a place for everything.
Clean Up
Coordinate cleanup with the Clean-up committee. Identify what items will be saved, what items will be thrown away, which tools need to be returned to their owners, and which tools will be returned to the place where they were rented.
Fire Safety
Your local Fire Marshal should be considered a friend, not a hindrance. Before the party, request your Fire Department review your Grad Night plans for fire safety compliance.
Fire Safety must be included in your Grad Night. You must be concerned about the safety of all those attending the Grad Night. A well-planned party will be safe from fire.
Fire Department Guidelines For Grad Nights
The following are general fire requirements for Grad Night parties:
Word to the Wise: The following information is provided for general guidance only–You must contact your local Fire Department for specific requirements.
Plans shall be submitted to the Fire Prevention Department for approval several months in advance of the party. There may be a small fee to submit the plans. The plans should include a scaled floor plan showing emergency exit routes, the location of fire extinguishers, the location of fire alarm call boxes, emergency lighting sources, the main power switch, and general party areas and decorations.
Designated smoking areas shall be identified (if they are allowed).
Open flame devices (such as candles) are prohibited inside buildings.
Decorations used inside buildings shall be treated with an approved “fire retardant” material (see additional information below).
Christmas tree lights and other special lighting should be approved by the Fire Marshal. Christmas tree lights and other lighting decorations shall be labeled to prove they were tested and approved by a recognized testing laboratory (such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), or Factory Mutual (FM)). Lights with loose sockets, and frayed or bare wires should not be allowed.
Extension cords should be approved by the Fire Marshal. Extension cords shall be UL-approved, heavy-duty, with three-prong plugs and receptacles. Two-prong cords are typically not allowed. Cords should not be plugged together to make longer cords. Cords shall not be taped on the walls or run in locations where exposed to damage.
Fire suppression or detection systems shall not be blocked or covered by decorations.
Exits or exit corridors shall not be obstructed or blocked by decorations. Exit aisles should be a minimum of 44″ wide. Slippery floor surfaces (such as plastic sheeting) shall not be installed on exit aisles.
A minimum of one adult volunteer per area should be trained to direct fire safety actions. The volunteer should be given training by the Fire Prevention Division before the party.
One adult in every location should have a working flashlight.
Indoor-cut greenery plants and artificial greenery should be treated with an approved fire retardant material.
Smoke-producing machines and dry ice shall not be installed in exit aisles or in areas where they would be a problem during a fire.
“Luminaries” (paper bags with sand and candles) shall not be installed within 25 feet of a building. Each luminary should be approved by the Fire Marshal.
Plastic sheets and tarps shall not be used indoors unless they have been treated with a fire retardant material and approved by the Fire marshal.
Indoor wall treatments shall be treated with a fire retardant.
Decorations in stairwells shall be treated. Any decorative space within 3 feet of a door and anything on the doors shall be treated with fire retardant materials.
Oil-based paints should not be used indoors. Only water-based latex paints should be used indoors.
Word to the Wise: At many Grad Nights, the Fire Department conducts a flame test of the decorations.
Fire Retardant Decorations
Many fire ordinances require indoor temporary decorations to be “flameproofed.” There are several ways to “flameproof” decorations:
Purchase items that were commercially manufactured with fire retardant materials. Save all labels for the Fire Marshal to check.
Purchase and apply fire-retardant materials to the decorations. If you use fire retardant chemicals, ensure you follow the manufacturer’s application instructions and usage. Some fire retardant materials are only approved for specific types of items. Fire retardant chemicals are typically applied before the items are painted or decorated.
Use extreme caution when applying fire-retardant products. Follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly.
“Free” Decorations
Large stores such as Department stores, movie theaters, convenience stores, and grocery stores will provide free decorative displays after they are taken down. Many stores will not use them again and will donate them to you if you let them know you want them and you arrange to pick them up at their convenience.
Also don’t be shy about asking for items on display at fairs, corporate events, and charity events, etc. Also, contact local graphic designers to see what they do with obsolete items. If you are offered anything pick it up promptly. Remember, these items must meet fire safety standards.
Write a thank you note and give credit in your publicity. Find out the value of the items for the treasurer’s records.
Fundraising is an important part of all Grad Nights. The success of Grad Night is dependent upon developing and implementing a successful financial plan.
The first step is to prepare a budget. A budget is simply a financial plan to balance the estimated income against the expenditures.
The second step is to determine how the event will be funded. Most Grad Nights are funded by a combination of ticket sales, fund-raisers, donations, and/or grants. Some Grad Nights use ticket sales to pay for the basic celebration and use community donations and fundraisers as “icing on the cake”. Other Grad Nights do not charge for tickets and use community donations and fund-raisers to pay for the entire event. Each Grad Night has to find the correct formula.
The Budget
The Treasurer should prepare an estimated budget with input from all of the Grad Night chairpersons. The budget should have each activity and committee as a separate budget line item. After the budget has been approved, the chairpersons are expected to maintain spending within the approved limits. The budget numbers should be changed only if approved by the Executive Committee.
Sample Budget
The following sample budget is for illustration only.
500 Graduates Eligible to Attend
Assume 50% attendance (250 graduates buy tickets). Set Ticket prices at $40.00 per ticket. Assume $5,000 will be obtained from Community Donations and fundraisers.

Ticket Sales (250 X $40)    $10,000
Community Donations and Fundraising    $5,000
TOTAL INCOME    $15,000

Administration and Miscellaneous    $500
Construction    $1,500
Decorations    $1,000
Entertainment    $6,500
Food and Beverage    $1,000
Photo Booth    $500
Prizes    $2,000
Public Relations    $500
Private Security    $500
Site/Storage Rental    $500
On Campus Promotion    $250
Postage and Printing    $250
Setting the Ticket Price
You can set your ticket price in several ways:
Example #1
Prepare an estimated budget. Assume $10,000 is required.
Work backward to set the ticket prices. Assume 250 tickets will be sold.
Divide the required budget by estimated ticket sales income: $10,000 / 250= $40 per ticket.
Example #2
Decide on the amount of money the graduates would reasonably pay for a ticket.
Set your budget based on the ticket sales price.
Multiply the ticket price times the number of tickets sold: $40 X 250 = $10,000
If $10 is your selected ticket price, you could plan for a $2,500 total budget
If $50 is the ticket price, you could plan for a $12,500 budget.
Most Grad Nights use the following methods to obtain funds:
Ticket Sales
Ticket Sales
Ticket sales can provide the basic funding for Grad Night. Most Grad Nights charge some level of admission. In 1999, reported ticket prices varied from a low of $20 to a reported high of $120. The average ticket price was approximately $50. Some Grad Nights did not charge for admission. Some of the reported ticket arrangements were as follows:
The event is free but graduates must make a reservation to attend.
The event is free if a student signs up before the event, but must pay a fee at the door if no reservation was made.
Tickets cost less before the event (say $30) and higher at the door (say $50). This is intended to encourage early ticket sales.
Tickets cost at least a small amount (say $20) to try to ensure the graduates will attend the event.
Financial Assistance for Deserving Graduates
Some Grad Nights offer free tickets to deserving graduates who cannot afford an entrance ticket. The Grad Nights obtain a list of graduates from the school and send the tickets directly to the graduate or send a block of tickets to the school. In either event, the names of the graduates who receive the tickets must be kept confidential.
Federal financing may be available in your school area via the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. Check with your city or county school board office. These dollars carry a lot of restrictions and may only be used for certain items or programs. Don’t be surprised to find all of the money allocated to your county or city is already earmarked.
In general, these federal dollars cannot pay for entertainment, T-shirts (unless they carry a drug-free message on them), prizes, or activities but can be used for education (including Grad Night workshops).
Everyone knows lots of ways to raise money and you’re probably groaning at the thought of another fund-raiser. Some suggestions:
Sell an item.
Set up a certificate-receipt program with a local grocer or drug store.
Hold a craft show, art auction, house tour, mock jail (pay to get out), dance, or a yard sale.
Sponsor a teacher or student basketball, volleyball, or baseball game, or car wash.
Desserts at the Local Pizza Parlor
Because pizza restaurants typically do not offer dessert, Grad Night may want to sell dessert at the Pizza Parlor to raise money. Customers will become accustomed to seeing you there and will watch for the group every week.
Prom Dress Sale
Charge $5 to place a dress in the sale, $100 per table for private vendors (such as hairdressers, dress rental shops, florists, tux rentals, limousine companies, make-up, diet services, tanning salon, computer dating service, balloon decor, etc.); $1 admission fee (paid at door by those wishing to purchase or look); and have a seamstress available for alterations (Seamstress to donate 10% of fees back to Grad Night).
Hold the sale on a Saturday in one of the schools. Dresses should be brought in Friday night or Saturday morning. The seller marks the size and price and provides a self-addressed envelope with the beginning price and reduced price (if any).
The prices of unsold merchandise should be reduced (if previously agreed) starting at 3 PM. The seller sets their price and keeps all money from the sale ($5 entry fee already paid). Grad Night Treasurer handles the admission fees and money from sales of absent dress sellers. Grad Night volunteers assist and check dresses for damage and size/price tags. A flea market is set up in the corner for shoes and purses. Unsold items are required to be picked up by a certain time or they are donated to charity.
Drug/alcohol prevention activities allowed free tables for displays. The fashion show was held at 1 and 3 p.m. Menus from area restaurants were provided.
Mark sizes. Don’t let anyone hold a dress for more than 15 minutes without a deposit. Limit the number of dresses each buyer may take into the dressing room. Check dresses as they go in and out of the dressing room for damage and price/size tags. Arrange lots of publicity in local and school newspapers, daily school announcements, and posters at schools, churches, and businesses. Allow adults to bring in evening/cocktail-type dresses for sale.
Grad Night should not be responsible for the sale or non-sale of any item, the returned condition of any unsold item, or any returned checks.
Grad Night should make every effort to ensure the safekeeping of the items and request two forms of identification prior to accepting personal checks.
The seller should pick up unsold items no earlier than 5 PM and no later than 6 PM on the day of the sale (any item(s) not picked up by 6 p.m. become the property of Grad Night).
Uncollected money will be mailed to the seller with a $5.00 handling fee deducted from the price.
Art Auction
Print an art auction catalog giving information about the auction including the rules, the pieces to be auctioned, list of patrons, etc. Include information about Grad Night. Sell admission tickets ($5 to attend). If possible, use a professional auction company.
Anticipated Profit could be as high as $2,000 from auction and $4,000 in ticket sales.
Christmas Tree Sale
A limited number of trees. All trees $20 ($35 market value) Flocked trees are available.
Pre-sale ticket holders get first choice (Dec. 2-4). General Public sales is 5-10 Dec.
The Grad Night volunteers should be prompt and wear warm clothes, hats, and leather gloves. (Scotch pine trees are heavy and the needles are sharp).
Grocery Store Coupons
Many grocery stores are willing to sell discounted coupons for use in their stores. They do it because they are guaranteed the coupons will be spent in their stores as the coupons are not good anywhere else.
Collect money from parents to purchase a block of coupons.
Purchase the coupons on Monday, pick up coupons on Wednesday, and distribute coupons to purchasers on Thursday.
Once a school has some profit, they can begin to purchase some coupons “up-front” without waiting.
The store sells coupons to non-profit organizations at a discount. i.e. Grad Night pays $4,800 for $5,000 worth of coupons. Grad Night keeps the $200 profit.
Sample Grocery Coupon Explanation to Parents in Newsletter:
WHAT A DEAL!!! Grocery Certificate Program Helps GRAD NIGHT earn thousands. At absolutely NO COST to you, and NO EFFORT on your part, you can do something astonishing for GRAD NIGHT. Purchase Grocery Certificates! Here are the facts about the program:
Grocery certificates are gift certificates. GRAD NIGHT purchases grocery certificates at a 4% discount and sells them at face value. You use grocery certificates like cash.
You get 100% of the certificate value. You shop at these stores anyway. Just don’t use your cash; use our grocery certificates instead.
Grocery certificates come in $25 denominations. They are good at all store locations. You will receive a change if you spend less than the face value.
Order as many certificates as you want. Order every week, once a month, whenever you want. We deliver to you. Pay when you receive the certificates.
Check the math. Many of you purchase at least $100 at the market each week. Assume 100 of these families used our grocery certificates. Grad Night makes $4 on each certificate. Every week GRAD NIGHT would make $400!
To participate, call (name) at (phone) for orders or more information.
Many parents, community businesses, and organizations are happy to be part of Grad Night and will gladly donate.
The fundraising committee typically handles solicitations for donations. This prevents duplicate soliciting. Most businesses are annoyed if more than one person for the same event approaches them.
Letters may be sent to businesses, civic organizations, school clubs, school booster groups, the religious community, chambers of commerce, and other community groups. It is important to always state the purpose of the event even though there may have been previous publicity.
Be tactful, thoughtful, and polite when approaching businesses. Businesses do not owe Grad Night anything. Be very careful to ask politely and not demand or threaten in any way. Some businesses will give freely with no questions asked. Other businesses need to be approached on a “what’s in it for them” basis. Don’t overlook loans or discount items as useful donations.
Schools that share boundaries must be selective in who they solicit. Be careful to ask only businesses that are patronized by graduates or parents from your school. Many community businesses, particularly smaller ones, want to give only to the local community school and do not wish to support any other school.
If several parties are to be held at schools in the same general area, it may be advantageous to form a regional Grad Night Central Committee. In this way, businesses will not be overwhelmed with solicitations from a large number of schools.
Most businesses probably will be willing to provide some sort of help (financial, prize, food, paper products, decorations, equipment, etc). A letter explaining the concept of Grad Night followed by a personal visit or phone call will probably have more success. Some businesses or organizations will ask for suggestions, others will offer to pay for specific items (breakfast, DJ, grand prize, specific activity, etc.). Some will offer discounts or the loan of equipment, etc. Others will make a cash donation with no stipulations. All of these are wonderful contributions that reduce the cost of the event.
When soliciting donations, look for teen-oriented items or items that can be used at the event. It is a rare business that has nothing to offer. For instance: Dry cleaning certificates or donate clothes hangers for the coatroom, Hardware stores can donate masking or double-sided tape for the decorating committee, and Florists can donate centerpieces to be used as decorations and then given as a door prize.
Regional Groups
If a regional group has been formed which includes your school, it is imperative to follow the solicitation guidelines. Failure to comply with the agree upon guidelines jeopardizes the entire process, as the businesses cannot understand why an individual school has contacted them after being told that only one regional letter would be sent. Often they will ask to be withdrawn from the program.
A List of Possible Donors
Parents who are unable to work on the Grad Night may wish to donate specific items; others will offer money. Be sure to have a place on the parent’s letter or sign-up form for them to donate.
School booster groups.
Civic organizations like the Optimists, Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, etc.
Religious community (churches, synagogues).
Chamber of Commerce members.
Local businesses that are not Chamber members.
Airlines (donate flight bags, playing cards, paper products, snack items, etc.).
Substance abuse support groups (such as MADD, and SADD) can donate door prizes and offer free publicity of your event in their literature.
Hotels, and motels can donate food, and door prizes (dinner, lunch).
Local caterers can donate food.
Professionals such as doctors, dentists, orthodontists, architects, and lawyers.
Printing and copying businesses.
Real estate companies and individual agents may be willing to match the amount collected by individual agents.
Grocery stores offer discounts on food, plastic bags, and door prizes (gourmet or fruit baskets).
Gas stations can donate door prizes ($’s worth of gas), and state inspections.
Restaurants can donate food items to be served at the event or gift certificates.
Pizza parlors can donate event food or door prizes (pizza coupons).
Local newspapers can offer space for free publicity for your Grad Night both before and after the event.
Area newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations give free publicity before and after the event in Public Service Announcements.
Hospitals and emergency facilities can sponsor an event at your Grad Night like the DJ the main entertainer, or the grand prize. They can also donate door prizes like first-aid kits. They can also supply you with medically trained personnel for the night of your event in case of an illness or accident.
Hospital volunteer groups can donate prizes from their gift shops.
Congressional representatives an endorsement, letter of support, publicize your event, offer door prizes like a flag that flew over the US Capitol, etc.
Your Local government representatives can write a letter of support, which you can use in your publicity and fundraising endeavors.
Health clubs can donate several free visits.
Fast food restaurants can donate ice, cups, napkins, plastic silverware, disposable plates, and food coupons for game prizes.
School photographers can donate individual student pictures for entry tickets, and ID.
Local business promotional giveaways are great for game prizes.
Car dealers can donate prizes.
College fraternities and sororities may be looking for community service activities that they can volunteer.
College church youth groups.
Schools in Rural Areas
For schools in small rural areas that feel they have few community resources even after reading the above list, it may be necessary to be a little creative. All communities use services regardless of their size.
The following are suggestions for other places to start:
Soft drink bottling company that fills local soda machines at corner gas stations or in schools.
Restaurants and fast food chains in nearby towns are patronized by the local community.
Churches/synagogues attended by the local community.
Hospital patronized by the local community.
Theme parks like Marineworld, Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Six Flags…
Insurance companies serving the area.
Civic, social, and fraternal organizations.
Grocery and Convenience stores.
Be creative! The support is there; it may just take a little more effort to find it!
Writing Donation Request and Thank You Letters
When writing a donation request letter, keep the letter brief but be sure to include the purpose of Grad Night, the purpose of the letter (be as specific as possible about your needs), and a general overview of the event (not a detailed report). Neatness, grammar, and legibility all count. Be sure to include the name and phone number of someone to call who can answer questions. For a better response personalize the letters (rather than “Dear Businessman” or “Dear Friends”). Enclose a self-addressed envelope (with or without a stamp).
Thank You Notes and Acknowledgment of Donations
It is important that each donor feels that the items donated were useful, valuable, and appreciated. Ensure the Fundraising Committee follows through with Thank you notes. Major donors should receive a personal note, certificate, or special recognition. Businesses and organizations remember who thanks them and they do appreciate hand-written notes. A pre-printed card with an address label on the envelope just isn’t good enough. Some schools invite their donors/sponsors to their Grad Night Preview so they can see where and how their donations were used.
Thank You Ads
One of the many reasons that businesses donate to Grad Night is for the publicity they will receive. If possible, arrange for an ad to run in the local newspaper shortly after the event that lists every company, organization, and individual that donated. If it is impossible to obtain a free ad and the budget will not accommodate the purchase of one, the chairperson should include the name of every donor in a letter to the editor of the local paper. Ads can be purchased in your high school’s football or basketball program.
Sample Letter to the Editor
On behalf of the seniors at ____ High School, the Grad Night Committee would like to thank the following businesses and individuals for their part in making the all-night GRAD NIGHT a tremendous success.
There were a total of ___graduates who attended the GRAD NIGHT celebration on ____. Due to the outstanding support of the community, over $___ in cash and numerous other prizes were given out. The night’s activities included_________(list your key activities here). There was plenty of food and just plain fun! The evening was topped off with the awarding of our grand prize, a ______(list your Grand prize). Congratulations to ______for being the lucky winner of this special prize.
It was exciting to see how the community rallied around our graduates to give them a thrilling evening. In addition to the graduates, the volunteers that evening had a wonderful time watching the grads having fun. We also thank the ________(list additional helpers here) for an excellent job of cleaning up. This event could only have been made possible because of the interest of this community, and we Thank each and every one!
Sample Letter to Volunteer Solicitors:
Thank You for volunteering to help obtain donations for Grad Night. You are soliciting for an extremely important and popular project.
We need donations of gifts with teen appeal. Where such gifts are not available, please try to obtain a cash contribution to offset Grad Night expenses or purchase gifts.
Please keep accurate records of donations (see below). Record each contribution on an index card. Note the actual value of each gift (If the actual value is not given, provide an estimate). Record the amount of any cash or check.
Please avoid duplication of calls. There is nothing worse than to have the business community receive several requests from different callers from the same organization.
Please send Thank you notes (see below). Also, if the donor agrees, place an acknowledgment poster in their storefront as quickly as possible.
Please ensure checks are made out to________. Forward the checks to __________.
Please complete your work by _______ and ensure all materials have been forwarded.
The following individuals will be happy to answer questions you may have:_______.
Good luck and thanks so much!!! This will be a successful project because you’re involved.
Contributor Tabulation Sheet
Mark off columns on a sheet of paper and use the following headings so solicitors may record information about contributors:
Date solicited
Name of business/person
Address, phone number
Cash donation
Prize donation
The cash value of the prize
Thank you note sent/date
Sample Donation Thank You Note
Please use the following format to write and mail a thank you note as soon as a gift is received. Enclosed are thank you notes and envelopes. Thank you for donating stamps. We are very grateful to each business or person who contributes to Grad Night and a prompt handwritten thank you note will underline our appreciation.
Thank you for your generous contribution to __________ Grad Night.
When we see our young people celebrating this festive and happy occasion in a safe, drug and alcohol-free environment, we will remember your interest and concern.
Thank you for helping us to give our graduates a memorable Grad Night.
Sample Solicitation Letter
Dear _____
Remember when you were young enough to celebrate all night? Wasn’t it fun? We are inviting you to give that kind of special memory to the (school name) Class of ‘(year.) Grad Night.
Plans are now underway for this blockbuster event, an unforgettable gift from you, the parents, and the community to the Class of ____. The idea is to host an all-night alcohol and drug-free celebration that will rate as the “celebration of a lifetime!” Imagine an event with great band (or DJ) as well as terrific in-person entertainers, interactive games, casino, carnival games, candid photos, graduation video, ’round the clock door prizes (including a $_______ grand cash prize), and all you can eat food and refreshments including breakfast! All of this is wrapped up in a party theme with fantastic decorations.
The cost of Grad Night is steep, but together we can do it! All donations are tax-deductible. Even though graduation is months away, we need your commitment so we keep the ball rolling.
Thank You!! And don’t wait up on the night of June ______We’re going to be late!!
Sample Letter For Business and Civic Community Organizations
Dear Distinguished Friends:
The _______ senior class parents are currently organizing a tremendous GRAD NIGHT event for our graduating High School seniors. The Grad Night event will provide an alcohol and drug-free alternative to keep our seniors safe. Educators, graduates community leaders, and parents of our young adults are working countless hours to provide a memorable and entertaining evening. This special event sends a clear message to all graduates that we care about their safety.
In previous years community generosity has provided valuable prizes, contests, games, and food. Your support of this worthwhile tradition is extremely important. We need your help to continue this event.
The City Council and the School Board support Grad Night and they commend you for any contribution. Most of all, the graduating seniors are grateful to you for caring enough to provide a safe alcohol and drug-free party.
Please use the enclosed form along with the self-addressed envelope to send in a contribution. Your donation is tax-deductible. Thank You!!!!
Sample Thank You After the Event
Thank you for your contribution to (school name) Grad Night.
This event served as a community statement to our youth to have a wonderful time without drugs and alcohol. The celebration was a huge success and would not have been possible without the contributions and support of the community. Knowing they have the support and backing of their community leaders makes a difference for our graduates.
We appreciate your interest and concern for the safety of the graduates at (school name) during this special time in their high school year.
We have enclosed a certificate of thanks that we would like for you to proudly display to show to our community that you took part in making (school name) Grad Night (year) happen!
The eligibility, type, and methods of awarding prizes should be resolved before the Grad Night event. The Prize committee should resolve who is eligible, what types of prizes, and how the prizes will be awarded.
There are typically six categories of Grad Night prizes:
Incentive Prizes: Awarded during the year to entice the graduates to attend Grad Night.
Game and Contest Prizes: Awarded to entice the graduates to try the Games/Contests.
Door Prizes: Awarded as an incentive to come to the Grad Night.
Grand Prize: A high value prize awarded as an incentive to stay the entire night.
Random Prizes: Prizes are given randomly to make Grad Night more exciting and fun.
Grad Night Favors: Inexpensive prizes are given to all graduates.
Incentive Prizes, Before Grad Night
Prizes are awarded weekly or biweekly before Grad Night to encourage early ticket purchases and enhance publicity. Only Grad Night ticket holders are eligible for the drawings. Suggestions for incentive prizes include:
Cash ($20)
Personalized campus parking space
Pizza Party
Movie passes
Dinner Coupons
Grad Night T-shirt
Tickets to Theme Parks
Coupons for video rental
Inexpensive Items (CD player, portable telephone, answering machine, etc.).
Game and Contest Prizes
Carnival and Games of Chance prizes should not be high-value items. Ensure the prize awards are set up to prevent the appearance of gambling. Keep in mind that some graduates will not (or are not allowed to) participate in the games of chance.
Some Grad Nights give raffle tickets as prizes for the games of chance. The raffle tickets are then entered into a special drawing at the end of the night to win prizes.
Some Grad Nights give “funny” money or Grad Bucks as prizes. The “funny” money is redeemed at a prize store or silent auction. “Funny” money prizes should be of equal value to discourage the graduates from playing the games of chance for the sole purpose of trying to get an item of high value.
Suggestions for game prizes include:
Stuffed animals
Stadium cups
Inflatable pool items
Beach sandals
Thermos jugs
Grad Night T-shirts
Grad Night coffee mugs
Boxer shorts
Funny hats
Contest Prizes
These prizes encourage participation in various contests such as dance contests, hula-hoop, limbo, lip sync, Guest-How-Many, and photo identification.
Anytime the contest winner is a team of two or more persons, be sure to give individual prizes. Just because two people competed together doesn’t mean that they will share the prize.
Consider giving inexpensive consolation prizes for non-winners of carnival games. Some businesses give product samples or ad products suitable for consolation prizes (soft drink coupons, model kits, cosmetics, product samples, etc.).
Door Prizes and Grand Prizes
Door prizes are typically large value items, which all graduates are equally eligible to win. Grad Nights typically award door prizes at the end of the party and require the winner to be present to win.
The Grand Prize is typically a high value item (s), which all graduates are equally eligible to win. Grad Nights typically select the Grand prize winners at the end of the party and require the winner to be present to win.
Suggestions for Door Prizes Include:
AM/FM Cassette player
Phone answering machine
Concert or sports tickets
Golf clubs
Walkman radio
Popcorn popper
Gift certificates
Small refrigerator
Health club membership
Microwave oven
Picture frame
Desk lamp
Dinner for two
Suggestions or Grand Prizes Include:
Fancy boom box/mini-stereo
Trip to a major theme park
Ski weekend
Concert tickets
Shopping spree
Color TV
Mountain bike
Stereo system
New or used car
Airline tickets
Random Prizes
Random prizes make the Grad Night more fun and exciting. Try any of the following:
Give a prize to every 10th, 50th, and/or 300th graduate to arrive.
Give a prize to the first 50 or 100 graduates to arrive.
Give prizes to those who find certain “items” at Grad Night (marked cup, chair, etc.).
Some schools design a grid on a page of the graduate’s passport. Each square is for a certain area of Grad Night (like the casino). The graduates with the most squares filled in with a verification stamp from each area win a prize.
Grad Night Favors
Inexpensive favors are fun. The idea is for every graduate to leave with something.
Suggestions for favors include:
Yo-Yos Glow Necklaces Grad Night T-shirts key chains Grad Night mugs Grad Night hats “Goodie” bags (containing product samples, candy, gum, toothbrush and toothpaste, pencils, balloons, etc.).
Most Grad Night Schools
Give incentive prizes to entice graduates to purchase tickets before the Grad Night.
Award door prizes all night but distribute them only at the end of the Grad Night. The graduates must be present to claim the prizes.
Hold the drawing for the Grand prizes as the very last event of the Grad Night.
Give at least one Grad Night favor to each attendee.
The following two extremes are not recommended
Give no prizes at all. It’s always fun to have a chance to win something!
Have a door prize for all attendees. This is not needed or expected by graduates.
Obtaining Prizes
Word to the Wise: It is possible to order customized items inexpensively. Consider joining with other schools to order items more cost-effectively. Items might say “Class of”, “Grad Night All Night”, etc. Some of the more reasonable items are pens, pencils, sun visors, Frisbees, mugs, and stadium cups.
Prizes are typically either purchased or donated:
Purchased from catalogs, warehouse stores, military exchanges, wholesalers, retailers, etc.
Donated by the community, family and friends, local clubs, religious organizations, local merchants, the media, professionals, government agencies, corporations, etc.
Establish Prize Rules
Ensure your prize committee resolves the following questions before Grad Night. These can be very difficult decisions for each committee to make depending on the differing philosophies of the committee members.
Will prizes be given?
When will prizes be given?
Must graduates be present to win the prizes?
Will “guests” (like spouses, foreign exchange graduates, etc.) be allowed to win prizes?
How many door or grand prizes can one individual win?
Will cash be given as a prize?
How will unclaimed prizes be handled?
Thoughts and Considerations
Publicize the rules for prize eligibility to the graduates, parents, and volunteers.
Don’t start the final Grand Prize drawing until all activities have been closed down and all graduates are in the area.
If cash will be given post-date checks or mail checks to winners.
Remember that Scholarships are typically more of a prize for parents of the graduates who will be paying the college bills. A scholarship is also of little value to graduates who do not intend to go to college.
Provide a safe and secure storage area for the prizes. The prizes should be visible but securely stored.
Consider announcing winners on the PA system and/or a billboard with names displayed.
Consider putting a “From” tag on donated prizes so graduates will know who donated them. Some schools print thank-you notes and have the winners sign them. The committee then mails them to the donors immediately following the celebration.
The question of favoritism usually arises anytime tickets are drawn. One way to eliminate this is to put the names of the prizes in one container and the names of the graduates in another. Draw one ticket from each container.
Final “End of Grad Night” Incentive
Consider allowing each graduate who stays until the end of the Grad Night an opportunity to pull one piece of real money from a moneybox as they exit the facility. Denominations could range from $1 to $50.
This task may seem challenging in the first year, but it will be gratifying as your promotional efforts convert skeptics into enthusiastic followers. Keep in mind that parents, graduates, school staff, and the community must “buy in” to the Grad Night idea to have a successful event. The graduating seniors and their parents are the most important group that you must get to “buy-in” to the Grad Night idea.
Parties that have problems usually neglect to recruit senior parents to help with planning the event. Parents who believe in the Grad Night idea will volunteer to help, encourage their graduates to attend, not host another party on the same night, and not allow their graduates to attend a competing event.
Suggestions For Publicity
Publicity at School
Make announcements over the school’s public address system. Use celebrity impersonations or graduates in skit-type announcements. A local radio station may be willing to help. Be careful not to let the message get boring or stale.
Hand out buttons with the Grad Night logo on them for teachers, staff, and administrators.
Enlist the support of graduate leaders such as class officers and school clubs and teams.
Speak at a Senior Class assembly and emphasize the positive, fun aspects of the event. If you have a video of a previous Grad Night event, make arrangements to show a few highlights to demonstrate how much fun a Grad Night is to attend.
Sell Grad Night tickets early in the year. As graduates purchase their tickets, post their names in a place where seniors congregate at the school. The name display should be related to the event theme and done in such a way that additional names can be added easily. Eventually, it will be the “in” thing to have one’s name on “the” list.
Hold small, well-advertised prize drawings to encourage ticket sales (See the section on Prizes). Give prizes only to those who purchased a ticket before the drawing.
Give a free Grad Night T-shirt to those who purchase a ticket. Encourage graduates to wear them often or have one day a week designated as Grad Night T-shirt day.
Display or publicize the list of the Grand prizes and Door prizes.
Design personalized Grad Night posters (i.e., make posters using pictures of favorite teachers). Display the posters in the teachers’ classrooms.
Distribute Grad Night posters or signs for display. Publicize that prizes will be awarded to graduates who have these signs on display.
Parent Support
Send a letter to the parents explaining the event concept and soliciting their support.
Place notices in the school newsletters so that all parents in the school will know and understand the Grad Night concept. This will help build support in the following years as well as provide current class parents with information.
If English is a second language for some of your graduates, have the letter translated into the other languages.
Community Support
Notify local newspapers about the event and enlist their support. Some newspapers may be willing to provide continuous coverage of your event. Send them updated periodic press releases on your plans and progress.
Notify local radio and TV stations about the event and enlist their support. Send them updated periodic press releases on your plans and progress.
Distribute posters to local businesses. Request that these posters be put in a prominent place (such as the front window, counter, or bulletin board near the door). Also provide other posters such as “Thank You”, ” High School Grad Night Event Appreciates Your Support”, or a “Proud Supporter of Grad Night.”
Request news coverage on the night of the event. These articles should demonstrate to the community what the celebration was like and will help generate positive publicity for next year.
Purchase an advertisement in the school’s football and basketball programs. Ads are usually inexpensive and will keep the celebration in front of both graduates and parents.
Promoting Your Event Through The Media
Remember that the media are not obligated to do any informational programs or announcements. Get to know the reporters and media persons that can best help you. When sending press releases, send them to the radio station, newsroom, and specific reporters. Use the smaller local papers and stations. They’ll use your material.
Etiquette for Dealing with Media
Supply them with only the important information. Be an expert on your topic.
Respect their deadlines.
Ask if this is a good time to talk. Be brief!
Media Tools
Press releases
Media Advisories
The Public Service Announcements (PSA)
Photos with captions
Distribute a fact sheet about your organization. Give some statistics.
With TV, think COLOR, think video. Be creative!
Live Interview Tips
Send an expert, someone who knows how and why this program will work. Send someone who believes in Grad Night!!
Send someone articulate.
If it’s an on-camera interview, be sure the Grad Night representative looks good and is dressed appropriately.
Written Announcements
Cover only the basics: who, what, when, where, and why.
Be sure to give a contact name and phone number.
Be sure it is accurate. Read, re-read, and re-read again for accuracy then give it to someone else to check.
Neatness counts! So does proper grammar!
Meet their deadlines, not yours. TV and radio time is absolute. You must be on time!
Tips For Dealing With the Press
Always be upbeat. Convey excitement about the Grad Night event.
Always try to emphasize the educational value of your event. Graduates are learning that they can have a wonderful, memorable night without using alcohol and/or other drugs and that it can be fun even when chaperoned. Also, try to speak about educating the parents about ways to help their graduates have a good time without giving in to graduates’ requests to host an alcoholic event after graduation.
Never air “dirty laundry” in front of the press. Regardless of what disagreements your committee may have, try to keep it strictly within the Grad Night community.
Give everything to the media in writing. Issue press releases.
Understand that you may be misquoted. If your school has had an event in previous years, a reporter may pull out an old article, rewrite it, and give incorrect information. Be sure to write a letter to the editor to correct the information.
Be sure to thank the media people for their help. Maybe next year they’ll do more!
Try to return press calls immediately. They are much more apt to try to get the story right and to help you with positive publicity if they think you are helping them. Your school may be giving its umpteenth all-night event, but if the reporter is new to the concept, take the time to explain the entire concept. Invite them to attend and see for themselves.
Never say anything to a reporter that you would be embarrassed to see in the paper.
How To Answer A Favorite Question Repeatedly Asked By the Press:
If asked: “Why the concentration on the graduation season? Kids drink in our community every weekend.”
Try to use the following as a starting point to begin formulating your answer:
“The problems of keeping our children safe and tragedy-free and teenagers drinking will not be solved overnight. We have to start somewhere and we have to get everyone’s attention.” “Having an alcohol and drug-free event for our children and a few of their friends won’t have the impact that a large celebration like a Grad Night will have. Even graduates who don’t drink on other nights of the year seem to do so on graduation night. Alcohol is the drug of choice for most of our teens and it is readily available.”
“The event can be held anytime during the year, but it especially lends itself to graduation and is meant to involve every graduate eligible to attend regardless of age, sex, race, religion, ethnic background, and social, economic, academic, or athletic status.”
“This special celebration offers a positive educational experience to graduates who learn they can have a good time with their friends and classmates without using any alcohol or other drugs. Parents discover that their young adults will come to parties that are planned, implemented, and chaperoned by parents and that it can be a rewarding experience to help with Grad Night.”
“The professional substance abuse prevention community has indicated its surprise that parents are doing the planning and implementing. It considers parents to be a previously ‘untapped resource.’ But who cares more about teens than their parents?”
“The various law enforcement groups indicate they are pleased to have the parents involved and the kids off the streets on this particularly high-risk night. School administrators report they are pleased to have parents taking an active part, something many haven’t done since their children were in elementary school.”
“Slowly but surely, these celebrations are making a difference. The awareness level has been raised in the communities using the program. Other similar types of parties are being held during the year for and with the graduates.”
Press Releases
Press releases can be valuable in generating community support. By making the entire community aware of the purpose of Grad Night, along with the rules and activities, many individuals, businesses, and organizations will not only choose to become involved but may also try to influence graduates to attend.
The press releases should be double-spaced and printed on one side of plain white or letterhead paper. The releases should be simple and should include the name, address, and phone number of a person to contact for more information. The release should include who, what, when (date and time), where, why, and who is invited.
Sample Press Release
Contact: Chairperson
(School name) will hold an all-night alcohol/drug-free event immediately following their graduation on (date). This event is being organized by the parents of the senior class to provide an exciting, fun-filled, safe celebration. The Grad Night event will begin at (time) and end at (time). All (name of school) seniors are invited to attend. The ticket entrance fee will be (amount).
The theme of the GRAD NIGHT event will be “(theme)” and will feature (give a list of general activities, highlighting special ones). Food will include (give names of a few of the major kinds of food such as pizza, soda, submarine sandwiches, cookies, breakfast items, etc.) Door prizes will be drawn all night. The grand prize, a (name of prize), will be given away at the end of the event.
All attendees (graduates, adult volunteers, and vendors) must abide by a few simple rules:
No alcohol or other drug use is allowed.
Graduates must arrive by (time).
Graduates may leave anytime they wish but may not return.
Graduates must be present to win prizes.
Many businesses and community organizations have contributed to making this a truly memorable night for the graduates. Any businesses, organizations or individuals that would like to help in some way are invited to contact (name of person) at (phone number and/or address). The parents believe that if they prevent just one serious injury or death to a graduate they can call the event a success.
Promoting to Parents
Sample Promotional Letter to Parents
“…. Grad Night needs help. Although Grad Night is three months away, we need your commitment now to make this evening a success. What exactly do we need? These four things:
First – PLEASE do not plan another event after graduation. Everyone is invited to this one.
Second – Volunteers are needed for all committees. Don’t miss out on the fun and excitement of planning this big event. If you are willing to help, call (name and phone number). The committees are Entertainment, Construction, Decoration, Security, Clean Up, Tickets, Publicity, and Food.
Third – To be perfectly honest … we need money. There will be an admission fee charged, but as we want to make sure every eligible graduate can come, it will be minimal. The event is expensive, and we need “seed” money to get it off the ground. If you can donate, just drop it in an envelope and mail it to (name and address). Make check payable to (provide group name) Grad Night.
Finally – We need some good old enthusiasm and support. Talk positively to your graduate about the event and urge him/her to attend. Although this is a new idea at the school, these parties have been highly successful all over the United States.
Excerpt from a Follow-up Letter to Parents
“…. We all lead busy lives, which is one reason this is a wonderful opportunity to show your love for your child. By pooling our resources, we can give each Grad a FABULOUS event without having to spiff up our houses, prepare tons of food, and spend lots of money for individual parties. And, let’s be honest: kids would much prefer being with their friends than with Uncle John and Aunt Mary. So put Grandma to bed and join us as workers for the event. (We’re not chaperons; we’ll all be working, and your child probably won’t even see you amid all the activities.)”
“We’re all in the same boat. We’re all expecting houseguests for graduation. Our Committee chairpersons and their committees have worked many hours since October to make this event a success. If we all give a little time, we can make this a special event that will keep our Grads safe so they can enjoy future reunions.”
Entrance Tickets
Click here for ticket and poster ideas. You can also click here for a list of theme ideas.
Tickets Add Value to the Event
Add fun when tied in with the theme.
Might be obtained as a donation from a printer or graphic artist.
Can be a clever publicity stunt to get graduates to the event.
Coordinate plans with the Publicity Committee. Ensure the graduate identification verification and check-in method will move fast enough so the graduates will not have to wait in line a long time.
Ensure graduates are aware of the time, date, and places they can purchase tickets. Try to be at the campus at the same times and same days each week.
Establish a procedure to reimburse a senior who purchased a ticket but was not eligible to attend the event (such as a senior who did not graduate).
Ensure the tickets are colorful, durable, and not easily reproduced. This discourages Xerox duplication of the ticket.
List event guidelines on the back of the ticket. Place the entrance ticket, event schedule, map, and prize tickets inside the ticket envelope.
Keep a list of graduate names, addresses, telephone numbers, and ticket numbers. Bring this list every time you sell tickets. Also, bring this list to the Grad Night event to help confirm graduate identification and entry.
If tickets are sold, be aware that some graduates will wait until the last minute and want to purchase tickets the night of the event. Ensure you have adequate tickets and cash for ticket sales at the door. Many Grad Nights charge extra for tickets purchased at the door (for example: $ 40 advance tickets and $60 at the door).
Graduate Identification Verification
In many cases, large graduating class sizes make it impossible for parents to know every student personally. At these schools, the graduates are requested to bring a photo ID to verify their identity. If an ID is not available, the Grad Night confirms identity either by checking the photo in the school yearbook or calling the parents.
After verification of identity at the event entrance, many schools place a plastic wristband on each student. The wristband is designed so that it cannot be removed and reused on another person. The wristband allows an easy visual check during the night.
If extra ID pictures are desired, the school photographer might be willing to provide an extra copy of the pictures from the yearbook. These pictures can then be placed on I.D. bracelets or “passports.”
Theme Related Ticket and Passport Ideas
Click here for theme-related ticket/passport ideas.
Click here for sample ticket designs.
“When Crepe Paper and Tissue Aren’t Enough”
Large-scale construction involves transforming the local gym, (or your event area) into a faraway space or time. The creation of this fantasy involves installing temporary partition walls, special lighted entryways, tunnels with sound effects, and decorated props.
Getting Started
Coordinate construction work with the Decorations Chairperson.
Plan your design by strengthening what worked last year and dropping what didn’t.
Formulate a budget that can support your design. It’s great to be optimistic, however, it may be frustrating for fundraising efforts if your project costs more than the group can afford.
Organize and recruit volunteer parent help. Get the community involved.
The most important: Have fun!! Enjoying what you are doing will get you over those unpredictable hurdles. Do not underestimate the value of happy volunteer helpers.
Know your limitations. Learn to ask for help. Ensure you do not set your expectations too high. If the project is too big and burdensome, it will discourage volunteers who may not see an end in sight.
Ensure you have adequate construction and storage space to build, and pre-assemble.
Ensure you have adequate time and volunteers.
Don’t forget to schedule time for tear down and clean up after Grad Night.
Layout and Design
Put together a “storyboard” for your layout. Create a picture flow of traffic from the time the Graduates enter to the time they leave. Locate the event areas such as the game rooms, eating areas, entertainment, and rest areas. These areas define where you want your visual impacts to be. Coordinate with Committee Chairs to determine the amount of area, electrical power, and access leading to these areas. This will establish your “first” vision of the construction.
Safety It is mandatory that you incorporate safety into the construction process.
Have your layout reviewed by the local Fire Marshal for life safety.
Comply with all rules from the Fire Marshall (See the Fire Safety section).
Use only approved materials and electrical equipment.
Identify useable space and compare it against the requested required space from the Grad Night committees (such as Food, games, and entertainment). Avoid creating dead spaces.
Determine traffic layout paths; identify clearances locate obstructions and verify overhead clearances.
Locate physical barriers, such as stairs and ramps.
Identify permanent hindrances, such as lawn sprinklers, landscaping, or valve boxes.
Word to the Wise: A qualified electrical person should complete this task.
Electrical Power Design
Identify electrical power needs. Request each Grad Night committee to list their power requirements (such as games, lighting, coffee makers…).
Locate and identify sizes and sources of electrical power at the event site.
Layout the power and lighting circuits.
Prepare a contingency electrical power plan in the event the main power is lost.
How much to build?
This is a decision your committee must make based on budget, space, time, and volunteer help. There are several different options to construction:
Cover Everything: Create a total “theme” environment. Decorate and cover the entire Grad Night event area from floor to ceiling.
Cover Only Major Parts: Create a sense of illusion in major areas only. Concentrate decorations and construction in congested areas to create high impact.
Cover Only Special Areas: Limit construction to only special areas such as the entrance, eating area, and entertainment area.
Construction Basics
The basic construction unit is the flat panel. The panels typically consist of a backing frame and a front face. The panels can be constructed in various sizes and shapes, depending on what illusion you want to portray. The most common size is a 4’x8′ rectangle. The 4X8 size is a standard sheet size for construction materials (such as plywood, cardboard, and Styrofoam).
Panel Front
The panel front face can be covered with several materials:
Plywood: Use thin (1/8″ thick) Luan plywood sheets to get strength without excessive weight.
Cardboard: Lightweight but not very strong or rigid. Cardboard is inexpensive, easy to cut, and available in single or double thickness.
Styrofoam: Lightweight, strong, and rigid. Typically faced with a foil material. Styrofoam is moderately expensive.
Styrene: Lightweight but flakes when cut. Typically available in large thicknesses.
Foam core: Thin layer of Styrofoam with an outer layer of paper. Foam core is more durable than cardboard but just as light. Foam core can be very expensive.
Fiberglass Translucent Panels: Lightweight, strong, translucent (ideal for special lighting effects).
Fabrics, Canvas, House Vapor Barrier Paper: Lightweight. Needs to be stretched and glued or stapled to the support frame.
Panel Frame
Construct a lightweight outer frame with an additional brace down the middle (vertical or horizontal).
Wood: 2″x2″ or I”x3″‘ fir or pine strips are lightweight and strong. The wood face ensures easy attachment for the front panel face.
Plastic pipe: Lightweight and strong. The round edges of the pipe make attachment to the face panel difficult.
Metal Pipe: Heavier but very strong. Typically not worth the effort due to weight and problems attaching the face panel. Also, the metal frame can be a hazard near electrical power lines.
Panel Construction: Typical Lightweight Panel
Construct from standard 4×8 ft Luan plywood face panels and a 1X2 wood frame. Use 1/8-thick Luan plywood for the front face. The Luan plywood can be stapled, nailed, screwed, or glued to the support frame. Plywood panels will last longer than cardboard or other types of panels. Standard 4×8 panels allow for ease of installation, storage, and transportation.
Panel Assembly, “A House of Cards”
Standard flat panels can be connected at right angles to make a box or booth (like a house of cards). With a little imagination, the box can be made into a castle, western fort, large backdrop countryside, carnival, busy city street, or simply serve as a room divider. Much like a house of cards, the standard shape allows the panels to be built on top of each other. High backdrops can be constructed and still be lightweight.
Note: If using the panels outside, ensure you provide extra bracing for the wind. The taller the structure, the more area for the wind and the greater the force to blow it apart.
Backdrop Panel Tricks and Tips
Backdrop panels should be strong and rigid, but lightweight. Avoid building panels of heavy materials (such as 2X4 lumber and 1/2″ plywood (a panel should weigh about 3-5 lbs.). The backdrop panels are for decoration only.
Connect panels with either self-tapping screws, large electrical plastic tie-wraps, or 1/4″ bolts with wing nuts.
Fireproof any panels that are intended to be used indoors (See the Fire Safety section).
Grad Night Layout Models:
Converting ideas into real structures can be difficult. Scale models constructed from foam board (or similar) can help overcome the “visualization” problems. A scale model can help plan layouts with greater accuracy, ensure an accurate bill of materials, and make job construction easy.
Construction Details
Large “Stand Alone” Decorations:
Large “Stand Alone” Decorations are high-impact props that show your construction talents such as an Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, or Empire State Bldg (with King Kong).
Beware that large stand-alone decorations can be very time-consuming, and expensive, and may be never noticed by the Graduates.
Special Construction at the Entrance:
The entrance is the impression the graduates see of Grad Night. It should not be overlooked as a place to provide special emphasis on decorations and construction. Beware, however, that the graduates quickly pass through the entrance and it could be quickly forgotten. The entrance should have the right balance to entice the graduates in but not consume all the time and money to construct.
CAUTION: Your electrical system should be reviewed and installed by a qualified electrician. Electrical systems can be very dangerous!!
Electrical power is a critical component of a successful Grad Night. Most areas of the Grad Night event will require temporary lighting and/or electrical power. The limitation of available power might make it necessary to be creative with lighting design and technology.
Safety First:
When utilizing electrical power remember, “Safety is First.”
The temporary electrical system should be reviewed and installed only by a qualified electrician.
All electrical items should have a “UL” (or similar) electrical safety label.
Electrical systems should be inspected for damage such as cut cables or damaged plugs.
Electrical components should be protected from damage and installed so that people cannot come in accidental contact with the equipment. Do not install electrical equipment where exposed to damage.
Do not “daisy-chain” extension cords or plug-strips together. They will typically not be approved by the fire marshal.
When running extension cords, tape them down and protect them so they do not become trip hazards. When running a cord across an entrance or exit, run the cord up and over to prevent damage to the cord.
When using a strobe light, control it with a timer motion detector, or an on-off switch to minimize its operation. A strobe light can get hot.
Ensure you know the location of all power distribution safety shutoff circuit breakers and switches.
Consider providing (renting) an emergency power generator for backup power. You never know!
Electrical Power Sources
The following are possible sources of electric power:
Battery Powered: Batteries can provide low voltage, typically safe DC power for lighting, air circulation fans, and sound playing equipment.
Low Voltage AC Power: Low voltage power is typically either 10 or 24-volt AC electrical power (used in the home for doorbells, telephones, and control circuits for heating systems). The lower voltage is typically safer than the higher voltage 120-volt circuits.
120 Volt AC Power: Normal house electrical power is I15-Volt AC power. Standard power is distributed throughout the house for most electrical items such as lamps, tools, stereos, clocks, computers, televisions, microwaves, etc.). Either a 15 or a 20-amp circuit breaker protects the 115-volt AC receptacle outlets. The size of the circuit breaker is the limiting factor to the total number of electrical items you can plug into the circuit.
Higher Voltage AC Power: A Higher voltage (such as 240 and 440-volt AC power) might be available at the event site power panel, but they should not be used for Grad Night unless a qualified electrician is available for proper connection and setup. A qualified electrician must only install the higher voltage systems.
CAUTION: Temporary lighting systems should only be installed by a qualified electrician. The lighting system power supply must be properly sized to prevent overloading. Lighting systems may also generate excessive heat, which could burn people or start a fire.
Your Grad Night will probably use temporary lights for general lighting and special effects (such as black lights, strobe lights, rope lights, and flicker lights).
Lighting fixtures can be utilized to provide lighting in many different ways:
Inexpensive recessed lighting fixtures can be used to “hide” a lamp within wall panels. The fixtures come in insulated and uninsulated models to keep adjacent materials from getting too hot. Only the insulated fixtures should be used.
Lamps and fixtures come in 24 volts, and 120-volt units, allowing for a wide variety of lighting.
Construction Tools:
Tools vary depending on the type of construction. Typical construction tools include hammers, drills, circular saws, hand saws, screwdrivers, knives, tape measure, straight edge, level, and duct tape.
Construction Cost Considerations
Renting vs. building is a decision based on the cost of materials and manpower. Rental is expensive, but it is an alternative to building.
Save your materials and recycle your props from previous years. Don’t reinvent the wheel!
Use standard sizes and shapes (such as 4 X 8 ft panels) to minimize waste, improve storage and transportation, and maximize the use of the panels.
Minimize maintenance costs by using sturdy materials (such as plywood instead of cardboard) that can be used over and over with a minimum of repair and upkeep. Make an initial investment to save money in the future.
Break Down, Clean Up, and Storage
The Cleanup committee provides a fresh group of volunteers at the end of the event to clean up, dismantle, store, return items, and disburse leftover food following the event.
Anyone who has not been present at the end of a Grad Night event may be alarmed at what they see. Reassure the cleanup volunteers that the facilities are usually returned to their original state within several hours.
Persons who stayed all night should NOT be included on this committee as they will be exhausted.
If possible, try to have each committee break down their equipment as they have a better idea of how it can best be accomplished, what to save, etc.
Try to establish a good rapport with the event facility custodial staff before the event to ensure cooperation after the event.
Have each item premarked with a standard code by the committees using the items. Apply colored self-adhesive labels using a different color to designate what is to be saved, thrown away, returned to lenders, given away, and/or readied for pick-up by others.
Have available:
Large trash bags
Adjustable wrenches
Rubber bands for posters)
Storage boxes (for decorations)
Magic markers (for labeling)
Van or small truck
Plan on total clean-up time to include breakdown, removal, transportation, storage, and cleanup. Storage facilities should be arranged well in advance. The school may be able to provide space. If this is not a first-year event, be sure to determine how much new space will be needed. If necessary, arrange for storage space to be rented and find a way to pay for it.
Food clean-up should be done by a separate group of people. Coordinate the removal of salvageable food with the food chairperson. Foil, plastic bags, and grocery bags will be needed to transport leftover food.
In most cases, the event facility will provide a staff member to help sweep and mop or shampoo carpets.
Working With An Event Planner
An event planner can be an enormous benefit and can ultimately contribute to the success of the entire event. When a new committee is elected every year they need to remember the many elements that must come together on the big night: entertainment, food, location, security, décor, and overall making this grad night unforgettable. The task of coordinating all of these elements may seem daunting and the help of an event professional can be a cost-effective, one-stop shop option for the Grad Night committee to consider.
It’s important to find an event planner with years of experience in Grad Night. One of the first questions you should ask when talking to event planners is “Have you ever done a grad night?” and don’t hesitate to ask for references and sample proposals from previous successful events or for the current list of school names and contacts. Your planner should get a vision of what you expect and want your Grad Night to be. Remember event professionals come in different shapes and sizes. There are full-service event planners that will handle every detail of your event. Others will consult with the committee and will assist in only those areas where the committee needs help, while others only deal with two elements, for example, entertainment and catering.
Once you have narrowed your search down it is important to determine what projects can be done effectively by parents, and what elements are best left to a pro. Do you have a group of artistic volunteers who like building props and painting sets? Are there some parents who enjoy cooking and can bring and serve food all night long? Do you have some dads who are police officers and can provide security? If so, great! You can focus your budget elsewhere. If the answer to any of these questions is “NO“, then an event professional can help. When looking for an event professional, it is important to find one that specializes in the areas where your Grad Night needs help.
Venue: The majority of schools are now holding offsite events. When working with your planner to find a site, approach venues with an open mind. Look at what each venue can become with all the attractions, games, vendors, lighting, décor and attendees in place. Does the facility have the space needed to bring your vision to life and fit all the great things you want to have for the Grads? Look for not only the ascetic details but also the necessary things like restrooms, rest areas or quiet rooms, bus access and parking, sound restrictions, chaperone space, and food prep and service spaces. On or off campus all these details need to be provided to have a successful night.
Caterers: While snacks and drinks are relatively easy for the committee to provide, prepared foods, especially hot food for several hundred graduates is often beyond the capability of the parents.
A professional caterer has the facilities to prepare the necessary quantities of food and the right equipment to serve it safely at the proper temperatures.
The caterer can offer many creative suggestions for food stations, finger foods, and healthy options.
A caterer typically has resources for tables, chairs, linens, and thematic décor that will help to make the food area more interesting and inviting.
A caterer will clean everything up at the end of the night, further reducing the need for volunteer help in the early hours of the morning.
Entertainment: Another area where an event professional can be invaluable is entertainment. Grad night attendees need to be kept involved in activities all night long and a wide variety of entertainment is needed to satisfy the tastes of this diverse group of young adults. An event professional who specializes in entertainment can save a grad night committee weeks of research, and lots of paperwork and help the grad night stay within their budget.
A quality event professional has already done the research for you, auditioned the acts, and has seen most if not all of the acts in front of an audience to see if their material is appropriate for a grad night. The entertainment specialist is often an excellent resource to supplement activities that are provided at an “all-inclusive” venue.
The event professional should be able to provide a clear description of each act, including approximately how many grads will be entertained in a given period. This information is invaluable. An experienced performer, while appearing more expensive initially, may be able to cover more graduates in a shorter amount of time, thus saving the committee money for other activities or additional entertainment.
The event professional should also provide a listing of any performance requirements each act needs to do his or her job. Performance requirements can include power needs, tables and chairs, lighting, prize or giveaway needs, spatial requirements, and much more. Knowing performance requirements upfront will help the grad night prepare for the performances, saving the grad night from surprises and headaches the night of the event.
The experienced event professional can make helpful suggestions regarding the optimal placement of performers. This is important to avoid sound conflicts and other logistical challenges. This also assists in placing acts in areas where their performances will reach the largest number of attendees.
Insurance coverage has become an important issue for grad night committees. While some excellent individual acts may be great for a grad night, many individuals do not carry the required liability insurance due to the increasing costs of policies. An event professional often carries a policy to cover the acts they provide, particularly those who are not insured themselves. The grad night committee should check with the event professional to make sure they carry insurance and can provide any required additional insured certificates.
Ease in contracting is an important benefit when working with an event professional. The grad night can sign one contract and write two checks (a deposit and final payment), and all of their entertainment is taken care of. The event professional will handle the contracting and payment of each act, the scheduling, and the communication of any grad night requests or requirements to each performer. Remember a good event planner should save you money!
Producing a grad night is the culmination of many months of hard work and the seamless integration of many elements. After careful assessment of a Grad Night committee members’ skills, there will be areas where the committee can handle themselves and other elements where help may be needed. The use of an experienced event professional can be an invaluable resource to fill in the gaps and provide your grads with the memorable event they deserve. Just keep in mind, your grad night will reflect the planner you choose.