Table of Contents


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 definitely 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 individual 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, cactus, 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 years' and this years' 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 on 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, 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 tape on walls, smoking areas, use of open flames (candles), plastic fire retardant materials, etc.
  • Submit an estimated budget to 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 decoration 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, 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 entry way 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 really 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 are 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. Prior to the party, request your Fire Department review your Grad Night plans for fire safety compliance.

It is imperative that Fire Safety 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 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, location of fire extinguishers, location of fire alarm call boxes, emergency lighting sources, main power switch, and general party areas and decorations.
  • Designated smoking areas shall be clearly identified (if they are allowed).
  • Open flame devices (such as candles) are prohibited inside of buildings.
  • Decorations used inside of 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, 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 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 prior to 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 Marshall.
  • 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 "flame proofed." There are several ways to "flameproof" decorations:

  1. Purchase items that were commercially manufactured with fire retardant materials. Save all labels for the Fire Marshal to check.
  2. 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 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.