An Island Graduation

Party-Planning Blues: It’s Graduation Time on the Island
(This column was written in June of 2003 – my first experience with being the parent of a Beaver Island Community School Graduate).

You might think planning a high school graduation party on Beaver Island would be a simple matter. Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth! First of all, we parents of this year’s grads had to deal with the staggering number of them – eleven in all, one of the largest classes ever! Perhaps you’re thinking, “Just eleven? That’s not so many. Our high school has hundreds of graduates each year.”

Ah, yes, that’s true. But you must understand that by tradition, island graduations require the plotting and planning of a major celebration. We’re not talking just cake and punch here. We’re talking about parties that fall somewhere between a coronation and the installation of a new pope.

We parents did grapple with the novel idea of holding one, gigantic community party. But small groups or individual parties seem to be the order of the day. You quickly learn to pick your battles on the island and the concept of a single party was too revolutionary and not worth the fight.

There is always one afternoon set aside for all the parents and graduates to get together for a lengthy session to update the island’s mailing list and address the invitations to the ceremony. A snatch of a conversation at that gathering will give you an inkling of the intricacies involved in attempting not to offend a single person in this small, close-knit community. God forbid anyone should have the horrifying experience of not receiving the formal invitation.

 “I’d like to send out an invite to this gentleman,” said one mother, pointing at a name in the massive, 15-page phone book.
 “Well, that would be quite a trick,” snapped another parent. “He’s been dead for two years!”
Suffice to say that after a vote was taken, the deceased individual’s name was removed from the mailing list. Then an assembly line was formed to insert name cards for each grad, their senior photos, and invitations to each of the separate parties. Sometime a map was also included if the house was somewhere in the hinterlands of the island.

The resulting bulging initiations resembled one of those sweepstakes packets you get from Publishers Clearing House. In any event, after only about seven grueling hours, the invites were ready for mailing. We could now turn our attention to the details of planning the individual events.

Timing your party is critical. Careful coordination in this realm allows the festivities to start immediately after the 1:00 p.m. ceremony and continue the feasting until about 9:00 p.m. that evening. The island party-goers basically caravan from one event to the next, overlapping their attendance at the each party. It’s funny how often your end up at a table filled with the very same people throughout the entire day. Conversations you started at party #3 or #4 can be continued in depth at party #7 or #8. Continuity is important.

Menus are important, too. Rumors of shrimp or rib roasts can lure coveted guests to your event, ensuring that all the ham and potato salad actually served will be consumed so your family is not relegated to eating the left-overs for the next three months.

Gordon’s Foods really ought to contribute a swimming pool or some other major facility to the island, for their convenient party snacks are consumed in great quantities at our graduation parties. Islanders have spent mucho bucks at their establishment in Petoskey. Food for thought, Gordon’s.

Locations for the events are usually at the home of the grad, but occasionally another spot is selected. Thankfully, I was part of a small group who decided to go together on a party. We three mothers made a quick and rational decision that none of us wanted to clean our homes in preparation, so we chose the pavilion out on Donegal Bay. It has a beautiful view of the lake, a volleyball court for the kids to enjoy, screens to keep out the bugs, and best of all a cement floor that can be hosed down after the last celery stick has been consumed. Martha Stewart be damned!

I must run now as I’ve 400 deviled eggs to prepare. Hope to see you all on Graduation Day. Don’t wait for that party proclamation to arrive in the mail, consider yourself invited. We’ve got some potato salad waiting with your name on it!