Sparta seniors have after-graduation party alternative

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:12

    SPARTA - After all the diplomas are handed out and all the congratulations are passed on, Sparta High School graduates will turn in their caps and gowns, say goodbye to their parents and head for the biggest senior party ever. And just as they have for the past 17 years, a small dedicated group of parents will see to it that high school graduation - and the partying afterward - is a safe event. Since 1988, Project Graduation has been successfully providing a safe, fun environment for seniors to celebrate the end of their Sparta High School years. This year will be no different. Almost 90 percent of the Class of 2004 will board a bus right after the graduation ceremony and spend the next 12 hours at an all-night party of food, swimming, games and prizes. "What more could these kids ask for? It's continuous eating and playing," said Carol Wolters, a longtime Project Graduation volunteer. Project Graduation was started by a small group of parents who for years watched as new high school graduates spent the night after graduation going to parties that were sometimes not supervised and where alcohol was served. One, large party in which all graduates were invited and supervised seemed to be the answer. Project Graduation became the contained, alcohol-free, substance-free event that was worry-free for parents. "It eliminated all these little cliquey parties and it provided a safe, alcohol-free party for all the kids," said Sue Clarke, one of the original group of four women who hosted the first Project Graduation in Sparta in 1988. That year, graduates paid $5 to get in and the senior class helped to raise additional money by putting on car washes and other fundraisers. Over the years, the project has gotten bigger and better. This year parents of seniors were asked to each pay $50, which is about two-thirds of what it costs to put on the event. The rest is donated by local businesses and raised by the Project Graduation committee and the Sparta High School Parent Student Teacher Organization throughout the year. "The town has always been very supportive," Clarke said. This year's Project Graduation will be at the Hilton Parsippany. The 260-some members of the Class of 2004 will spend the night swimming, playing basketball, volleyball and tennis and using play money at a "casino." There will be karaoke, where students can make their own tapes to take home, a caricaturist, inflatables, a tarot card reader, a massage therapist, and a hypnotist. The students will leave with a handful of giveaways, including t-shirts and door prizes. "The kids are great," said Clarke. "They're in a celebratory mood and they're very sentimental. For some of these kids, this is the last time they'll see some of these people." Finding volunteers especially all-night chaperones is a unique problem, said Lorie Laws, one of the event's organizers, because the graduates' parents are given the night off. Adults who don't have children graduating are asked to chaperone. "I still do it because I'm one of the few people who can stay up all night," joked Wolters, whose youngest child has been out of high school since 1996, but who still works for the event every year. "I just love seeing the kids. They're great." About 25 parents are needed to stay through the night to supervise, Laws said. Many parents of underclassmen volunteer, knowing that others will take over when their children are seniors. "For the most part, it's a matter of finding committed people," said Laws. "People are working to help out where they see the need," whether their own children are involved or not. "Hopefully we can continue to get that kind of response," she said. The committee is still looking for chaperones this year, as well as volunteers to handle some of the pre-party set-up. Giving up a few hours whether it's to take a carload of supplies to Parsippany or to stuff envelopes is a big help to the small committee, she said. "We really need people to step up and become more involved, to eventually take over," said Laws, who added that many of the current committee members have children long out of school.