All-night party at Project Graduation
Collier County class of 2010 graduates
NAPLES — If a new high school graduate was at the YMCA of the Palms in Naples on Friday night and Saturday morning, their parents need not worry.
Their son or daughter was probably just riding a mechanical bull, pounding on a close friend with a jousting stick, downing his or her third Starbucks Frappuccino, shooting complete strangers with invisible laser beams or climbing a rock wall.
For 25 years “Project Graduation” has been offering a safe, fun and food-filled way for new graduates to party into the wee hours of the morning.
“It hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’m not in high school anymore,” said Jasmine Perryman, an 18-year-old Gulf Coast High School graduate whose birthday was Friday. “It kind of reminds me of how in ‘Grease,’ where they had the carnival for all the seniors, and this is kind of like that for us.”
The overnight celebration provides a drug- and alcohol-free event for graduates from 10 Collier County public and private high schools. Since its inception, there has never been an alcohol- or drug-related death involving high school seniors on graduation night in Collier County.
“I’m really glad (that they have “Project Graduation”) because it’s better than going to a party and drinking and getting in a car accident or something,” said Rolanda Tanis, 17-year-old Golden Gate High School graduate.
Sara Hardman, an 18-year-old Naples High School graduate, seconded Rolanda’s opinion about “Project Graduation.”
“All the kids are together, they can see their friends and there’s no drinking,” Hardman said. “The parents know their kids are safe.”
In addition, Hardman was glad to be done with high school and is ready to move on to a new chapter in her life at the University of North Florida this fall.
“It’s a big relief and a big weight off my shoulders,” she said. “I can wait to get out of here, meet new people and start my life over again.”
A group of concerned parents, educators, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, the Naples Police Department and the YMCA started “Project Graduation” in 1985. Event attendance has increased from 150 its initial year to roughly 1,000 this year.
“This is a great way to kick off the graduation festivities for the rest of the weekend,” said Meagan Flodeen, an 18-year-old Barron Collier High School graduate. “I like that you get to see all your friends that you just graduated with altogether.”
While jousting, Flodeen got whacked in the head with a jousting stick by her good friend, Kalei Rollins. “She beat me the first two times,” Kalei said of her decision to pummel Flodeen during their third jousting match.
About 250 adult volunteers and 38 Collier County Sheriff’s Office employees kept tabs on the graduates and helped make sure that the festivities ran like clockwork. The $20 “Project Graduation” tickets were sold at the schools leading up to June 4 to ensure that only graduating seniors attended the shindig.
The festivities kick off at 11 p.m., and the party winds down at 4 a.m. If a graduate wants to leave the event early, they have to call their parents to get consent. To give the graduates an incentive to stay until the very end, one graduate from each high school won the $1,000 grand prize during the “drawn at dawn” at around 3:45 a.m.
Other prizes included an iPod Nano, a dorm room refrigerator, laptop computers, printers, digital cameras and gas cards. Many of the roughly 300 prizes such as a toaster, cookware set, iron and handheld vacuum were geared toward survival away from home.
Many of the graduates took pictures in front of and touched a quickly melting ice sculpture that read “Class of 2010” stood in front of the all-you-can-eat buffet, which lasted until 3 a.m.
“This is my first time seeing an ice sculpture, so that’s pretty cool,” said Layla Asaad, a 17-year-old Lorenzo Walker High School graduate who stopped to take a picture in front of the sculpture.
The schools that participated in the event were Barron Collier High School, Community School of Naples, Everglades City School, First Baptist Academy, Golden Gate High School, Gulf Coast High School, Lely High School, Naples High School, Palmetto Ridge High School, Seacrest Country Day School, and St. John Neumann High School.
Several graduates such as Arielle Buchholz, who went to Barron Collier High School, loved the fact that there is one collective party for all the high schools in the county because otherwise they might not get the chance to celebrate with friends from other schools.
“When you have friends that go to different schools, you don’t really get to see them that much when there are different things going on for each school, so having everyone together at an event life this, you get to see everyone,” Buchholz said.
E-mail Sarah Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Barron Collier High School
- Community School of Naples
- Donahue Academy
- Eden Autism Services
- Estero High School
- Everglades City School
- First Baptist Academy
- Golden Gate High School
- Gulf Coast High School
- Immokalee High School
- Lely High School
- Lorenzo Walker Technical High School
- Naples High School
- Palmetto Ridge High School
- Seacrest County Day School
- South Fort Myers High School
- St. John Neumann High School
- Ave Maria School of Law
- Florida Gulf Coast University
- Hodges University
GRADUATES OF DISTINCTION:
- Barron Collier High School: John White
- Community School of Naples: Connor Timmins
- Donahue Academy: Michelle Williams
- Estero High School: Daniel Rosman
- Everglades City School: Kimberly Brown
- First Baptist Academy High School: Dorothea Bischof
- Golden Gate High School: Cindy Rivas
- Gulf Coast High School: Kaitlyn Weber Lang
- Immokalee High School: Joeseph Brueggen
- Lely High School: Sander Langerbeeke
- Lorenzo Walker High School: Lina Rivera
- Naples High School: Austin Gore
- Palmetto Ridge High School: Ory Bell
- Seacrest Country Day School: Brunes Charles
- South Fort Myers High School: Alexandra "Ali" Sanfilippo
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