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Just as April showers bring May flowers, the toils faced throughout our educational journeys aren’t without benefit—the first and foremost being graduation and of course, the celebration that inevitably follows. When the caps and tassels drop back to the ground, excitement swells as the new graduates gather for some sort of celebration, and through the years, their parents and teachers have tried to ensure a safe and fun graduation night. One Arkansas community, however, has come together for their graduating seniors to provide One. Epic. Night.
Beebe High School hosts Project Graduation, the school’s annual post-graduation celebration. This tradition began in 1999 when Beebe High School Librarian Mackye Sandlin felt that her daughter’s graduation felt a bit “anti-climactic”; therefore, she decided to bring a new tradition to the community which she’d observed at a relative’s school in Kentucky. Since then, Project Graduation has flourished.
“I think our first year, we spent about $5000 on the event,” says high school counselor, Carla Choate. Yet, this year, according to Project Graduation’s lead parent, Rhonda McNeill, the celebration cost well over 20 grand! “It’s really all about the students being safe and having a good time,” she told me. Still, Project Graduation (PG) is quite an undertaking and relies on the involvement and support of the entire community. Throughout the school year, citizens of Beebe show their support by attending various fundraising events such as the PG haunted house, the Waterfowl Fest, and Beebe’s own Dancing with the Stars, to name a few.
But what is Project Graduation?—I’m so glad you asked. Project Graduation begins at 11:00p.m. graduation night and lasts until 5:30a.m.—the peak hours for recent graduates to get into trouble on the roadways on graduation night. Since student safety is such a big concern for PG parents and volunteers, all attending students must sign a form pledging not to use any drugs or alcohol on the night of graduation. This signed form is their ticket into the event. In addition, students are allowed to arrive (or leave campus) at any point during the night; however, should they leave PG, they are not allowed re-admittance.
While safety is important to the many parents and volunteers who contribute to Project Graduation, fun is too! Once inside, students will find their high school cafeteria transformed into an adult-sized playground complete with inflatables, obstacle courses and FOOD! Students can be found coloring, playing card games, doing puzzles, and playing Ping-Pong up and down the halls. On one end of the hall, there was a photo booth for students to pose with their friends and access to boxes of accessories and props to utilize. On the other end of the hall, students were invited to participate in Wii tournaments, Karaoke and Minute-to-Win-It games, which I, personally, found the most entertaining. In one game, for instance, students would try to knock over bottles of water by swinging a tennis ball around in a pair of pantyhose that they wore on their heads.
In all of these games, students have the opportunity to win points in the form of paper money which they use at the end of the night to purchase prizes. However, these students began accumulating points long before graduation night. Because of the cost of such a production, volunteers are needed to help fundraise, and these fundraisers give the students a chance to rack up their points throughout the year—which I’m sure those less-competitive types, like myself, often appreciate. At the end of the night, all of the students’ points are tallied and ranked from greatest to least. Students with the most points are the first to select their prize from the pile, and students take turns doing so until all the prizes have been claimed, giving them each the opportunity to go home with at least one prize. And the prizes are awesome! Prizes consist of everything from laundry baskets filled with towels for college dorm rooms to IPads to PS4s to gift cards to 40” flat screen televisions and much, much more.
If the prizes alone don’t give students the incentive to come and participate in the festivities, time with their classmates should. Since Project Graduation takes place after graduation, this is literally the last time many of these recent graduates will see one another. PG is a great opportunity for these students to spend one last night together, to reminisce and to celebrate their latest achievements.
Beebe High School and its team of parents and volunteers have built a wonderful and lasting tradition. Project Graduation is a great opportunity for student’s to have a fun and safe graduation celebration and win some amazing prizes that will aid them in their future endeavors in the process. If anything, this community has come together and given these student a great gift, a gift that I never had: the chance to walk the halls of their high school with their friends one last time.
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