Project Graduation now in the hands of school system
Annual event gives high school grads a substance-free celebration
For more than 30 years, John Hayden and the nonprofit Charles County Citizens for Substance Free Youth Inc. have been working to provide Charles County graduates with a fun, safe envi- ronment to celebrate after graduation. Now Hayden is passing control of Project Graduation to Charles County Public Schools.
“It felt like I was giving up one of my children,” Hayden said at a kickoff fundraiser for the event, held Tuesday at the Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building in La Plata. “I’m going to miss it dearly.”
Hayden said that after 31 years, it was time for him to retire, and so he was passing control over to the school system.
“Thank heaven they were there to pick it up,” Hayden said. “That was the last thing that made me OK with giving up Project Graduation, was knowing that the program wasn’t going to die.”
Started in 1986, Project Graduation provides a safe, alcohol- and drugfree celebration for high school graduates. Hosted by the College of Southern Maryland, the event features free food and beverages, door prizes, gifts and souvenirs. Every senior receives a free beach towel designed by their senior class. Free activities include music provided by a DJ, airbrush tattoos, bull riding, arcade games, foosball and skeeball. Complimentary photos are taken for all seniors, and the indoor pool and locker rooms are open to all.
Approximately 1,000 graduating seniors and 700 guests attended Project Graduation last year, said Jennifer Conte, coor- dinator of student inter- vention programs.
Cassandra Vaughn, an instructional assistant at C. Paul Barnhart Elemen- tary, is a 2012 graduate of the school system who attended Project Gradua- tion five years ago.
“I was amazed by the amount of activities and prizes that were offered,” Vaughn said. “I believe Project Graduation is an important and special gift that students are giv- en. It’s something people look forward to, and it’s just good clean fun.”
All of that takes money, however. Hayden said it cost approximately $50,000 last year to put on. The program is supported by the school system, the Charles County Board of Commissioners, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, Greater Wal- dorf Jaycees, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club of Charles County, CSM, the Amer- ican Legion and other organizations and individuals.
“If it weren’t for the financial aspect of this, it never would have happened,” Hayden said. “It just shows you that the whole community is involved in this project.”
The event takes place over the three nights graduations are held — this year, June 1-3, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
“It’s a great place for young people to celebrate in a drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free environment,” said Bill Comey, vice president of student and instructional support services for CSM.
Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry (D) said that in the 31 years of the program, no Charles County graduating senior has died in a vehicular accident. The sheriff’s office provides security for the event.
School Superintendent Kimberly Hill said Project Graduation is a huge event for students that has become a tradition.
“Graduation for our seniors is a milestone that we want to make sure that they celebrate while they’re walking across that stage, but that we also want to make sure that they celebrate safely that evening,” Hill said.
Charles County Board of County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy presents a citation to John Hayden, chairman of Charles County Citizens for a Substance Free Youth Inc., for his 31 years of dedication in putting on the annual Project Graduation substance-free celebration.
John Hayden, chairman of the Charles County Citizens for a Substance Free Youth, second from left, presents a facsimile check in the amount of $1,644.47 to La Plata High School Senior Class President Tyler Dixon, Student Government Association President Ailani Mae Bautista and SGA Treasurer Justin Cortez, to benefit the 2017 Project Graduation event.