Project Grad­u­a­tion now in the hands of school sys­tem

An­nual event gives high school grads a sub­stance-free cel­e­bra­tion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @JamieACIndyNews

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

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.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

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.

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