Under the leadership of teacher Mary Bea Kingwill, Weehawken High School was the first Hudson County school to offer a Project Graduation outlet for its graduates. Now, 17 years later, the event is a staple of the high school graduation activities.
Last Monday night, the Weehawken Class of 2007 put aside its pomp and circumstance, its balloons and confetti, its caps and gowns and headed to the Canavan Arena on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology for one last bash.
Project Graduation was sponsored once again by the Weehawken Against Drugs and Alcohol alliance. For Kingwill, planning such an event takes months.
"You have to start with securing the venue," Kingwill said. "Over the last few years, we've been fortunate to have Stevens. It's close and you simply can't do any better. It's a great facility with a fabulous setting. But there are others who also want to use it, so you have to be able to get the right day."
Of course, graduation day is never etched in stone, because of school cancellations during the winter. However, there were very few snow days this scholastic year, so the graduation night fell on a Monday - perfect for scheduling.
"No one else was there," Kingwill said. "We had the run of the place."
Now, with an agreement signed last week, Weehawken High students will have Project Graduation at Stevens guaranteed for the next five years.
"We're very happy about that," Kingwill said.
Food, fun, and dancing!
Next, was getting the entertainment. Once again, the Party Kings, who specialize in events such as this, took control of the entire evening, which began at 10 p.m. with a semi-formal dinner dance and carried through the wee hours of the morning until sunrise, with games, sports and other fun activities.
"I'm always happy with Party Kings," Kingwill said. "They do a wonderful job."
There was a ton of catered foods and so much left over that the students donated the leftovers to the Hoboken Food Pantry.
Another bonus was the appearance of Carts International, which ended the evening with a hot dog cart, a popcorn and pretzel cart and an ice cream cart, to supply treats to the graduates.
"Everything went off without a glitch," Kingwill said. "We've been doing this for 17 years now, so we must be doing something right."
Kingwill also had baseball jerseys made for each student, complete with the Weehawken High School logo on the front and the numeral "07" on the back.
The activities were endless. There was music galore and dancing. The students even made their own music videos.
"That was the highlight," said graduate Lucy Phillips. "Everyone making those stupid music videos. They were so funny and so much fun."
Class salutatorian Ashka Gami liked the tarot card readings.
"They became pretty interesting," Gami said. "I was surprised. I also liked making the music videos and making photo key chains. We kept busy all night."
The Weehawken grads had the full use of the Canavan athletic arena, so there was basketball, volleyball and other athletic contests going on. The grads also hit the pool for some late-night aquatics.
"It was more fun than I expected," Gami said. "It was pretty exhausting with everything that was going on." When the sun was coming up, the grads got together for one last photo with the Manhattan skyline behind them. They also produced a memorable music video with clips and highlights of the night.
Worth every penny
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner was pleased once again to help sponsor the event, which cost approximately $8,000.
"We were able to save about $10,000 because we have Stevens as a locale," Turner said. "We were one of the first in the state and definitely the first in Hudson County to offer Project Graduation and it's still a great event after 17 years. There are always reminders of how dangerous graduation night can be. This is a safe, clean, healthy environment and the kids are all together for one last time. When you're able to give them a great graduation night and everyone comes home safe and sound, it's worth every penny."
"It was a blast," said Phillips, who will head to the College of St. Elizabeth in the fall, majoring in special education. "We all got to hang out together as a class for one last time in a safe, fun environment. At the end of the night, I think we were all exhausted. I loved it. There were a lot of tears as well."
"I think it's a great idea," Gami said. "It really is the last time we're all together. It was thought provoking, yet exhausting."
After all this time, Kingwill still has a blast, just like the kids.
"I love it," Kingwill said. "Just watching how much the kids enjoy it makes me happy. It's so much fun to see."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com