Dressed in red caps and gowns, the Weehawken High senior class of 2009 walked out the front doors of their school with huge smiles on their faces after getting their diplomas on June 19. Then, it was on to their all-night party called “Project Graduation.”
The project was meant to keep the recent graduates safe by allowing them to party all night at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, and to discourage them from going out and drinking and driving.
“It’s a memorable evening for the students. They really enjoy it.” – Lisa Rovito
It all started when Dr. Peter Olivieri, principal at Weehawken High, heard about the project happening in some communities outside of New Jersey. Dr. Olivieri and a former teacher at the school approached the mayor and council about the idea to keep kids safe during graduation night.
The cost for the event averages around $15,000, according to Olivieri. Though usually paid for by the Weehawken Municipal Alliance for Drug and Alcohol, this year the budget was cut. The township of Weehawken stepped in to help out with the cost.
And due to an agreement with Stevens, there is no cost for use of the location for the party.
“We plan to continue ‘Project Graduation’, but what we may do is get a different group for entertainment or different activities,” said Dr. Olivieri.
Amenities of the event
The party began at 10 p.m. and ended at 5 a.m. School busses picked up the students at Weehawken High School and took them to Stevens. This year 75 students attended the party.
Features included food, beverages, a live DJ, dance floor space, a great view overlooking the Hudson, a pool party at 3 a.m., caricature drawings, ice cream, and tarot card readings.
“We have basketball, volleyball, a scavenger hunt, they make their own videos, they make key chains with their photos,” said Rovito, “At 4 a.m. students receive a continental breakfast.”
Students love ‘Project Graduation’
Kathleen Campanella, health and physical education teacher at Weehawken High, has volunteered for the event every year since the beginning.
“[Students] are very appreciative of ‘Project Graduation,’ ” she said. “They know it’s a fun time all night.”
She added: “The best part is that this is probably the last time that they will see their friends all together.”
In the morning, at the end of the party, the students took a picture together as the sun was rising in the background.
When asked what the best thing was about “Project Graduation,” Viviana Zapata, a recent graduate said, “the pool!”
Cristina Abud said: “It keeps students out of trouble in the streets.”
Cristy Abud, twin sister of Cristina and another recent graduate, added, “and also that we’re all hanging out together for the last time, as a group.”
Parting words by students and parents
Diane Nasti, a teacher at Webster school, celebrated with her son, Andrew, who graduated that evening. “I’m very happy, very proud,” she said.
Andrew Nasti said, sounding relieved, “I feel free now, no more burdens, and no more school work.”
“I think I’ll be fine,” he said of the transition from high school to college. “I know how to balance my time and school work.”
“I want to be a model but I’m going to college for a back-up plan,” Nataly Mendoza said.
“I wish her the best, that she has a bright future,” Mendoza’s mom, Hilda Marrero, said, “and that anything that she wants from life, if she determines herself to it, I know she can achieve it.”
Melissa Rappaport may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org