Will Project Graduation Celebration be changing venues?
By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor
July 21, 2008 - Each year, high school seniors look forward to attending Graduation Celebration, an over-night lock-in designed to reward Sulphur Springs graduates for 12 years of hard work and give them one last chance to hang out together in a drug-free, alcohol-free environment after commencement ceremonies.
Traditionally, the event has been held inside the gym, cafeteria and entry hall at Sulphur Springs High School, which the seniors' parents and class sponsors transform into a fun, themed atmosphere which some say rivals even really good school prom decorations.
This year, however, the annual graduation party may not be held at the high school. In fact, it may not be held anywhere in the county. Senior class sponsor Evelyn Kattes, who pushed for the annual celebration 12 years ago, is proposing that the event be updated to a more lively venue. She pitched the idea of moving Graduation Celebration to Main Event in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
"We're trying to find a way that it's not as much work for parents, and so they can spend time with their families, who have come in for graduation," Kattes said, noting that the current school schedule could seriously limit the amount of time parents have to get things set up prior to the celebration.
Kattes, Cindy Welch (SSHS band clerical aide and class sponsor) and several parents spoke to school trustees during the regular July school board meeting about the possible change, to see if the board was OK with the suggestion.
"We're not asking for this as the only thing, just if it's OK so we can weigh the two, the traditional way and this one," Welch stated.
She explained that in past years, the schedule included a work day on Friday. This allowed parents to work all day on Friday to prepare the school for Graduation Celebration. With the upcoming extended flex year schedule, graduation will be held 2 weeks prior to the official end of the school year. That means with classes still in session, access to the celebration areas would likely be limited, depending whether graduation falls on a Friday or Saturday.
If on a Friday, parents would have to wait until after classes are dismissed or at least until after lunch that day to begin getting things set up, and rush back immediately after graduation. Not only would that put a rush on any preparation, it also continues to take parents away away from any family members who might have traveled from out-of-town to attend the graduation as well as the graduates themselves, Kattes and Welch noted.
If graduation is to be held on Saturday, parents would have after school Friday and all day Saturday to prepare. That would help a lot. However, graduates' parents still will have to be away from their families.
The senior sponsors proposed moving graduation celebration to Main Event. Parents would be able to attend Graduation Celebration with their graduates if they pay the entry fee. Not only does that free them up to be with their families, Main Event would also furnish all food and provide tons of additional activities to keep the party going, whereas things tend to begin lagging after about 3 a.m. at the high school.
Following graduation, an ice cream social for graduates and their parents would be offered in the high school foyer from about 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. until about 1:30 a.m., giving plenty of time for those present to talk, and hang out together one last time. Kattes also proposed getting the yearbook inserts to seniors early so they can utilize the social to get signatures, etc. Everyone would then board chartered buses, and head to the DFW entertainment station around 1:30 a.m.
Kattes indicated a $1,000 deposit must be put down very soon to ensure the center is available, as a handful of metroplex area schools also reserve such facilities for graduation activities. In the event parents and students, who would be surveyed in early fall, vote against having Graduation Celebration at Main Event, at least a portion of the funding could be refunded provided notice is made within the specified time period.
The facility would house only those making the journey from Sulphur Springs and Main Event staff. No one else will be allowed in the facility, nor can those attending leave except on the charter buses. The Sulphur Springs graduates would arrive around 2:30 a.m. and leave at 6:30 a.m., according to Kattes.
In addition to cutting down on preparation and clean up times, moving the celebration to Main Event would provide many other activities to keep the festivities going. It houses 34 bowling lanes, a two-story laser tag station which can accommodate up to 30 people at a time, a huge arcade with includes virtual games as well as traditional video games, 13 pool tables, chaoke, a food and rest area, and "a huge movie set up."
"We'll be the only ones there. No extras will be allowed in and no extras out," Kattes said. "There's something for every student."
The senior sponsors said they pitched the idea to parents during the last senior parent meeting a few weeks ago.
"The majority of parents were OK with it. A few were unsure," Kattes said.
Parent Butch Burney said he and wife Karen are "intrigued with the option and interested in looking at it some more," but noted that "whichever way it goes, we'll make the best of it" for the graduates.
Parent Elaine Rutherford expressed concern that because graduation falls on Memorial Day weekend some graduates might not attend if it means traveling that far off, and will opt for more freedom. She's concerned some senior celebrants will end up at other local parties in environments that aren't drug- and alcohol-free. The students would have to give up their "freedom" to leave and be disappointed in the tradition of it not being at SSHS, she told the school board and senior sponsors.
"The tradition is the celebration, not where it's at. We'll have to do extra fundraisers. We want to do something great for them. We come to you tonight because we want to make sure we have your blessings," Kattes said to school trustees.
Concern was also expressed by parent Jill Jackson for the five buses being on the roads at those early morning hours on the holiday weekend.
"I care enough to go to the trouble. I ask you to trust me," Kattes said to parents and board members.
"I'm not sure, but I don't think that in the history of Graduation Celebration approval was needed by the board. The sponsors do it with the help of parents," Bolton said of Kattes and Welch's presentation and request that the board consider giving them the nod to continue exploring the idea of having the celebration at Main Event.
One board member asked it there's time for another parent meeting to answer questions and provide more information about Main Event, then take a parent poll before a deposit is put down.
"Yes, but I plan to put the deposit down. If not now, we'll lose it," Kattes explained, adding that the idea isn't set in stone. Parents and sponsors will discuss it again and the seniors will likely be asked to vote on the idea in September or October.
Holding the graduation celebration at Main Event would eliminate the need to purchase and prepare food, decorations and other similar preparations and fees associated with holding the celebration at the high school.
Having it at Main Event would include the cost of charter buses, the deposit and a cost per person attending. According to estimates, having the celebration at Main Event would cost $9,000 to $10,000. The class currently has $5,000 in their account from previous fund-raisers, and class sponsors feel confident the rest needed can be raised. As is tradition, students would still be given a basket of goodies to take home. A drawing for prizes would also be held, with the winners announced at Main Event and donated gifts handed to grads after they return to the high school.