By Ammie Bryant, Editor
Sometime in the 1980s and early 1990s, a movement began spreading across the country to provide safe alternatives for kids to celebrate Graduation together. These events began in the wake of tragedy. During a period of six weeks at the end of the school year in 1979, seven of twelve teenager deaths occurred as the result of driving under the influence of alcohol in the area of Oxford Hills in Maine. In response, a school-community coalition developed a program to provide a chemical-free graduation celebration the following year. As a result, there were no fatalities, no alcohol or drug-related injuries, and no arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol in the Oxford Hills area. The success of Maine’s first “Project Graduation” inspired many other high schools and communities to adopt similar programs. By 1986, Project Graduation activities were held in all fifty states.
For more than twenty-five years, Stillwater has hosted its own Project Graduation in an effort to provide a chemical-free, fun event for SHS graduates. We visited with Project Graduation volunteer and long-time Stillwater resident, Susan Dermer to learn more about the event.
SLM: What is Project Graduation?
Dermer: For us in Stillwater, we provide an organized, adult-supervised and alcohol-free post-graduation party featuring multiple activities, including rock wall climbing, karaoke, casino-style games, bingo, volleyball, basketball, caricaturists, inflatables and a photo booth. We are grateful to the Colvin Center for allowing us to hold it in their facility at little cost (we have to rent tables, insurance). Project Graduation starts at 11pm to 3am.
SLM: What is the goal or purpose of Project Graduation?
Dermer: We want to offer our Graduates a safe fun-filled evening at no costs. We provide, through the generosity of our community’s local businesses and citizens, food, drinks, activities and prizes and scholarships throughout the evening. We want our kids to be able to have one last hurrah with their class and we strive to make it a special night.
SLM: Who can attend?
Dermer: All Stillwater SHS and Lincoln Academy 2019 Graduates and their parents. We also have Junior and Sophomore parents help out so the Graduates’ parents can enjoy the evening. The Junior and Sophomore parents also set up while the Seniors’ parents enjoy the commencement. This way Junior and Sophomore parents will learn the ropes for their childʻs graduation. No underclassmen are allowed to attend. I would love it if teachers would want to come by for a while. I think it would be a hit to see them playing basketball with the kids or dealing cards or just hanging out.
SLM: How long has Stillwater been holding the event?
Dermer: This is the 26th year that Project Graduation has been held in Stillwater at the Colvin Center. My husband, Rick, put a feeler out on the facebook group “Remember Stillwater When” and John Deveny responded with this…”My wife Elvi Deveny together with Joan Wittwer and Linda Allen stated this Project in 1993 and continued doing [it] for several years.”
However, I have heard there may have been one the year before at the fairgrounds. So some say 26 and some say 27 years.
SLM: Who puts the event together?
Dermer: It takes a village. We get help from Stilllwater PTA, SHS Principal Uwe Gordon, some of the faculty of Stillwater High School, and OSU. But primarily, some Seniors’ moms get the ball rolling by organizing monthly meetings. Our president Laura Jones Clark and her right hand, Treasurer Tracy Davis OʻConnell, besides making sure everything is done by the timetable set, they also get the word out to get volunteers involved, delegate assignments, and they have several hardworking volunteers that follow through on their committees. One committee is led by Donation Chairs Carl and Dawn Driskill. They have been chairing this committee since 2016 and are chairing this year even though their last child graduated 2018. We have a lot of passionate people who realize what a wonderful opportunity this is and memory this will make for our kids.
SLM: How can the community get involved?
Dermer: People can follow us on facebook at @StillwaterProjectGraduation and twitter at @19_project to find out about various fundraiser nights at local restaurants. They can volunteer time. Soon we will have a signupgenius created so volunteers can see what stations need help, ie. card dealers, ticket givers … We also can use donations in monetary form, gift cards, small or large prizes. Last year we were able to give out 20 $500.00 scholarships. Check and gift certificates can be mailed to:
Project Graduation 2019, c/o Dawn Driskill, 2824 N. Lincoln St., Stillwater, OK 74075
We can pick up donations as well, Call Dawn Driskill at (405) 612-4905 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to join us at The Hideaway on Monday April 22 from 5 to 10pm. Ten percent of sales of all carry-out and Eat in sales will benefit to Project Graduation.