Reflecting on Graduation

April 27, 2017

As we approach the end of the school year a multitude of activities are planned to celebrate the Westlake High School's Graduating Class - awards night, extra-curricular banquets, baccalaureate and gatherings with family and friends just to name a few. We will celebrate their success and cheer them on as they prepare to continue on to the next phase of their life as young adults. Our seniors and their families are eagerly anticipating the culmination of these events at the graduation ceremony at the Frank Erwin Center.


Unfortunately, across the nation, graduation night is historically one of the most dangerous driving nights of the year for high school students. In 1979, the community of Oxford Hills, Maine experienced seven alcohol and drug-related teen deaths during the commencement season. The following year, the community rallied together to offer that year’s seniors an alternative to traditional graduation night activities, and drew hundreds of people to the local fair grounds. They called this chemical-free party, Project Graduation. The event was a huge success and has since been recognized as a prototype for the nation, helping to protect the lives of graduating seniors in all states.


The primary goals of Project Graduation activities are to increase awareness of the dangers of substance abuse and driving, and to reduce the number of youth involved in alcohol and other drug-related highway crashes. Across the country, Project Graduation and the chemical-free celebrations it inspired are the new tradition for graduating seniors. In Perspectives in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Project Graduation – Maine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention observed that “Project Graduation has become much more than an event that occurs on graduation night. It is a community wide planning process that strives to create a caring, supportive and more open communication between youths and adults.”


At Westlake High School, Project Graduation is an all night lock-in party where seniors can have a fun, safe alcohol and drug-free celebration on graduation night. Westlake is one of the few area high schools to hold this event on campus, allowing graduates the opportunity to roam the decorated halls of their alma mater one last time with their friends. Immediately following the graduation ceremony, seniors will be taken by bus to Westlake High School where they will enjoy games, food, entertainment and activities with their classmates into the early morning hours. What makes Project Graduation unique is the attitude of the students. They have made a conscious decision to enjoy graduation night without alcohol or drugs. The vast majority of Westlake seniors take part in this event, and it is truly the last opportunity they will have to be together as a group. This event helps to ensure that these final memories of their high school lives are not marred by an avoidable tragedy.


The Project Graduation event is organized by parents and funded through generous donations from parents, community members and local businesses. This year there are more than 650 seniors graduating from Westlake High School. Putting on an event of that size requires months of planning, hundreds of volunteers, and financial donations from our entire community. There are more than 50 Westlake parents on the Project Graduation committee and 500 parent volunteers for graduation night. Many of these parent volunteers do not have graduating seniors, but participate so that the event can continue to be successful for years to come when their own children will participate. Providing our seniors with a fun-filled, safe environment where they can enjoy being together as a class one last time is a perfect example of a way to encourage and support our students as they strive to make healthy choices in all aspects of their lives.


Parents of a graduating seniors are both excited and apprehensive about the changes coming for their students and their futures. It is thrilling to see our seniors spread their wings and take on adult responsibilities as they spend the next few years furthering their education and finding a path in life that will give them joy. We worry about the challenges they will face in making healthy and wise choices without the everyday watchful eye of their parents. However we do believe that they have been given a strong foundation both at home and by their teachers, coaches, counselors and principals in their lives that will guide them as they face these life challenges. We am grateful to live in a community that prioritizes the safety and well-being of our children.


Thank you to the hundreds of people and dozens of local businesses who have contributed their time and resources to Project Graduation. Your generosity will have a direct impact on the lives of our graduates. By supporting Project Graduation we are ensuring that the last school event for all graduating seniors of Westlake High School will be a safe, fun and memorable experience.

Interested in supporting Project Graduation? Check out these pages:

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