MADISON, NJ - Following a monumental day of Livingston High School (LHS) graduation and time with families and friends, a little more than 400 of the 434 LHS Class of 2014 graduates met at the high school at 10 p.m. to take busses to a mystery location for this year’s Project Graduation. They soon found out that secret location—the Drew University Athletic Center—as they arrived at around 10:30 p.m. for a night of fun activities and last hoorahs with fellow classmates.
David Das, who is off to Montclair State University to study Information Technology in the fall said, “At first I was skeptical, but this is pretty awesome, I am not going to lie, spending time with all of my classmates before I never see them again is fun.“
Project Graduation Co-Chairs Laurie Kahn and Wendy Slavitt, who both have children entering their sophomore years at LHS, spent a year planning the event.
“We had a really good turn out this year and had amazing volunteers,” said Slavitt.
Kahn, who co-chaired Project Graduation for the third time this year said, “Project Graduation is an incredible experience for graduating seniors. It is a safe environment. They have a fantastic time. There is food and there are games. And most of all, they get to spend the last time together as a class. We love doing this for the kids. The kids are awesome.”
Echoing Kahn’s sentiments, Board of Education member Leslie Winograd who helped chaperone said, “This is a great event. It is a great chance for the kids to spend one last night together as a class. It is wonderful.”
“It is a great way for the community to come together,” said Livingston Councilman Rudy Fernandez. “It is a safe place for the kids to come and celebrate all their years here in Livingston, and a great way for them to finish their high school career and do it in a safe, safe way, which is a major concern.”
Project Graduation started in Maine, more than 20 years ago, as a relief to alcoholism after graduation. Livingston held its first Project Graduation event in 1988.
Originally, Project Graduation, with a yearly budget of around $30,000, was fully funded by the Livingston Township. However, over the past five years, it has been partially funded by the town and through fundraising efforts by parents. The goal is for it to become self-sustaining in the next couple of years.
The largest fundraiser for the event is the gift wrapping booth at the Livingston Mall. The other one is the Senior Games.
“The kids actually start fundraising for Project Graduation in fifth grade,” said Slavitt. “Each elementary school makes a donation on behalf of their fifth grade class that starts their passbook account. And that account follows them through middle school at Mount Pleasant, where they have a basket bazaar, and at the end of the year, the class again makes a donation into the passbook. At Heritage, they do the same thing. There is no class fundraiser for the freshman, sophomore or junior years because they are so busy with school and activities that it is too hard to run a fundraiser for them. So, during the senior year, the parents get involved with running the gift wrap booths and with funding that last bit for senior year. That is how we are becoming self-sustainable and won’t have to ask the town for help starting in the next few years.”
The site of Project Graduation generally changes from year to year so as to make the location a surprise for the class.
“We do our best to change the location every year, but it is very difficult because of the size of our classes to accommodate all of us, and to not be on the bus for an hour,” said Slavitt. “Last year, we were at Montclair State, and we were at Drew for the two years before that, and prior to that we were at Ramapo. The athletic center at a college is great for us because there are so many options and they are usually big enough for us. And, we are always looking for other venues.”
This year’s Project Graduation events included: an outdoor movie screen with popcorn and hotdogs; karaoke and a deejay; massage chairs and massages; a photo room where classmates could print out, hashtag and post photos to Instagram; jousting and giant twister inflatables; Texas Hold-Em and Black Jack tables; four basketball courts for basketball and soccer; and a swimming pool. At 2:30 a.m., there was a Hypnotist Show.
Sarah Hui, who is going to Northeastern in Boston this fall said, “Tonight is really fun. We went swimming for the past hour, and next we are going to the spa room.”
Ronnie Giovannigesualdo, who is off to Montclair State University to study Business said, “This event was good. I enjoyed playing basketball the best.”
Attendees also munched on snacks of pretzels from Philly Pretzels, and goodies including finger sandwiches, veggies, cupcakes, cookies, fruit, coffee, soda, water, and more, which were supplied and delivered by ShopRite.
LHS graduate Rachel Geffner, who will be attending George Washington University in the fall said, “The popcorn was really good and the inflatables looked really fun, but I didn’t do them.”
Joan Shira, who is a taking a gap year and is then going to the University of Texas in Austin said, “Project Graduation is fun; it’s really nice—a last hoorah for our senior class.”