WHIPPANY, NJ - More than five hundred parents, students and supporters of Morristown High School crowded the sprawling Birchwood Manor in Whippany Thursday night for an evening reminiscent of a Venetian ball.
 
Against a back-drop of grand chandeliers, champagne glasses and glamour the 28th annual Dinner and Fashion Show, “An Evening in Venice”, kicked off with a raffle of over 100 baskets and prizes, totaling more than $50,000 that people could wager on. Like hummingbirds to flowers, women in sparkled dresses and men in crisp dress shirts moved from basket to basket offering one of their precious tickets up to  raffle for a wide assortment of packages.  
 
The gift baskets contained everything, from elegant wallets and purses, to MHS athletic wear, certificates for eye exams, hotel stays and even an iPad mini. Other prizes included a homemade quilt, an LED projector, stand up paddleboard and New York Yankee tickets.
 
 
The grand prize, however, was a Luis Vuitton medium Neverful bag, valued at over $1200, available to the first 200 people to purchase the tickets to enter. Each single ticket cost $25 a piece and came with a complimentary glass of champagne, maybe to soften the blow of not having the winning raffle number.
 
The evening of gold masks and roses comes after a year of planning by the MHS Project Graduation Committee, a group of more than 30 women divided into 15 subcommittees dedicated to putting on the fashion show and fundraising for MHS’s Project Graduation in June, however countless organizations donated time, gifts and services for the event.  
 
Project Graduation is a night where a high school offers a venue to keep their newly graduated students safe for the evening, providing an environment free from drugs and alcohol as the students celebrate starting the new chapter in their lives.  In order to offset the prices, the committee holds the fashion show so that each student who wishes to attend only has to pay $10 of the actual $120 cost for a student to attend.
 
“There really are a lot of moving parts to throwing an event like this,” said Co-chairperson Tracey Ulrich-Matalon, who was at the Birchwood until 2 am the previous night preparing for the event.

 
From ticket sales and decorations to the 50/50 raffle and basket creation, the show was a team effort by the committee, spending days preparing the packages, mailings and trimmings with one another. However, it was Candy Wong, part of the Basket Raffle subcommittee who stored the mountains of baskets and prizes in her basement, even having to store a bicycle in her downstairs bathroom,  as they geared up for the big night.
 
Inspired by Ulrich-Matalon’s spring break in Venice, the fashion show runway was the highlight of the show, with current MHS seniors acting as models and their parents the flashing paparazzi as they walked down the runway. In total, there were 29 student models representing a wide range of student activities and interests including sports, student government and theater.
 
“We really wanted to try and get a cross section of students, “said Ulrich-Matalon.  Student models volunteered to be a part of the event and needed to meet certain criteria before they could be models for the evening. Students needed to be seniors, not be in violation of the student code of conduct, must attend all rehearsals and meetings scheduled by the committee and maintain a GPA of 2.5.
 
After an Italian feast prepared by the Birchwood Manor staff the show kicked off in the Grand Ballroom. As pop music bounced from speaker to speaker and lights danced across the runway, students made their way out onto stage to the cheers of spectators. Teacher emcees Frank Sedita and Surina Ranawat narrated what and who students were wearing as they posed, twirled and laughed down the stage.  Between costume changes, raffle winners were announced and able to collect their bounties before the evening was out.
 
The fashion displayed was loaned by local companies included Boutique 161, Paradise, Cozy Formalwear and the Jos. A. Bank store on the Morristown Green.
 
While no totals are in yet for the money raised, previous years have seen the fashion show and dinner earn in the ballpark of $45,000.
 
Project Graduation occurs on June 22, immediately following the graduation ceremony at MHS and takes place at the Crowne Plaza Fairfield.