Project Graduation – Culminating Activities for Collier County Seniors | Ruminations of the Rock and Beyond

When our son graduated from Lely High School over a few years ago, we volunteered to chaperone the event, probably much to his dismay, although he didn’t raise any complaints, at least ours. Must have been his great education! Be that as it may, the event was then held at the “old” YMCA, that is to say before the major fire that destroyed the building. It was much smaller and didn’t have all the space and amenities that the new Greater Naples YMCA has, and believe me, it’s spectacular! I know because I volunteered to help the chaperone again this year. For over 30 years, volunteers and donations have provided this exciting, fun and safe alternative to our local seniors.

On Friday, May 27 or Saturday, May 28, after their separate graduations, new CCPS graduates attended Project Graduation, this year on the 28th from 10:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.

Project Graduation’s electronic photo booth has all kinds of hair, hat, and eyeglass combinations. Best of all, your photo goes straight to your phone, so you don’t have to carry it around all night.

Students came by bus to the event and are not allowed to bring anything with them. They didn’t need the money because all activities are funded for them, including food, snacks and entertainment. Each high school has its designated colors or mascot shirts. But, for this event, students are not wearing their school colors or mascot shirts. Instead, they all receive the Project Graduation shirt of the same color, symbolizing that they are now alumni and united in that designation, and no longer separate high schools. I suspect this t-shirt facilitates more conversation and mixing and surely, a sense of unity and looking to the future.

Project Graduation is a drug and alcohol-free event created to educate and deter graduates from drinking or taking illicit drugs while celebrating after graduation. To date, there have been no post-graduation alcohol or drug-related car/truck accidents involving graduates because students have opted for this special and safe choice. Project Graduation is one of the nation’s oldest drug- and alcohol-free celebrations for high school graduates and that says a lot about safety and fun.

This year was no exception in terms of food and activities. Everything is free for students, there’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, Starbucks coffee, karaoke, and this year a mechanical bull, magician, laser tag, ping pong, a cool new version of a photo booth and it’s not all. There’s a gymnasium-sized room with strobe lights and music ready to turn on for dancing, and sometimes with a live band. There’s more than enough room for all of these activities, thanks to the new YMCA design. I honestly didn’t stay that long to see the dancing explosion, but I know it was busy when our son was there.

There are many admirable things being done in Collier County for the benefit of students, and this is one of the best. If you would like to donate for the next Graduation 2023 project, or if you have a student who will be graduating in 2023, here is some information that will help you. Project Graduation tickets and t-shirts cost $20 together and are available at all high schools starting in May. If you’re interested in volunteering your time, activities, food, or party supplies, here’s the website:

www.greaternaples or email [email protected]

It’s not too early to contribute and plan ahead, ask questions or send donations to a cause that saves lives and protects our students. This is the most important contribution of all.

Jory Westberry is an active educator and advocate for quality education. She currently serves on the Museum Board of the Marco Island Historical Society and the Collier County School Board.

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