Hundreds of local graduates descended upon the station drill hall last week for Project Graduation, a series of all-night, alcohol- and drug-free parties that helps save lives by preventing traffic-related fatalities at graduation time.
For 19 out of the past 20 years, NAS Patuxent River has hosted this annual event. The only year the station wasnt able to participate was in 1998 when the drill hall was closed for renovations.
We owe a debt of thanks to the base for allowing us to come here every year, said Joe Donick, alcohol and drug abuse prevention coordinator for St. Marys County, who organizes the event. The cooperation we get from the base is incredible. Its just a joy to work with you folks.
Funded by the States Attorneys Office, Project Graduation offers a safe environment for grads to have fun and let off steam while celebrating their hard-earned diplomas. Whether riding a bucking mechanical bull, jousting with giant inflated battering rams or climbing an Iron Man obstacle course, grads and their guests party hearty in a healthy atmosphere.
All my friends are here. You cant get bored, said Tina Medoro, a Leonardtown High School graduate who attended one of last weeks Project Graduation parties. Theres always something to do and people to hang out with.
Rather than becoming bleary-eyed at a backyard beer bash, graduates enjoy hot dogs and sodas served by local Optimist Club members. They toss neon-colored balls down the station bowling alley, go for a swim in the station pool or pound the boards in a rousing game of basketball in the station gym. Theres laser tag, volleyball, pingpong, music and dancing.
I think its great, said Jeff Boyce, one of the all-night revelers at last weeks Project Graduation. Its something fun to do after graduation when everyone can get together and party one last time.
The event isnt one of those seemingly good ideas thought up by parents but disdained by their kids. Rather, its become a popular tradition among graduating seniors. According to Donick, about 70 percent of public high school graduates in St. Marys County attend the Project Graduation parties. And since the program began in 1984, Donick said there have been no alcohol-related traffic fatalities at graduation time.
I just know that Ive saved lives, one volunteer told Donick, a bus driver who has transported graduates and their guests to and from the Project Graduation parties for the last 20 years.
It takes a legion of volunteers to make Project Graduation a success more than 300 according to Donick. Theres the local sheriffs deputies and state police who ensure that no drugs or alcohol are brought to the event. Theres the volunteers who prepare and serve the food. And theres the station lifeguards and other MWR employees who lend a helping hand in the bowling alley and gym.
Project Graduation is such a good program, Donick said. Were so fortunate here in St. Marys County that everyone is willing to pull together to make this happen.