One of the many traditions that makes Ridgewood High School stand out from other schools is our Project Graduation. While it began in 1961, Project Graduation has evolved into an event that has its roots in keeping the graduating seniors safe in the hours following the graduation ceremony. Directly after graduation, seniors go to a dinner dance, and then arrive at Benjamin Franklin Middle School. BF will have been decorated in a particular theme that the parents of the seniors voted on earlier in the year. The theme is kept secret from the seniors. The newly graduated students are completely surprised upon arrival at BF, and stay there all night, until approximately six in the morning, enjoying a last fun party as a Ridgewood High School class.
Project Graduation is kept a secret from students for many reasons, one of them being so students don’t opt out of the celebration because they dislike a certain theme. “My theme was Wizard of Oz, and even if it was something I wasn’t crazy about, I still would’ve had a really fun time,” reaffirms RHS 2013 graduate Meghan Callaghan. It is a challenge to keep the secret all year, but parents want the graduates to be excited to get to the party and find out the theme. Each year the theme seems to tie in with some kind of fantasy type experience of the graduating class. The theme is incorporated into practically every aspect of the party at BF, including decor, activities and food. Themes are retired for 12-15 years before they can be reused. Some examples of noteworthy themes in past years are Harry Potter in 2006, Ice Hotel in 2011, Night at the Museum in 2014, Willy Wonka in 2017 and 2018’s Toy Story.
Parents work tirelessly all year to make the night fun for their seniors. There are many different committees, each dedicated to a different aspect of helping Project Graduation run smoothly, and none of it would be possible without fundraising and dues. Fundraising efforts this year include parent socials, apparel sales, holiday boutiques, raffles, and the Senior Fashion Show. The fashion show is a very important fundraiser, and fun for seniors to participate in. Profits from all project graduation events go directly towards the celebrations, which include the party at BF, the yearbook signing, and the Thanksgiving reunion brunch held the November after graduation. Students do have to pay dues, which along with the fundraising, offsets the cost of the baby picture gallery, the dinner dance right after graduation, transportation the night of graduation, and the entire party at BF. Each one of these events involve different committees and lots of meetings.
Once the funds and committees are in place, the work of design and construction can really begin. The theme is chosen in the fall, and March is typically when construction for the theme will start at a secret location. Although most senior parents get involved, it is a firm tradition that the students don’t know the theme until they arrive. In one of the hallways in BF, parents hang up seniors’ baby pictures along with their senior portrait to add a sentimental aspect to the night. Families also think of creative captions that go with the baby picture, and the caption and the picture are usually a surprise to the seniors. Parents also provide entertainment for the students for the night, such as arcade games, music, and other fun activities. Usually, while graduation is actually going on, younger students and families get the chance to walk through BF and admire all the design, decorating, and hard work that the senior parents put into the night.
Project Graduation provides seniors with a fun, entertaining, substance-free night after graduating, and gives some students who won’t see each other over the summer a chance to say goodbye before they go to college. Although Ridgewood isn’t the only school that organizes a post-graduation event for their seniors, our town is known for its extravagant decoration and fun themes. The parents work hard and put a huge amount of time into making sure that Project Graduation runs smoothly, and the seniors should be looking forward to a fun night after graduation.
Graphic: Nicole Kye