Ready again

Robyn Souza prepares for the 2019 Grad Night festivities, before a pandemic put the tradition on a two-year hiatus. Review file photo

It hasn’t been an easy road for the Cougar class of 2022. The students have spent the last couple of years coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting altered academic and social landscape, but thanks to the hard work of school administration and the Grad Night committee, seniors will wrap up their time at Half Moon Bay High School with the traditional activities to honor their achievements.

An in-person graduation will take place on June 2 on the football field at Half Moon Bay High School, and following the pomp and circumstance, Grad Night will be held later, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. at the Ted Adcock Community Center, 535 Kelly Ave.

“It’ll be a great party,” said Robyn Souza, volunteer coordinator. “We would love it if every single one of the seniors came.”

Grad Night is a nonprofit, community-sponsored event that provides the class of 2022 a safe, fun-filled celebration with dancing, games, food, activities and prizes.

At the event volunteers run a casino room where seniors can play cards and win raffle tickets, which they can then use in the prize room. There’s also a dance floor, a movie room and games.

Friends and families of the students are encouraged to write letters or send cards of congratulations in the months leading up to the party, to be opened by the graduate that night. Families are also encouraged to compile a collage of photos of their graduate from different points in their lives, to be hung with their classmates in what they call “Memory Lane.”

“The seniors can just kind of enjoy the collages of their lives,” said Souza. “You know, icing on your nose on your first birthday, to graduating.”

2019 was the last time the committee was able to hold a traditional party. In 2020 they still passed out gifts for seniors, and in 2021, it partnered with Beach Break Entertainment for an outdoor movie night. This spring, the party will be back in full swing.

“Grad Night is part of a nationwide movement that noted the danger of this particular night for this group of kids, because they’re just graduating from school,” said Souza.

While the percentage of teens in high school who drink and drive has decreased by more than half, 54 percent, since 1991, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that high school teens drive after drinking an estimated 2.4 million times a month.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, motor vehicle accidents remain the top cause of death for teens, with around a third of those involving alcohol. Come graduation night, this number jumps to 40 percent.

Every year, graduation across America represents a tragedy for the families of nearly 3,000 hopeful graduates who lose their lives due to drunken driving, with more than 225,000 more sent to emergency rooms for treatment of serious injuries.

“The idea was that instead of allowing them to drive themselves to parties and kind of lose control on a night that maybe they’re not thinking as clearly as they otherwise would, volunteers put a party together,” said Souza. “It’s a chance for them to really let loose and have fun with their class for the last time before they move on.”

There are about a dozen year-round volunteers on the committee who organize the event, many of whom have kids who graduated years ago, but are still working to make the event possible for each graduating class. About 100 volunteers are involved on the night of the party, dealing blackjack, serving snacks and making it happen.

The Grad Night Committee is again seeking volunteers for the upcoming celebration.

“Shifts start at three hours,” said Souza. “No commitment is too small.”

Souza also mentioned that they typically encourage underclass parents to sign up to volunteer, a way to pay it forward and allow the senior families to enjoy the big day.

“We especially want to encourage the freshman, sophomore and junior parents to join us this year, so that when it’s their turn, they can enjoy the party,” said Souza.

For those interested in signing up to volunteer, purchase tickets or donate, visit hmbhsgradnight.com

Emma Spaeth is a staff writer for the Half Moon Bay Review covering community, arts and sports. Emma grew up in Half Moon Bay before earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Oregon.

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