The I.D.E.S. Hall on Main Street in Half Moon Bay was transformed last week into a space-themed party venue to celebrate the Half Moon Bay High School graduating class of 2019.
At 10 p.m. on Thursday, giant spotlights in the parking lot lit up the sky as graduates walked into the hall under a giant spaceship facade and through a barrage of bubbles to the tune of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
Grad Night is a culmination of months of planning, thousands of dollars donated and the efforts of hundreds of volunteers to create one unforgettable night for graduates. The tradition has been going on in the United States since at least the 1960s as an effort to create a safe and sober place for teens to celebrate. This year was the 25th annual Grad Night for Half Moon Bay High School, and almost 200 students attended the event.
Inside, Lynette Curthoys was manning the volunteer check-in station. She has a freshman at the high school and was there to pay it forward to parents of seniors. “They caught me at freshman orientation,” she said, adding that many parents of seniors are also involved in the event.
The hall was buzzing as graduates flitted from one activity to another. Stuart Jaeger bounced two of his classmates out of an inflated yellow ring with his giant BubbleBall suit, while Kacey Acosta lasted about five seconds on the mechanical bull.
“This is really fun,” she said, picking herself off the mat. “I didn’t expect this.”
At the roulette table, D’Ann Moseley of “A Casino Event” taught Emelly Navarrete, Yamilet Caballero and Janeth Sarabia the rules of the game, then spun the wheel as the teens placed their bets.
“23, OK, we have a winner,” she announced as the ball settled into place. “Odd is good, black is not, even is not.”
Navarrete said Grad Night was living up to her expectations. “I have two older siblings who graduated and said this was one of the greatest nights in high school,” she said. “It is a great way to go out.”
Graduates got a certificate for $500 in “Cougar cash,” which they could use to play casino games like roulette, blackjack and craps or turn in for raffle tickets.
In the prize room, students considered the available loot. Volunteer Muff Donner was in charge of prizes for the second year and had assembled about $8,500 worth of prizes, everything from a Sony PlayStation 4 to an array of gift cards.
Brooklyn Fontana and Danae Hogg stopped in to check out the treasure trove and deposit their tickets. Fontana put all of hers toward the big plastic jar of cash, while Hogg was vying for some gift certificates to Sunglass Hut and Urban Outfitters.
Outside the prize room, a group of about 20 students crowded around magician Perry Yan. He took a wad of crisp one dollar bills out of his pocket and passed a few out to the students to examine. “Now watch the corners of the bills carefully,” he said, taking the bills back and folding them up in his hands. Snap! In a flash, he was holding a stack of hundred dollar bills.
Throughout the night, the kids stayed busy while volunteers manned activities and kept up a steady supply of food. In the game room, students could entertain themselves with classic Twister, vintage video games like Pac-Man, Asteroids and Space Invaders and a neon-lighted pingpong table. Deejay Nick Finlen kept the tunes going all night long.
By 4:30 a.m., the party had mellowed. Graduates gathered to hear the raffle winners while parent volunteers started to pack things away.
Damian Gutierrez was the lucky winner of a Scepter 40-inch LED TV. “It’s pretty exciting. This is unexpected,” he said.
Gutierrez has been a student in the Cabrillo Unified School District since kindergarten and is looking forward to playing soccer for Cañada College next year.
“It’s been fun seeing everyone grow up and meeting new friends along the way,” he said. “It’s nice being with everyone for the last time. I guess they saved the best for last.”