By Berit Ollestad
Members of the Morristown High School Class of 2015 are about to embark on a new chapter of their lives, after graduation on June 24.
But first, they will celebrate together one last time as high school students, thanks to Project Graduation.
Offered by many high-schools across the country, Project Graduation is an alcohol-free post-graduation party supervised by adults.
“It supports the seniors on the night of graduation and keeps them safe. My son loved it when he was a senior, and I’m sure my daughter will, too,” said mom Molly Servais.
This year’s class has 377 graduating seniors. The Project Graduation committee pays $120 for each senior to attend, at the Crowne Plaza in Fairfield immediately following graduation. The committee also picks up the tab for the senior luncheon as well as a senior gift. Each student is asked to contribute $10 towards the cost of the evening.
“It’s important to support something that’s in our kids’ future, and something that is local,” said Charlotte Walker, who has a 2nd grader in the district.
The biggest fundraiser for the project was a fashion show and basket raffle held recently at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany.
A handful of high school seniors modeled garments donated by local retailers.
Photos by Berit Ollestad.
The students had three rehearsals and, according to coordinators of the annual event, the new models’ biggest concern was who they would be paired with. They don’t necessarily land with their best friend, which can cause some jitters.
And the audience was not just their own parents, either. Mandy Patrick has quite a few years until her kids are ready for the program.
“Although, my children are still only in elementary school, it think it’s important to be here tonight and support Project Graduation, since my kids will eventually participate in it,” Patrick said.
Fathers were under-represented at the show — they were at home babysitting, no doubt– but one token table of males managed to sneak in. Affectionately referred to as the Debonaire Dads, they held down the raffle selling responsibilities.
Prizes included a $1500 Visa gift card, a 65 inch flat-screen TV, concert tickets, Kate Spade accessories, a gas grill, and everything in between. With more than 100 baskets to choose from, it’s safe to say many folks at the Birchwood Manor left victorious.
“I thought I was here as a wedding crasher, until I realized it was a fund-raising event,” one of the dads said.
Reflected another: “At least there were no lines in the men’s room.”
“I figured it would be a great place to pick up women,” wisecracked another.
On a more serious note… parents at the show lauded the passion of MHS teachers and the school’s diversity.
“There are so many different walks of life under one roof. It prepares the kids for what it’s like in the real world,” said one mom.
After walking the red carpet, students celebrated with cheeseburgers at the Morristown Diner, another tradition. That’s where we caught up with senior Brian Caffrey, who was kind enough to share a college essay he wrote about diversity:
I will always remember Katie’s delight when I asked her to dance at our 8th grade formal, before we headed off to different high schools. Katie, who has Down syndrome, is a friend of mine who I have known since my first day of public school. Had I never transitioned from private school to public school, I would have never met Katie, or the many people who have influenced who I am.
The summer before entering 3rd grade, my life and who I was would change forever. It was then that my parents announced that my siblings and I would no longer be attending private school. I was not really sure what this would mean, but I have now come to realize that this move has profoundly shaped my life. I transitioned from a small homogenous environment to a world of diversity.
I vividly recall the excitement and curiosity I felt those first few weeks of public school where the classroom dynamics were nothing like my previous learning environment. I sat side by side with students who were learning English as a second language, who were learning at different paces, and who were from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. The move from one school to another has allowed me to include amongst my friends kids whose families are Persian, Indian, Jewish and African-American.
This early exposure to diversity has enriched my life and changed my perspective on society and the larger community that I live in. Due to the unique makeup of my community, I feel I have been exposed to a microcosm of our globe.
As a 3rd grader, I was curious at first, but eventually came to not “see” the differences. My opinions and feelings are based on a person’s character, not on his or her race, ethnicity or religion. I’ve learned to be sensitive to other’s economic and social differences, as I understand not everyone is as fortunate as myself.
Conversely, I’ve realized I have friends who are more affluent, but I am grateful for what I have and who I am. I enjoy meeting people from different backgrounds and learning about their culture.
All of these experiences have taught me to be accepting and nonjudgmental. I have also learned the importance of being adaptable to any change thrown my way. In the future, I will be able to assimilate into any environment I am placed in, since I have had significant exposure to a plethora of people coming from all different backgrounds.
These qualities that I gained at a young age have helped me to be chosen as a Peer Group Connection (PGC) leader at my high school. As a PGC leader, I lead a group of incoming freshmen, whom I guide and mentor, allowing them to make a smooth transition into high school. I hope to teach these freshmen to appreciate the diversity of our community as much as I do.
If I had stayed in my private grammar school and gone onto private high school, I would have received a fine education. However, my world would have been a much smaller place.
The holiday season would only have meant Christmas with little awareness of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. My family and I would probably have never experienced authentic home-made Persian cuisine. Nor would I have been to a Temple service before attending a Bat/Bar Mitzvah.
Had I never made the transition from a uniform private school to a resourceful public school, I wouldn’t have been able to create the many experiences that define me. These experiences have opened my world and make me excited for the next chapter of my life.
Morristown High School
Class of 2015
The Morristown High School Home School Association maintains a Project Graduation Fund, for anyone interested in donating.
This HSA also will receive a portion of sales by local business Just Jersey and Morristown jewelry designer Christina Young. They are selling graduation-themed bracelets and charms, in the school’s maroon colors, and with inscriptions such as MHS, FMS (Frelinghuysen Middle School), MOM or the numbers ’15. Twenty percent of these sales will go to the HSA.